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OPINION | Importance of Local Flavours — From Hollywood & Nollywood to Bollywood, Kollywood, and Malayalam Cinema!

"The world is a big place, offering various opportunities and challenges. One of those challenges will be understanding the growing attachment of local flavours in a globalising world." — Tang Li, OPINION

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One of the most interesting things that Covid-19 has done for me, has been to turn me into something of a Netflix junkie. Thanks to limits on where you can hang out, life pretty much consists of work, exercise and trying to watch movies and various TV serials.

Thanks to Netflix, I discovered “Nollywood,” which has given me an interest in all things African. For example, I am suddenly fascinated by the way the rich and powerful live on Banana Island in Lagos, Nigeria than those in Beverly Hills. Following Nollywood movies has also made watching travel videos by vloggers like “Drew Binsky” more interesting.

My most recent discovery in “exotic” cinema has been “Malayalam Cinema.” In the last two weeks, I’ve managed to watch three different movies, all of which have been crime dramas.

One of the great things about discovering Malayalam cinema is that it’s a wonderful reminder of the scope and diversity of a place like India. It’s a reminder that India and Indian are more than just the new arrivals from India or the Sarabat stall owner.

When most people think of India and portrayals of India, it’s internationalised Bollywood like Slum Dog Millionaire or Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan. In Singapore, most associate the word “Indian” to mean Tamil, and shows on Vasantham Central.

However, when you watch Malayalam cinema, you will notice that there are differences between Bollywood (gritty stories with less song and dance) and its southern cousin of Kollywood (Tamil movies, which most local Singaporeans will be familiar with).

Malayalam Cinema. Copyright – Onmanomara

Kollywood. Copyright Times of India

Bollywood. Copyright – Go Beyond Asia

I’ve only talked about three different movie industries in India. There is a myriad of film industries catering for the various languages that are spoken on the Indian subcontinent. If you take the term “Indian” into consideration, you’ll suddenly realise that it can mean many different things. India, as they say, is not a single country but a collection of countries with various cultures.

Why is realising this important? The answer is simple – geopolitics and economics. Thanks to the world becoming increasingly interconnected, Singaporeans need to look overseas for more growth opportunities and the growth markets are increasingly in markets like India, China, and the African continent.

Even the Western world as we know it is no longer limited to the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and the European Union. In today’s world, a European opportunity could mean Poland or the Czech Republic as much as it could mean Germany or France.

In a way, Singapore is blessed by being small. The feeling of being a “Singaporeans” is pretty much confined to being a Singaporean. We do not have great regional communities the way other countries do. This makes “nation building” relatively easy in that you need only focus on creating a single identity. It’s always about Singaporeans against the rest of the world.

Let’s face it, we’re just Singaporeans and regional identities are temporary. Being a Singaporean from Balestier or Tanjong Pagar isn’t like being a Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur or Sarawak. It’s probably one of the reasons why S-League has been a disappointment, whereas the Malaysia Cup remains etched in memory (who cares about Balestier versus Tanjong Pagar the way everyone cares about Singapore versus every state in Malaysia?)

Whilst we do not have great regional communities, we need to remember that other people do. Whilst our proficiency in English helps us reach a vast number of people, we need to understand people through their regional identities to really maximise their value to us. Pigeonholing people has limits.

Sure, we have managed to deal with the European Union because the EU operates in English. However, think of how much more we could achieve if we could reach the Europeans in their native languages? We need to understand that not all white people are the same.

That should also apply to dealing with Africans (not every black person is African), Indians and so on. I think of one of my friends who helped organise the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) events. She said that “All of us speak Hindi, but our native languages like Bangla and Tamil come from the heart.”

That can also be applied to the Chinese communities. We all speak Mandarin, but it’s our dialects that move us. We speak Mandarin in the same way that we speak English – it’s something that you need to know to function. However, our emotional connections come from our dialects.

The world is a big place, offering various opportunities and challenges. One of those challenges will be understanding the growing attachment of local flavours in a globalising world.


A version of this article first appeared at beautifullyincoherent.blogspot.com

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