From Bollywood to Nollywood: The Rise of Non-Hollywood

David

David

David has been watching TV outside of his home country for over 12 years. In addition to his streaming expertise, he has a wealth of experience in watching sports and documentaries, having spent many years following these genres. He is an avid fan of The Detectorists and Blue Planet, and also has a keen interest in English football.

For decades, the TV and film industries have been dominated by output from Hollywood.

The cluster of studios nestled in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California, has not only been responsible for the vast majority of the biggest and most popular films and TV shows around the globe, but they have also played a disproportionately large role in defining what people have come to expect from their entertainment.

But that dominance has started to change, and the influence of global online streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon Prime have played a notable role in bringing entertainment from other parts of the globe to prominence.

A quick flick through streaming menus in recent years would have thrown up hugely popular shows such as Money Heist (from Spain) and Call My Agent (France), while scandi-noir series such as The Killing (Denmark) and Wisting (Norway) have redefined the crime drama genre.

Many of these are one-off successes but highlight that people are keen to watch content from anywhere if it is good enough.

Which is why, in some countries, we have started to see whole entertainment industries rising up to challenge the Hollywood monopoly. In particular, two have managed to grow beyond their domestic markets and make serious inroads internationally.

I am talking, of course, about India’s Bollywood and Nigeria’s Nollywood. And in this article, we are going to take a closer look at these two markets in particular and examine why they are increasing in popularity around the globe.

Section 1: The Bollywood Boom

Historical Perspective

Illustration of a timeline showcasing Bollywood's cinematic journey.

The growth of Bollywood, India’s prolific film industry, has unfolded over several decades, but it is only in more recent times that its impact has been felt outside India and the Indian diaspora.

The roots of Bollywood can be traced back to the early 20th century when silent films were first introduced to India.

However, it was in the 1930s and 1940s that Indian cinema witnessed significant growth with the advent of sound in movies. Films like Alam Ara (1931) also known as The Light of The World marked this transition and laid the foundation for Bollywood’s future success.

The 1950s and 1960s were decades of immense growth for Bollywood. Iconic actors like Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand, and Dilip Kumar were hugely famous in India, and timeless classics such as Shree 420 (1955) and Mughal-e-Azam (1960) captured the hearts of audiences.

These films showcased India’s rich cultural heritage and also began to establish Bollywood as a force to be reckoned with in global cinema.

Photo of a vintage Bollywood film scene. A man and a woman, both dressed in 1950s Bollywood attire, dance on a cobblestone street under a lamppost.

The evolution of Indian television series ran parallel to the rise of Bollywood. In the early days, Doordarshan, India’s national broadcaster, brought television into Indian homes. Iconic series like Ramayan (1987-1988) and Mahabharat (1988-1990) became cultural phenomena, captivating audiences with their mythological narratives.

As time went on, Indian television series diversified, with the introduction of soap operas like Hum Log (1984-1985) and Buniyaad (1986-1987), which addressed contemporary social issues.

These shows paved the way for the explosion of Indian television content in the 1990s and beyond, marking a significant shift in the entertainment landscape, both in India and beyond.

The Indian box office continues to boom with a whopping 443% growth in takings in 2022 and locally-made Bollywood movies continue to dominate.

Key Elements That Define Bollywood TV

Collage depicting Bollywood's essence.

Bollywood TV can be characterised by several key elements that, while not totally unique, are found far more often in Bollywood content than elsewhere. These include:

  • Melodrama: Melodrama is at the core of Bollywood TV. It often explores intense emotions, dramatic conflicts, and larger-than-life situations. Characters in these shows experience a rollercoaster of emotions, from extreme joy to profound sorrow, creating an emotional connection with viewers. This melodramatic approach helps maintain high engagement levels and keeps the audience invested in the storyline.
  • Song & Dance Sequences: Borrowing from Bollywood cinema, Bollywood TV shows incorporate song and dance sequences seamlessly into their narratives. These musical interludes serve as both entertainment and a storytelling device. They add vibrancy to the show, break monotony, and allow characters to express their emotions.
  • Family Values: Bollywood TV often places a strong emphasis on family values, portraying close-knit families as the cornerstone of Indian society. The dynamics within these families, including the relationships between generations, siblings, and in-laws, provide rich fodder for drama and storytelling. Family values resonate deeply with Indian viewers and in Indian culture and are a key element of the Bollywood genre.
  • Extended Episode Lengths: Unlike many Western TV series with shorter episode lengths (often as short as 20 minutes, not including adverts, in Hollywood), Bollywood TV tends to have extended episodes. This format allows for more in-depth character development, intricate plot twists, and a slower narrative pace. It also gives viewers a chance to immerse themselves fully in the story and connect with the characters over a more extended period.

