Mrittika Anan Rahman (MAR): What does it say about Bollywood that it became mediators of so many of India and Bangladesh's neighbouring cultures through its adaptation of stories such as Mughal-E-Azam, Umrao Jaan, or Laila Majnu?
HR: With the advent of sound film in the 1930s, regional film industries started producing films in their respective regional languages. As I mention in my book, Hindi films have a larger audience than Bangla or Tamil films because of Hindi's larger linguistic area. They adapted "Islamicate" cultures such as the Arabian Nights, medieval Persian-Arabic folk forms, and the lifestyles of Mughals and Nawabs to appeal to their Muslim viewers.
In addition, with the advent of neo-liberalisation in the Indian subcontinent in the 1990s, privatisation created the middle class across South Asia, including in Bangladesh. The hegemony of Bollywood films captured the imagination of this middle class, who responded by subscribing to those films and the cultures they mediated.
MAR: Bollywood has often portrayed Bangladesh in negative terms—such as in the 2014 film Gunday. Why has this never curbed our appetite for their content?
HR: A hegemonised audience or consumer tends to think that by subscribing to or consuming "superior" products, they can enhance their own status in society. Cultural hegemony works in a complex way in different layers. At the local level, for instance, there is the tendency among urban middle-class Bangladeshi youths of knowing the names of US cities; but do they feel any urge to know the whereabouts of the minority ethnic communities such as Chakma or Tipra in Bangladesh? Instead, the ethnic communities feel the need to learn the majority-spoken Bangla language to get better jobs.
Read this interview online on Tuesday, June 29, at www.thedailystar.net/book-reviews and on Daily Star Books' Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.