|Aishwarya Rai in Devdas
London, June 7: A lecturer in cinema studies in London has attacked the compilers of the new illustrated Oxford English Dictionary, published today for £35 and approved by Oxford University Press, for including the word “Bollywood” among 500 new entries.
Sangeeta Datta, a lecturer and a filmmaker herself, told The Telegraph that she disapproved of the steamrollering effect of the word Bollywood, which suggested that alternative cinema did not exist in India.
Others, however, expressed delight that academic respectability appears to have been conferred on Bollywood as well as recognition of a word now in common use across the world.
Bollywood, a new entry in Dorling Kindersley’s Illustrated Dictionary, which is published in collaboration with the OED, lists the word thus: “Bollywood .colloq. India’s popular film industry based in Bombay (blend of Bombay and Hollywood).”
The entry is accompanied by a still of Aishwarya Rai, holding a lamp, from Devdas.
“This is the most popular image of Bollywood cinema,” acknowledged Datta, who is associate director of the Rituparno Ghosh directed Bengali film, Chokher Bali, which stars Aishwarya and is expected to be sent to the Venice Film Festival in September and given a general release in October.
Datta said: “I have no problems about Bollywood being defined as popular Indian cinema in the context of global consumerism but it does take away the space for alternative cinema — which bothers me quite a lot. Bollywood suggests this is the only cinema culture in India.”
She pointed out: “Our generation grew up on alternative cinema which still exists in Bengal, Kerala and Andhra, for example, but this small industry will remain small because there is nothing to counter the effect of Bollywood.”
Across America and England and the western world, Bollywood is supported by the mass Punjabi and Gujarati culture, which does not leave room for a Satyajit Ray or a Shyam Benegal.”
She received backing, somewhat surprisingly, from Bhavna Mistry, who works as a publicist for Eros International, the largest distributor for Hindi films in Britain — she is currently organising publicity for Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee, stars of their new film Chalte Chalte. Mistry, speaking in a personal capacity rather than as an Eros spokeswoman, reflected the view taken by some of the giants of the Hindi film industry, among them Amitabh Bachchan. She commented: “Bollywood seems like a spin off from Hollywood. Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding is classified as Bollywood but, although it takes elements from Bollywood, it is not pure Bollywood. I prefer the term, popular film industry, which seems a bit more classy.”
Purists would argue that inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary — other words included with Bollywood are Botox, Lap dancing and Viagra — does not necessarily confer academic respectability on a word. They argue that the OED merely recognises common usage but the debate over what constitutes “proper English” is likely to be controversial.
Events which have popularised Bollywood in Britain are Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical Bombay Dreams, the month long Bollywood extravaganza last summer at Selfridges, the Oxford Street department store, and use of the word in British national newspapers.
Among those who are happy that Bollywood has now been blessed by the OED is Lucky Dissanayake, whose lavishly illustrated book, Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema, has become an international bestseller.
“I have been for the word,” said Dissanayake. “For me it doesn’t have the negative connotations that it has for some people in the film industry in India. For them, it’s derogatory and negative. But for the world outside it sums up the glamour, style, extravaganza and people’s vision of what Indian cinema is all about.”
Dissanayake said she thought long and hard about whether she should choose another title for her book. “But, really, there is no other word. India should be happy that there is such a brand name and capitalise on it,” she added.
Englishman Jeremy Wooding, who has directed Bollywood Queen — an English language musical in the Hindi film genre but set in the East End of London — said: “I think Bollywood has lost its negative, kitsch connotations and taking on a positive, vibrant role. When I wrote Bollywood Queen three years ago, not many westerners had heard of Bollywood. So Bollywood is in a way in for popular Hindi music cinema.”