The noted Bengali author and columnist Dr. Zafar Iqbal wrote on Bollywood influence in his column "Shada-shidhey Katha." He said something to the effect that "up to some years ago I could boast never having seen a Hindi movie, but now I cannot. I have to travel by bus from Sylhet to Dhaka, and they show these movies in the busses where you are a captive audience."
It is extremely unfortunate that despite our rich and varied culture, we in Bangladesh have allowed Bollywood to take such a hold of our imagination. Every day on my way to work I have to see pictures of Karina Kapur and Ashwariya Rai on Pepsi and Lux advertisements. (Aren't there pretty girls in this country?) I have to hear Hindi songs blaring from stores and cars. And I think about all the bus passengers being subjected to nasty doses of Hindi movies.
What's your problem, you ask? Hindi movies are great entertainment. Let the masses enjoy.
First, there is the cultural imperialism issue. We support Hindi songs and movies at the expense of our own songs and movies. So the revenues, the adulation, and the enouragement - all of that goes to Bollywood instead of local talent. In the meantime more of our local traditions face extinction every day.
But my second, stronger objection is along aesthetic lines, not patriotic (or xenophobic) ones. Bollywood movies appeal to our cheap sentiments. They aim to give us instant gratification. They require no thought, reflection or spiritual involvement from us. Instead of raising our spirit and intellect higher, they bring them lower. Contrast this against the gems of Bangla culture: the sublime spirituality of Baul songs; Tagore's veneration of nature; Nazrul's poems of angry youth; the powerful (and sometimes humorous) plays that are staged in Dhaka; even the bantering, playful songs that Momtaz belts out on lost and cheated love. These give us reason to think, to feel and often to transcend our day-to-day realities and raise us to a higher plain.
Hindi movies, on the other hand, are like an overdose of chocolate that give us constipation the next day. They cheapen us, debase us as human beings.
The formulaic predictability of Hindi movies reminds me of Harry Chapin's immortal comments about a Country and Western song: "Next the song talked about a truck because it had already covered motherhood." So the Hindi movie must address the love triangle and the twisted villain because it has already addressed the separated-at-birth-but-evil twin brother.
It is extremely important to remember that the people who create Hindi movies are very hard-working, creative people. The irony is that their creation forces us to see the world as a dumbed-down, hero-zero place, stifling our own creativity. You know that song "Margaritaville?" "Living on sponge cake/watching the sun bake" etc. Jimmy Buffett's song creates visions of a laid-back life on the beaches of the Caribbean, drenched in alcohol, whiling away the sunny days. Guess what, Buffett is an extremely creative workaholic who sometimes works 20-hour days to create his music.
Similarly Bollywood honchos, themselves very creative and energetic people, create trash to stupify the masses.
One ray of hope I see comes from watching the Dhaka crowds participating in Pohela Boishakh cultural events, the long lines I saw waiting to enter the Ekushey Boimela, and the immense popularity of local bands who write their own Bangla songs (usually with far richer meaning than Hindi movie songs) or do remixes of classic Bangla folks songs. Although Hindi culture has infiltrated Bangladesh, one hopes that the infiltration has stopped growing and may be reversed soon.