High School Bollywood Musical

After marketing the gold-minting franchise in India, Disney brings it all back home.

Published August 19, 2008 4:59PM (EDT)

How the World Works has no problem understanding why Disney is pushing its "High School Musical" franchise into every entertainment market in the world, with particular emphasis on India. During a travel stop at a friend's house this past weekend, both of my children were drawn to the latest showing of "High School Musical 2" on the Disney Channel as if caught by a black hole's gravitational suction. My daughter is notoriously "in the demo," but when I noticed that my 10-year-old son had put down his beloved Nintendo DS-Lite to watch the unabashedly kooky "I Don't Dance" baseball dance extravaganza, I had to concede that Disney's plan to get every kid on the planet grooving to the franchise makes total sense.

Again, especially for India, a country where audiences not only expect actors and actresses to break out into deliciously corny dance routines at any given moment, but which also boasts an entertainment industry that is rapidly becoming one of the world's true pop culture superpowers. Disney can't be stopped, nor can Bollywood. And Kipling was wrong. East may be East, and West, West, but in "High School Musical," the twain are meeting.

What How the World Works was not prepared for, however, was to see the Hindi offshoots of "High School Musical" marketed back to Americans. Last Sunday night, Disney transfixed my children with "High School Musical 2: Made in India." Alas, the channel did not premier the entire Hindi-dubbed version of "High School Musical 2," but it did intersperse the broadcast with movie-related videos aimed at the India market.

Two of the featured music videos did not impress, however. Bowdlerized Bollywood, we all agreed. Anemic, at best. But "Aaja Nachle," the Hindi version of "High School Musical 2's" "All for One," brims with cross-cultural vigor. (Alas, the best version I could find had no embeddable URL, "by request.")

But now I find myself wondering what would Edward Said think? What beast of reverse globalization/Orientalism is this? Disney translates itself into Bollywood so as to make inroads into South Asia, and then gets extra mileage by tantalizing U.S. audiences with the resulting exotica. That's a business model that could go a long, long way.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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