When Spider-Man takes off his mask, he will probably be Chinese. That was Shekhar Kapur in 2002 writing in The Guardian about the rise of the East in global popular culture. “I was right about the move, but wrong about the timing,” says Kapur who has often made movies far ahead of their time, whether it was the sci-fi Mr. India (1987) or the anti-colonial The Four Feathers (2002). His new movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? is a cross-cultural family drama disguised as a romcom. He has been a long-time advocate of Indian cinema on the global stage and the 95th edition of the Academy Awards finally confirmed his faith, with India picking up trophies for Best Song for ‘Naatu Naatu’, from the Telugu epic RRR, and for Best Documentary Short Film for The Elephant Whisperers, directed by Kartiki Gonsalves and produced by Guneet Monga for Netflix. Kapur thinks there are four specific reasons for the emergence of South Asia: the size of the Indian market, the shift in narrative style, the acceptance of melodrama, and the growing connection between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. “The storytelling of the East is mythic, circular, while the way the West tells its stories is linear. The world is moving towards a more mythic way of consuming tales,” he says. So whether it is South Korean shows, Turkish soaps or Asian movies, such as the big Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All At Once, there is a belief that destiny is greater than the individual. “No one individual can be the master of it all,” Kapur says.
There is also greater acceptance of melodrama or at least that’s how the West defines the display of emotions in the East, he says. Look at our funerals, he points out, with their loud weeping and compare them to the poised wakes of the West. “Grief for us is such an integral part of our lives, so intimate to us, that we have no problems in expressing it openly,” says Kapur. As for superheroes, all our heroes are superheroes, he points out. “We’ve accepted that our heroes can do anything, dance, sing, love, fly. Look how fascinated the West is with SS Rajamouli’s RRR. They’re watching it in its third release, and they can’t get enough,” says Kapur. It is because southern cinema is so close to its roots, he adds. The result is that the identification of Indian cinema with Bollywood has ceased to exist. Mumbai cinema is rooted in Pali Hill, southern cinema is rooted in its own language and culture, he says, and doesn’t need to borrow from anyone. Aiding the rise of South Asian culture is the technological superpower of Silicon Valley with every major behemoth headed or toplined by Indian CEOs. That’s the perfect union of form and content. And though Spider-Man may still be played by a white man/ boy, at least an Indian has entered the Spider-Verse, he says, pointing to the announcement of Deadpool alumnus Karan Soni in the animated movie Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Till an Indian rises, Malaysian superstar Michelle Yeoh, who first wowed the West in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, can enjoy the well-deserved spotlight. It’s been a long rise to the Best Actress trophy this year. Global stardom takes time, talent, patience and perseverance.
Keeping the Door Open
Priyanka Chopra Jonas has made it to the top of the food chain in Hollywood on her own terms, even being paid as much as the male star for Prime Video’s new series Citadel. But she has held the door open for others from South Asia as well. As the co-host, along with her manager Anjula Acharia, of the South Asian Excellence pre-Oscar party, she celebrated the finest talent from South Asia, from her one-time co-star in Zanjeer (2013), Ram Charan, to Junior NTR, from Hollywood gal pal Mindy Kaling to old Bollywood friend Preity Zinta. For the first time ever, four Asian actors received Oscar nominations in a single year, in addition to a number of Asian directors, screenwriters, and musicians being nominated as well. This is in addition to screenings that she has hosted for Oscar probables Last Film Show and RRR.
Scene and Heard
Bela Bajaria, former Miss India Worldwide (1991), may be the highest-ranked studio executive of Indian origin in Hollywood—she is Netflix’s Chief Content Officer. However, Francis deSouza, half Indian-half Greek/Ethiopian CEO of biotech company Illumina, has been a member of the board of directors at The Walt Disney Company since 2018. These are only a few of the names in a growing number of people of Indian origin who have achieved great influence in Hollywood.
Return to Greatness Zakia Soman
‘This Is Not Fusion’ Akhil Sood
Song That Lost at the Oscars Kaveree Bamzai