These days there is a Bollywood wave in Italy after a series of Hindi films were shown on Italian national TV channel on prime time.
Compared to some of other western European countries like UK, France, Germany or Netherlands, Italy has a limited population of Indians and perhaps for this reason, Bollywood films were almost unknown in Italy till recently. There were persons who liked Bollywood and who watched Hindi films with English sub-titles but their numbers were extremely limited. On the other hand, there have always been some persons interested in world cinema, the kind of persons who go to film festivals and many of these persons were aware of the realistic films that usually make it to film festivals but they were not into the usual masala films of Bollywood.
During the past twenty years, I am only aware of two occasions when Indian films made it to the Italian TV and in both instances these films were broadcasted late in the night – one was Kagaaz ke phool by Gurudutt and the second was Lagaan by Ashutosh Gowarikar.
Italy doesn’t have a culture of subtitled films and all films must be dubbed into Italian. Many years ago a dubbed version of Deewar was released in Italy but it didn’t find any audience. More recently Lagaan, Mission Kashmir and Sawaariya were released in dubbed versions but none of them made it to any cinema halls and were only released on DVDs.
Perhaps the change came with the films made by expatriate Indian film directors like Mira Nayar, Deepa Mehta and Gurvinder Chadha. Mira nayar’s Salaam Bombay and more recently, Monsoon Wedding & The Namesake, Deepa Mehta’s Water and Gurvinder Chadha’s East is East and Bend it like Backham, all had theater releases, DVDs and TV broadcasts.
Then in the TV “dead-season” in summer 2008 the national channel RAI had shown 3 Hindi films (“Cheeni Kum”, “Hum Tum” and “Aur ho gaya na”). In summer, Italians go on holidays and TV viewership goes down and that is the time when usually old reruns of TV serials and films are shown. In 2008, there was some awareness of Bollywood first created. Then in 2009, this experiment was repeated and it started in July with “Namastey London”. The waves this year have been much bigger since the film topped the viewership ratings of the Saturday primetime.
Since then, on successive Saturdays, it has been Bollywood time on RAI and each time it tops the viewership ratings. Thus the series that was supposed to stop at end of July was extended to mid-August and now it seems it will go on till end of August. The other films shown so far in this season include – Fanaa, Salaam Namastey, Jab We Met, Laaga Chunri Mein Daag and Mujhse Dosti Karoge. Next saturday will be the turn of Dil Ka Rishta.
Suddenly people want to know about Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta and Kajol. My Italian blog Awaragi, where occasionally I wrote about Bollywood films, used to get about 10-15 hits a day and now on Sundays after the the Bollywood nights, the number of hits reach upto 700-800. Suddenly as an "expert" on Bollywood I am in demand with people writing in to ask about meanings of the words of the songs or other things related to Bollywood.
The Hindi films shown on RAI are reduced versions from which most of the songs and some scenes are removed. They last around 1 hour and 40 minutes so that with the ad-breaks they finish in 2 hours. For example in Salaam Namastey, the whole Javed Jaffery track and parts of the final hospital scene were removed, along with the songs. Unfortunately, even those background songs that are left in the film, are without subtitles so people write to ask for meanings. Initially, especially in 2008, the dubbing was strange with persons using sing-song voices, sounding caricatures of Indians like Peter Sellers in The Party, but that has improved considerably. All these films are mainly romantic films and perhaps for that reason, majority of feedback I have received is from women.
I think that this opens up a new market for Hindi films in Italy, especially in terms of DVDs. Right now, no Hindi film has proper Italian subtitles – most Italian subtitles in Hindi DVDs seem to be done with automatic translation software that often butchers the meanings. Italy is flooded with low quality pirated Hindi DVDs aimed at Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani emigrants. People write to me asking for Bollywood films dubbed into Italian or with proper Italian subtitles, but I don’t have any clue about what to advice to give to them.
I hope that Indian film-makers and international distributors can read it and take necessary steps to safeguard the interests of the Indian film industry.