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Culture

Bollywood Comes to German TV

Most Germans have never seen Indian films with their elaborate satins and silks and lavish musical numbers. But one German network is bringing a Bollywood soap opera to television, hoping it will catch on.

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Bound to fascinate: "Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad"


Bollywood, a word play on Bombay and Hollywood, is the name of the film genre which has boomed in India for decades. Popular in Asia, Africa and in many parts of Europe, Bollywood has also become a major trend. But while most Germans have never seen a Bollywood production, German broadcasters are hoping to entice them by airing a Bollywood film for the first time on German television next week.

German private broadcaster, RTL II, will air the three-hour epic "Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad" on Nov. 19.

The film is a big family drama with a simple, easy-to-follow narrative structure. It's actually a typical soap opera, even if the faces and costumes of the characters are foreign to German viewers. But if some things will be new and strange for Germans, the emotional themes of the films are universal. And this, said the RTL film director, Minea Bauer, is the difference between Bollywood films and American or German productions.

Kitsch factory

"It is highly believable, emotional drama," she said. "They are, of course, melodramatic films that are not told in a rational way, but which through their telling, transmit a lot of emotion. And the depth of the characters is something that has been lost in big Hollywood films in the past few years."

Filmplakat Bollywood

A year and a half ago, the movie played in German cinemas. But the three-hour epic with German subtitles was too much for most Germans and it only attracted 7,000 viewers. RTL II hopes the German dubbing will attract larger audiences.

"We worked really hard on dubbing the film for over three months," said Bauer. "And it wasn't so easy when you consider that in many places the film suddenly jumps to a musical number, and you have to get the bridges between dialogue and song right, not to mention translating idiomatic and colloquial expressions, and continually finding ways to explain to viewers what is going on, because there are so many cultural differences."

Bollywood is often referred to as the biggest dream and kitsch factory of the Indian subcontinent, producing elaborate stories of love and longing, with dance and song numbers that are immensely popular in India.

As multifaceted as Hollywood

And although more films come out of Bollywood each year than Hollywood, until now, they haven't presented serious competition for American productions. But this might be changing, Bauer said, because the films are worth seeing.

Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad

Scene from "Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad"

"These films have improved dramatically in quality in the past few years," she said. "This genre is so brilliant, so emotional, we shouldn't keep it from the German public."

One advantage of the Indian productions is their price. At about $10-12 million (€7.7 to 9.3 million), they are much cheaper than Hollywood films. The private broadcaster hopes to reach eight percent of the German audience with this first dubbed Bollywood film.

"Firstly, it's really important to us to bring these wonderful, beautiful films to the German public, and we want to see them succeed," said Bauer. "And on the other hand, it's simply a great industry with excellent stories and just as multifaceted as Hollywood.

International producers are currently working with Indian media production companies to make more films for foreign markets, hoping that Bollywood becomes a movement with a future, and that that future has just begun.

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