A Portrait of a Fan as an Entrepreneur and Industry Node: Bollywood’s Female Fans in Germany and Russia.” Global Fandom: Confessions of an Aca Fan

I was intrigued by [Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, 2001 (SRK’s film)], but I was even more intrigued by the effect it had on my mother. I cannot remember ever seeing my mother cry, not even at funerals. But there she was watching this film, and she had tears running down her face.

Julia Wessel, a twenty-five-year-old German student, was so moved by the phenomenon and fandom around Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) that she quit her degree in cultural anthropology to edit a German Bollywood magazine.[ii] SRK’s popularity among his German fans spurred the creation of fanzines, industry infrastructure, and collaboration that opened up a new market for Bollywood in the early 2000s.

Similarly, women in Russia and the former Soviet Union have consistently been ardent admirers of Bollywood since the 1950s. Awaara (1951; Dir: Raj Kapoor) was one of the earliest and most popular Indian films in the Soviet Union. The film’s release turned out to be a pivotal and defining moment for cinematic and cultural exchange with Russia. Awaara sold close to 64 million tickets, became the third most viewed foreign film in Soviet history, and made Raj Kapoor a soviet cultural icon.[iii] According to Bollywood fan Alyona Kuznetsova, “back then, Raj Kapoor was a sex symbol.”[iv] Many of Kapoor’s films subsequently found distribution in Russia, and he collaborated with Russian production companies and actors. Thus, Awaara instigated a new channel for distribution and market for Indian films. By the time of the collapse of the USSR, no fewer than 226 Indian films had been screened in the country.[v] However, following Perestroika, Russia was inundated with media products from around the world, and the popularity of Indian cinema declined. Nevertheless, the Indian Hindi film culture still retained its most dedicated audience – women.

In an interview with a programming consultant for Zee, an Indian satellite TV broadcaster that has operations in over 169 countries, it was revealed that the main pull for Zee to launch a Bollywood channel in Russia was the dedicated female audience for Hindi films. Even though the global popularity of Indian cinema is not well known in the Anglo-phone western world, Indian films have been popular in diverse global regions ranging from Azerbaijan to Egypt. While in the global south in countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, or China, Bollywood films are seemingly popular across male and female audiences, Germany and Russia offer an interesting manifestation of female fandom. Companies such as Zee or Rapid Eye Movies (German Distributor) are very clear about the audience they are targeting and, in their estimation, it is women – particularly older women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

The core questions that I want to engage with are tied to

1) the feminization of a film culture from the Global South, especially when the recipient is from a western context. What are the reasons for it, and why are German and Russian women attracted to Bollywood movies?

2) How does this affective fan labor engage with industry networks, especially in Germany, where the fans themselves became an industry node by starting a magazine, organizing Bollywood award shows, and hosting films on the web. In this context, I want to foreground the notion that these women fans become the affective industrial catalyzers and intermediaries that exceed notions of traditional fandom based on free fan labor or the exploitation of fan labor. While it is a labor of love for them, it comes with the expected fruits of entrepreneurship.

3) How do these fans and their mattering maps (Grossberg) for these films and film stars generate affect that in turn translates to industrial contexts creating new distribution networks for Bollywood films in regions where Bollywood was not popular before?

[i] (Chopra, 2014) Chopra, Anupama. 2014. “Bollywood is dancing far abroad; Global fortunes advance for Hindi films, but US market is still resisting.” International New York Times, September 27: 1.

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