When I made the decision to lead the first delegation of lawmakers to India to celebrate the country’s Independence Day earlier this month, I was well aware that Bollywood had to be a major focal point of the trip. Bollywood has played an integral role in telling India’s story after colonialism, and it continues to hold significant cultural and economic influence.
Both Hollywood and Bollywood are among the most influential film industries in the world, shaping global culture and cinema. Not only do they have a profound impact on people’s lives, but they are also highly profitable industries. In 2022, the film industry in the U.S. generated a staggering $6.9 billion in revenue, while in India it reached a remarkable $1.28 billion.
Despite being geographically distant and having different historical and cultural contexts, Hollywood and Bollywood share a cultural connection rooted in shared values. Today, both industries face similar challenges as new technology emerges, and they strive to appeal to wider audiences across the globe.
As an Indian American who grew up with immigrant parents in Bucks County, PA, watching Bollywood and Hollywood films at home was an essential part of understanding my identity and my family’s culture. These films allowed me to connect with my roots, embrace traditions, and learn about the historical struggle for independence.
During my visit to Mumbai, I had the incredible honor of meeting with one of Bollywood’s greatest actors, Amitabh Bachchan. As a national icon with over 200 films to his name, Bachchan has been a source of empowerment for generations of Indians and people around the world. Many of his films, such as “Inquilaab,” capture the essence of the Indian independence movement.
During our meeting, Bachchan spoke about emerging trends in technology and filmmaking, highlighting the cultural ties between America and India. He shared stories of visiting the United States in the ’70s and ’80s, performing for the Indian diaspora. In a touching gesture, he gave me a book written by his father, who knew my grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar, an Indian Freedom Fighter who served in Mahatma Gandhi’s first parliament and was imprisoned alongside him. Bachchan expressed his pride in India’s journey since independence and his connection to the Indian American community. Meeting with Bachchan was as momentous for me as meeting with the Prime Minister.
Bachchan’s life story mirrors the story of India itself. He has been part of the film industry since 1969, starring in films that reflect the maturation of a young nation, including films centered around Indian independence. Even after 54 years, he continues to host “Kaun Banega Crorepati,” the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” which remains immensely popular.
Just like art, film, and theater in the United States, Bollywood provides a platform for creative expression in India. Bachchan and other Bollywood leaders demonstrate how important it is for a thriving democracy to have the ability to laugh at oneself and nurture forms of expression that enable questioning authority and discussing the importance of human dignity and family values.
The connection between Hollywood and Bollywood can be seen through shared values and themes present in popular films from both countries. For example, films like “Barbie” and Bollywood’s “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” address the struggle for identity and societal norms faced by their female protagonists. Both films promote a message of female empowerment and the importance of self-discovery.
Similarly, movies like “PK” and “Oppenheimer” reflect shared values. “PK” is a satirical science-fiction film about an alien on Earth, challenging societal norms and religion. Like “Oppenheimer,” it raises questions about the wisdom of those in power, ponders the meaning of life, and explores the potential and dangers of new technology.
During my conversation with Bachchan, he expressed sympathy for striking actors and writers in the United States and voiced concerns about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). He discussed how technology has been used by studios to manipulate his image and likeness without his consent, a concern echoed by many actors on strike.
As a representative of Silicon Valley, I have been urging leaders in government, labor, and business to prepare for the AI revolution and the ways it will transform our economy. However, we must also recognize that AI is a tool meant to enhance human work, not replace it. AI cannot write the next “Hamlet” or replace Bachchan’s acting prowess. Writers and actors are indispensable, and studios must treat them with dignity and fair compensation.
It is crucial for the celebration of freedom, creativity, and individual expression in art globally to see actors and writers in Hollywood and Bollywood thrive. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to support freedom of expression worldwide. Our visits to foreign countries should not solely focus on meeting government and business leaders but also on celebrating and expanding creative spaces.
By doing so, we can bring people from different nations closer together, empowering them to express their views and live their dreams. These artistic connections foster understanding, bridge cultural gaps, and contribute to the enrichment of society as a whole.