And of course there is development of the sector itself. As every producer knows, the only way to finance the serious investment required in all aspects of the business – from script development, through technical services to marketing and rights management – is by opening up new markets. As far as I can see, every Bollywood producer’s holy grail is therefore the ‘breakthrough’ blockbuster that will open up mainstream markets in America. But I wonder if these films will ever resonate with western audiences. Bollywood’s core narrative shows India’s young middle classes negotiating their new role in the world. As comedy, it proposes an ultimately successful reconciliation between traditional community and family demands and modern individualism. This optimism is totally at odds with Hollywood’s fundamentally pessimistic worldview, where the individual usually wins out, but always at great cost to community and the wider world. Instead of looking to the West, Bollywood should perhaps play a longer game, and focus on permanently capturing the growing middle class markets in Asia, much as Hollywood did with Europe in the 1940s and ’50s.
Across the world, the creative sector is booming. Economic development agencies everywhere have identified the creative industries as a growth sector, and most are supporting them through some form of cluster-based development strategy that understands the sector in both cultural and business terms.
Creative clusters are places to live as well as to work, places where cultural products are consumed as well as made. They are open round the clock, for work and play. They feed on diversity and change and so thrive in busy, multicultural urban settings that have their own local distinctiveness but are also connected to the world. Despite its many problems, Mumbai is ideally situated to adopt this approach.
An ambitious programme for change in Mumbai was set out in a recent report,6 sparking public debate about whether the city should follow the example of London, Singapore, Hong Kong or Shanghai. Mumbai has many problems; the creative industries will not solve all of them, and no doubt it has much to learn from other cities. But Mumbai has a unique asset to help its transformation: a creative cluster at ‘critical mass’ level, ripe for growth. Civic leaders in other cities would be green with envy to have a success story like Bollywood to build on.
- MAMTA MANTRI