Global Fandom Jamboree Conversation: Innocent Uwa (Nigeria) and Swapnil Rai (India)- Part 2.” Confessions of an Aca Fan


I love the whole thing you said and how have placed it within a historical perspective, like the way Zee world began. That’s interesting to see how a television network that stood up to globalization is now a globalizing factor. In discussing Bollywood as its same in discussing Zee world, one discovers Indian identity, dressing style and culture and the patronage it receives across the world and like you mentioned, it is now in about 169 countries and one of the high points it has is cultural resonance which is why it is so popularized also in Nigeria because people are interested in India stories. It is what you alluded to when you spoke of the Hollywood director who handled the Slumdog Millionaire story and made people feel good about the Indians in the story. It is what is found in Germany with the emphasis on melodrama, music, and same for us in Africa, a great point in it is large families since Africa is communalistic and people do a whole lot of things together within the family.

Uwah: But it is also amazing that its language appeals to all whether in Africa or the West. The west coastt is individualistic and Africa is communalistic but Zee world being presented in English translations or other languages helps fans across the continents to follow and enjoy its storylines. The fans actually create the structures and contexts of consumption mechanisms.
Fandom in Zee world then is big in Nigeria because of ESL – English as second language – so many young people learn their grammar through acting out what they see on screen and by imitating their heroes. In that way what came to fight globalism by sticking to Indian stories is today a channel of globalization by extending the same stories globally.
We are by is saying it is going round and people are embracing it.

I quoted the director of a film, Dancing Queen in my write up It is a Nollywood film, of course you know that Nollywood is the film industry in Nigeria, just like we have Bollywood.
Both of them going after Hollywood. So, in this film Dancing Queen, on

e would see that the protagonist, had good love for Zee world, alongside the mother, and some other fans and as she watches it on screen and becomes engrossed in the mannerisms of its casts, she uses her lines to influence the mannerisms of her fellow villagers, in terms of dressing culture, dance steps, accent and attire and because of the changes people see in her as she becomes influential (like a celebrity) in the society, she is able to gather youngsters in the village square and be teaching them how to dance Indian music and carry out actions as seen in Zee world storylines. Like a network standing for globalization, so also is Nollywood today not only standing up for Africans as against but also for the world as to help add glee to the integrity of Nigerian cultures on screen.

Rai: You make a great point. And this is something that I bring up in my own research as well . It’s like you’re pointing to like these global South proximities and for that reason how Bollywood is perceived differently. This sort of comparative research can highlight that. So Bollywood, even though the term itself sounds very imitative in that it is named after Hollywood, Bollywood is a very old industry. To borrow Michael Curtin’s phrase, Mumbai has been this media capital and existed contemporaneously with Hollywood. The first Hollywood movie was made in 1910, India made its first movie 1913. So the fact that this industry became popular as Bollywood happened in the 70s. I think that what we need to understand this dichotomy between the global north and south and we need to acknowledge the existence of other centers, you know, that have existed contemporaneously with Hollywood and have influenced other global regions like Nigeria because of cultural ties because of postcolonial proximity. Yeah, so we have defined that the fact that we have something like Zee points to, you know, these other centers within the global south, that are perhaps as if not more important in thinking about lateral flows and flows of cultural form and connections. Because Nigeria and India have a lot more in common, and have a lot more cultural connections, whether it is their post-colonial past that brought about sort of a different type of exchange or, you know, other kinds of political solidarities. And so, to think about recentering this narrative about how Hollywood is thought of as the originating point for everything, which in the case of India and Africa it’s not.

Uwah: That makes it a good contribution to note that Bollywood is an old industry. The first-time cinema was shown in Nigeria was in 1903. but the influence and aspiration to be like Hollywood has been there. African filmmakers keep reacting to it, I mean Hollywood, whatever it is. So, what we want to do is be like Hollywood, or be on top of it and tell our own stories unlike what was told about Africa at the earliest times when cinema began about the continent. So, Africans today believe that they can tell their stories better than what the Western world has already told about them before now.

They believe that the wisdom of God in filmmaking and in creating Africa stories can be handled by themselves since the West did not utterly do justice to most of the stories, it was something like what Chiamanda Adichie says when she cautions about believing a “single story” which does not tell the whole truth, So most stories, do not play with specific things and that’s why when they do, they want to showcase the context. Yeah, originality, identity, history and other issues like you said point to the connection between Nigeria and India, your arts and ours, again our political history, but also our cultural aspects. Not only political history actually, but also in some form of aspirations to be independent of colonial powers. After their long back and forth battle against colonialism and the effort to really assert themselves in who they are, they have meeting points that we can as well raise.

Uwah: Ok, do you see Zee world making inroads into any other country, whether in the West, or somewhere else, apart from Germany and how do people share in its storylines?

