Hollywood vs. Bollywood: An Interview With Filmmaker James Kicklighter

Growing up in California, I was raised with a substantial Hollywood influence, but the Hollywood that was part of my development comprised of musicals such as Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Disney films filled with song and dance. With Oscar season here, I've spent a lot of time wondering whether Bollywood is gaining power compared to Hollywood.

Looking at income generation, Bollywood sold a total of 3.6 billion tickets and earned revenues of $1.3 billion, whereas Hollywood films sold 2.6 billion tickets, but generated revenues of $51 billion. The industries vary greatly in what it costs to make a film, though the average Bollywood film is budgeted at $1.3 million, Hollywood has an average $13.6 million.

To gain a better understanding of Bollywood and Hollywood from someone on the ground and in the industry, I spoke with director of Desires of the Heart, James Kicklighter.

Does he think Bollywood is becoming more powerful than Hollywood? Kicklighter said that, “In the entertainment business, power pertains to money,” so until Bollywood begins exporting more films that are successful in markets outside of Asia, “it will not have the seat of power.”

Kicklighter notes that as Hollywood explores partnerships with financing and distribution deals, “it is clear that the market is important to Hollywood.” Kicklighter sees the main barrier to Bollywood’s power is not film output, but the accessibility to Western markets: “Bollywood has a style that is uniquely its own. As the international market becomes more important than the domestic market, I am curious to see how this relationship evolves over the next few decades.”

While we may be able to see singing and dancing in Hollywood films, Hollywood still influences Bollywood. As Kicklighter said, “In emerging markets, I believe that the Western lens is the most important.”

Is Slumdog Millionaire a Bollywood film? As the New York Times wrote, "despite the director’s strenuous denials, it could well be a Bollywood film." The film uses the homegrown version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, an American game show adapted for an Indian audience.

Kicklighter discussed his experience traveling in Turkey last year, while preparations were being made for an American version of ABC's Revenge. American companies are going beyond selling U.S. TV shows abroad, “Now, they are selling shows with pre-existing scripts to networks in local countries, casting their own local favorite actors. To my knowledge, other countries are not doing anything like that.” 

Kicklighter’s most recent film, Desires of the Heart explores facets of two cultures. It is the story of Dr. Kris Sharma (portrayed by Val Lauren), a psychiatrist from India practicing in Savannah, Ga., where he meets Madeline (Alicia Minshew), a local artist with a mysterious past. But as their relationship begins to blossom in America, Kris is summoned home by his brother, Pradeep (Gulshan Groverto marry the woman chosen by his parents.  

Kicklighter believes that as the world continues to grow closer, it is the homogenization of culture that is the most negative aspect of globalization.

During the course of shooting part of the film in India, Kicklighter and his team were in Rajasthan, in the province closest to Pakistan. As he recalls, “I remember seeing a large poster of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's film Looper at the movie theater right in front of the market. There were cows sitting in the road while dust flew up from the stores. The building had its own local flavor, designed like the other area buildings."

He saw this in stark contrast to the megaplex in New Delhi, which was just like any other in the U.S., next to "Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Hard Rock Cafe, Gucci, among every other global brand you can imagine."

What may be more pervasive are the retail malls which echo a global influence of American power, and thus, as Kicklighter sees it, “the power of Hollywood.” The question may not be one of Bollywood mimicking Hollywood, but a global cinema usurping the local.

"I fear that the days of the small, local theater in Rajasthan, even though they carry American movies, are soon to be in the past."