The Masala Ain't the Same in California: Transnational vs. National Pop Culture

I am now back home in Santa Barbara, California. Expecting I would miss Bollywood culture I bought a copy of FilmFare Magazine at the Mumbai airport, hoping it would carry a little bit of Bollywood back home with me. Nonetheless I had finished reading it hours before my flight got near the United States and now back home my Yahoo homepage tells me about Kristen Stewart's inappropriate photos not how stunning Deepika looked in her sari at a recent premiere. In one of my earliest blog posts I discussed how Bollywood films and the culture around them is underestimated; I emphasized that it was transnational, not merely national. I stick by this. Yet in coming home I feel the lack of saturation of culture that is "transnational." Many forms of popular culture are transnational and are present in many countries. Nonetheless, nothing quite permeates every aspect of life like popular culture in its native country. Sure, Shahrukh Khan is transnational and therefore popular in the US, but I do not expect to see his face endorsing toothpaste in Los Angeles. Similarly, Leonardo DiCaprio is popular in India(I found that James Cameron was a remarkably popular director among Indians) yet I doubt he will be the new face of the Airtel ads lining the streets of Mumbai.  

While I came to Mumbai fascinated by global flows of popular culture and Bollywood films as "transnational," it was their status as national cinema that really attracted me once I got there. Hindi films are not just national popular culture because they are made in India and feature nationalistic themes. Hindi films are national pop culture because they saturate every aspect of Indian life--from defining standards of masculinity, to having celebrities sell your computers, to your ringtone, etcetera. Bollywood films are national cinema because they are a shared national experience. I think the best emblem of this is how Indians stand and sing the national anthem before watching films in a movie theater. Soaking in Bollywood culture is a part of being an Indian, it is a national experience. 

For me, to be overwhelmed by a singular type of popular culture that was overflowing in Mumbai as much as the monsoon rains overflowed in the streets, was thrilling. Sure, Bollywood is transnational, so I can sense traces of it in Providence and in California. Yet it is not the same. Bollywood is as present in Mumbai as masala spice. Let's just say the masala does not overflow in the streets of Santa Barbara.