Rai: So to be very honest I haven’t watched the Zee world shows in great detail and Zee world is specific to Nigeria. But what I can say in general is that, and this is something you also talked about so in terms of fandom and fan consumption, what attracts these fans or audiences to this type of content is that they want to dress like that, you know, be like Indians wear the bangles, wear the jewelry in a specific way. Thus kind of consumption of Bollywood as a cultural form beyond just a media text is very interesting. It is a consumption pattern where Bollywood sort of exceeds this its limits as media or becomes this broader cultural form that encompasses Indian traditions, Indian culture, Indian kind of mannerisms gestures, all of those become interesting. So now the point of comparison I would say between how that same thing is received in Nigeria versus Germany would be able to say how are they consuming it? Is there an exoticization happening, even in the Nigerian context because surely in the German context it is happening. Whether it’s Bollywood dancers who think about Indian media in specific way as exotic, as different, as fun, and that sort of becomes the point of resonance. However, the fans as entrepreneurs that I talk about are able to think beyond it. They understand this phenomenon and make connections with the industry.

The example that I used in my blog post is about this woman who grew up in the 2000s so she’s very young. She grew up on a steady diet of Bollywood films edited for TV that were now being shown on German television. Zee came to Germany only recently, so the young fan consumed Bollywood in a specific way on mainstream German TV not Zee. In her performances she mimics gestures that she sees in Bollywood movies, perfectly like the Indians and there are sort of two levels of exoticization happening here. First she is consuming as a unique cultural form, then presenting it front of the industry and audience as this fan-entrepreneur. The industry is receptive to her because she is exotic. Her fandom and interest in Bollywood is exotic because she is occidental. There is a complex reverse post-colonial exoticization of the white fan/entrepreneur at work here. Her Bollywoodized whiteness is being consumed by the Indians. the Indian embassy or cultural organizations looking to sell Indian culture, for cultural diplomacy would then hire her to perform the Indian Bollywood dance in this context. It’s like a very recursive loop where this sort of and exoticization is happening at multiple levels.

Uwah: Zee world is also a bit different and culturally specific. For instance, in its love stories, there is a shift in understanding what people call romance. It is full of words without the emotional show of specific arts like kissing as you see in western movies.
It has to be clean as it is hard to see a full-blown kissing, or having intimacy, on screen in Zee world, again it reveals fashion and how actors are covered-up with costumes and that they do not go as far as showing flesh. They cover the flesh. They are well dressed, shows too how Indian culture plays a huge role in whatever costumes they wear and whatever vision they portray, and the kind of culture, they feel to share. So in that context when we talk about romance in Zee world, it is quite different from some other portrayals in, say Hollywood movies. So, if we use the yardstick of the Western world to discuss romance in Zee world, it can be misleading.
That means that romance in the context of Zee world can be qualified as not making one uncomfortable or saying that too much of flesh is exposed.

Rai: One thing I would say that Indian self is changing very rapidly in these contexts, especially with the coming of streaming platforms and you see the newer bollywood movies and a lot is exposed and a lot is now permitted on screen. So yeah, so this is there is a different level and it’s kind of dual edged sword. That sari can be worn in a certain way and thought of as a garment of modesty, in one context, can be a very sensual garment in another context so you have to look at how the fans in Africa are wearing it versus how these German fans are wearing it.
It is important to be able to make these comparisons because Bollywood or Indian media content in general as it exists today, is very vast therefore the form of consumption is important.
The form is important because for Zee primarily, it is Bollywood filtered for, the home, for TV ergo for a family audience. Right. And that’s why it’s important because the world is not the same as the Bollywood world. Zee world presents a kind of Bollywood sensibility filtered for the family and that is why I feel there’s that great level of reliability in Africa, which would kind of focus on modesty, or the way that older Bollywood films were they aren’t anymore. But still TV content in general uses some of the same structures because the primary target audience is still a family audience.

Uwah: Yeah, so that’s the big difference I think.

Rai: Yeah. The other thing I would also say is that there is also a big cultural difference in the reception of Bollywood films in Germany and Nigeria. In Germany the circulation of Bollywood started on TV. The films are usually three hours long. They were edited down to cut many songs and remove the extraneous information. That is how the circulation started in Germany, by showing edited Bollywood films on the German channel RTV 2. As long as that existed and the Bollywood films were being shown by mainstream German channels it worked fine, but as soon as Zee went into that market and started showing the kind of TV content that’s popular in Nigeria that’s more Bollywoodized, the fandom dropped. They did not appreciate it in the same way and Zee had to shout down their German operations.

Uwah: Exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly because we consume to relax and feel happy… the fastness or thematic thrust in production angles may not be the same, so it’s understandable that culture speaks to all audiences who patronize it and not merely for academic purposes.

Swapnil Rai is Assistant Professor of Film, TV and Media at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Swapnil’s research is concerned with the intersections of politics, popular culture and media industries and brings together global media industry studies, transnational stardom, audience studies and women and gender studies. Her work has been published in a range of scholarly journals including Communication, Culture & Critique, Feminist Media Studies, International Journal of Communication, Jump Cut and Cinephile. In her prior experience as a journalist, writer and editor, Swapnil has covered beats pertaining to cinema, art, and culture. She has also worked in the multimedia and information services industry for Thomson

Dr. Innocent Ebere Uwah is a Reader in Film Studies, at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. His research interests are on the interface between representations and cultures, Nollywood and media education, identity constructions in films and religion communications.

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