How Millennials Are Reshaping Nollywood and Bollywood - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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India’s long-standing influence on northern Nigerian pop culture is getting a remake for millennial audiences.

  • Nigerian and Indian filmmakers are collaborating on productions, and Nigerian actors are getting roles in Bollywood.
  • Two of the world’s biggest film industries are beginning to collaborate in ways never seen before.

All week, except for Fridays, Salim Mustapha whets the appetite of Bollywood fans who crowd into his viewing center in the Wapa area of the ancient Nigerian city of Kano. For 30 cents a movie, their evening entertainment is served.

Viewing centers — small pay-per-view locations — sprang up across the country in the early 2000s to tap into Nigerians’ obsession with European soccer leagues. Run by small-scale entrepreneurs like 27-year old Mustapha, these centers are now catering to another cadre of viewers in northern Nigeria: those desperate for movies from similarly conservative India, more than 4,000 miles away.

The new audience is part of a broader shift. What for decades has been an informal market in northern Nigeria is becoming a structured, industry-scale alliance that straddles businesses, filmmakers, actors and even governments, as the movie industries of the two countries expand faster than ever.

Nigeria’s information and culture minister last October asked India for help strengthening the faculty of the film college in Jos, northern Nigeria’s spiritual capital. Actor and director Ali Nuhu, arguably the biggest star in Kannywood — the Hausa-language film industry of the region — speaks Hindi and references Indian movies in his films. And Bollywood scripts are inspiring Kannywood movies.

Plenty of people like Indian romance and thriller movies, so I find as many to dub to keep them coming and give them cheap.

Salim Mustapha, owner of a Kano viewing center

In the past few years, Nollywood, as Nigeria’s film industry is known, and Bollywood, the world’s most prolific film industry, have unveiled their first co-production, J.U.D.E., while Nigerian actress Zainab Balogun and Nigerian-Indian actor Aivboraye Lawrence Osagie have appeared in Bollywood films.

Viewing centers like Mustapha’s regularly show Bollywood films in major towns and cities across northern Nigeria. And unlike earlier, when the movies weren’t dubbed or subtitled, today they’re available in Hausa, the region’s dominant language.

“Plenty of people like Indian romance and thriller movies, so I find as many to dub to keep them coming and give them cheap,” says Mustapha.

Outside the center — a wood tent that cost Mustapha $105 — small notice boards are updated daily with screening times for Bollywood movies subtitled in Hausa. It’s a lucrative business in a country with the world’s largest population of people living in extreme poverty — 87 million. Two weeks of earnings cover Mustapha’s tent costs. For customers who can’t afford bundled subscriptions offered by satellite TV providers, struggle with Nigeria’s notoriously unreliable electricity or prefer audience commentary to watching in relative silence at home, these centers are particularly appealing. About two dozen viewers visit Mustapha’s center on weekday evenings; the number doubles on weekends (though pandemic lockdowns, of course, have due to the coronavirus pandemic have caused a disruption).

Bollywood’s roots in northern Nigeria date back to the 1960s and ’70s, when Lebanese and Syrian merchants brought videotapes of Hindi films to the region. Southern Nigeria has historically been more receptive to Western influences, while the north’s more conservative values make Indian films a better fit.

Nestled among four new-generation banks in Yola — the capital of the northeastern state of Adamawa — is the 4,500-capacity Lamido Cinema, an open-air amphitheater that hosted local premieres of Indian movies to audiences of politicians, businessmen and lovers in the ’60s.

For movie theaters, Indian films were cheaper to license than British and American ones. Shared cultural mores — an emphasis on familial relationships, young couples who worry about parental disapproval — also served as a common bond. Photographer Fati Abubakar, who grew up in Maiduguri, recalls how, in the ’90s, northerners would organize Indian costume parties and guests would wear saris and ghagra cholis. “My aunt was one of such hostesses, and people would come in different colorful attires,” she says, adding that her mother and cousins learned Hindi.

Nigerian TV shows have also started showing the Indian influence. “There are a lot of love stories with star-crossed lovers … that seem inspired by Indian films,” says Carmen McCain, an assistant professor of English at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and an expert on Hausa literature who grew up in Jos. “Indian Night” parties are common at weddings, and Indian films and soap operas play regularly in many Hausa-speaking homes, says McCain.

The rhythms, vocals and call-and-response structures of songs in many Kannywood films are also directly influenced by Bollywood. Khadija Mainasara Illo, a medical student at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto and an ardent fan of both Bollywood and Kannywood movies, gives examples of more-direct lifts. The Kannywood film Zuri’a, for example, is a copy of We Are Family, a 2010 Bollywood movie about a family in which the mother has a mastectomy. Basaja is a remake of the 2011 Bollywood film Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl, in which a young man goes around duping women. “The storyline wasn’t changed,” says Illo.

The dividends from this Bollywood obsession are reaching small-business owners like Mustapha, even if the profit margins are thin. After home expenses — rent, fuel and cable subscription — he still has enough to take care of his wife and two children, he says.

“Another child is on the way,” Mustapha says, laughing. Just like a movie sequel.

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