All izz well! When Bollywood flirts with Chinese Kung Fu, for peace

chan-indiaIndia and China may quibble over many issues, but when it comes to films, they don’t mind crossing borders.  Shedding their differences over weightier issues, the two Asian giants have bonded to celebrate their love for films and music. “All izz well,” the theme song of 3 Idiots, is a smashing hit in China. And Hong Kong-based actor  Jackie Chan, the lover of papad and kadahi chicken, has legions of fans in India.

Barely two months after the much-publicised infiltration of Chinese troops into Ladakh and three weeks after the Chinese premier’s maiden visit to New Delhi, India and China seem to be singing a different tune. And this cross-cultural infiltration seems to be playing out well.

When hard power doesn’t work, try soft power. Taking the cue, China has launched a charm offensive with a week-long festival of Chinese films in the Indian capital. The festival was jointly inaugurated June 18 by India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and his Chinese counterpart Cai Fuchao.

The two ministers also held wide-ranging talks that culminated in a decision to set up a joint working group to explore promotion of films and media content, and the exchange of personnel and students.

“Culture is a bridge linking the hearts of the people,” said Cai. “We hope that through the cooperation in film, in television and culture we can further strengthen understanding.”

“Chinese movies would offer an opportunity for Indian audiences to get acquainted with Chinese landscape, arts, music, and culture. This would enable citizens of both countries view indo-china relationship from a broader perspective,” said the Chinese minister.

The desire for closer cultural connections has a mutual resonance. “Both felt through enhanced cultural exchanges, exchange in the field of films, of personnel in our public broadcasters and cooperation between our private film industry and the industry in China and regular exchanges between our film institutes will help promote further understanding between our two countries.

Promoting Chinese films abroad is part of China’s soft power push. China’s trade with India has burgeoned, but the economic relations have not been matched by cultural and popular exchanges. This knowledge gap is now being addressed. “It’s important to promote better understanding of each other’s culture,” says Ma Jiali, a South Asia expert at China’s Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

China allows 10 Hollywood films to be screened every year. India is hoping that five Indian films are allowed to be shown in China every year.

India’s tryst with Chinese movies is not a one-off thing; more is on the way. China is expected to be the guest country at next year’s India International Film Festival in Goa. A selection of classic Chinese films will also be showcased at this year’s Goa film fest.

In the last few years, India has also leveraged Bolllywood as a vehicle of cultural diplomacy in China. Action hero Jackie Chan was in New Delhi to promote his latest film Chinese Zodiac, one of the films being screened at the festival. A lover of poppadum (papad) and kadhai chicken, the star excitedly spoke of his love for Indian food and when asked about Bollywood, Chan remarked on how he had seen recent films improve a lot and that they were no longer just about songs and dance.

“We cannot choose our neighbours. In fact, we should love each other; why hate each other? Through films we need to promote peace,” Chan said in a statesman-lime manner, while replying to a question on the headline-hogging border spat between the two prickly neigbours.

Chandani Chowk to China was the first Indian movie to have been shot in China. Merchants of Bollywood, a musical conceived by Australian Tony Gough and choreographed by Mumbai-based Vaibhavi Merchant, has travelled across 10 cities to China, making the Chinese sway to the peppy beats of Hindi songs.

After the popularity of Bollywood hit film 3 Idiot in China, My Name is Khan struck a chord in China. When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang came to India last month, he surprised everyone when he said how he loved watching Bollywood films. The Chinese leader also said that his daughter was so impressed with the movie that she made him watch it.