Global Appeal and Influence

Collage illustrating Bollywood's global impact.

Bollywood’s global appeal and influence is driven by several factors.

The Indian diaspora, spread across the globe, have carried their love for Indian cinema, music, and culture to their new homes.

Bollywood movies and TV shows provide a nostalgic connection to their roots, fostering a sense of belonging and identity and bringing ex-pat communities together.

These films celebrate the vibrancy of Indian traditions while also addressing universal themes, making them relatable to a diverse international audience who have been increasingly exposed to them as Indian ex-pat communities have integrated into different countries around the globe.

According to the Indian Government’s India Perspectives site, Bollywood has historically grown by around 10% a year, but this is expected to rise to 11.5% a year or US$3.7 billion.

They note that “the overseas market is still not a fully-fledged revenue course for Indian cinema, but it is surely on its way.”

The digital revolution has further amplified Bollywood’s global reach in recent years.

Streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime have recognised the immense potential and audiences of Bollywood content and have incorporated it into their libraries.

This accessibility has made it easier for non-Indian viewers to explore the world of Bollywood TV series and movies. It has also helped to foster a genre of cross-over content where the best elements of Bollywood are combined with other international entertainment traditions.

This has seen Bollywood stars, directors, and producers collaborating with international talent more and more, resulting in a fusion of cultures and styles that attracts a broader viewership.

Hollywood celebrity Brad Pitt said, “I would love to work in a Bollywood film as there is so much drama and color in the films there… I might decide to work in a Bollywood film and do one of those dance numbers with the whole crew in the backdrop.” (Source)

Over time, this has brought an increasingly international audience to Bollywood’s movies and TV series while growing the influence that Bollywood has in the global entertainment industry.

Section 2: Navigating Nollywood

From Humble Beginnings

An old-fashioned television set stands prominently in the foreground, displaying a black and white image of an announcer.

The growth of Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving film and TV industry, is a remarkable journey that has turned the tradition of local storytelling into a massive entertainment sector.

Nigeria’s TV industry began in the early 1960s when the first television station, Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), was established in Ibadan. This marked the beginning of televised entertainment in the country.

However, the real turning point came in the late 1970s with the creation of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), a national network that extended television coverage across Nigeria.

NTA played a pivotal role in introducing Nigerians to television as a medium for storytelling and entertainment.

The seeds of Nollywood were sown in the 1980s when Nigerian filmmakers started producing low-budget feature films. These films were often shot on video and released directly to the home video market.

They were known as “Nollywood” films, a play on Hollywood, and gained popularity due to their relatable, locally inspired stories and accessibility.

The 1990s saw a surge in Nollywood’s growth, with filmmakers embracing digital video technology, which lowered production costs and made filmmaking more accessible.

This period also witnessed a significant increase in the production of Nigerian films, covering a wide range of genres from drama to comedy, romance to action.

Classic Nollywood style poster.

At the same time, there was also a growing market in reshooting Hollywood movies, which have come to prominence globally in more recent times thanks to their highly amusing and dramatic cartoon movie posters.

Ironically, this trend, which many saw as mocking Nollywood, has actually seen a notable boost in international viewers of Nollywood movies.

Local storytelling, deeply rooted in Nigerian culture and traditions, played a pivotal role in shaping Nollywood.

The industry’s success can be attributed to its ability to reflect the daily lives, aspirations, and challenges of Nigerians.

Box office numbers in Nigeria are up an impressive 19% in the first quarter of 2023.

Themes such as family dynamics, societal issues, and cultural traditions resonate with both local and international audiences, making Nollywood a significant contributor to the global film industry.

Themes and Narratives Unique to Nollywood TV

Collage depicting typical Nollywood TV show scenes.

Nollywood TV is celebrated for its rich and diverse storytelling, featuring themes and narratives that are unique to the Nigerian cultural landscape.

These themes often reflect the complex and multifaceted nature of Nigerian society and include:

  • Spirituality and Folklore: Nigerian culture is steeped in spirituality and traditional beliefs. Nollywood TV frequently explores these themes through supernatural elements, rituals, and the interaction between the physical and spiritual realms. Stories of witches, juju (magic), and ancestral spirits are common, offering viewers a glimpse into the mystical aspects of Nigerian culture.
  • Urban Legends and Myths: Nollywood often draws inspiration from urban legends and myths prevalent in Nigerian cities and communities. These stories add an element of mystery and intrigue to the narratives, captivating audiences with tales of haunted houses, mysterious creatures, and eerie occurrences.
  • Societal Issues: Nollywood TV doesn’t shy away from addressing pressing societal issues. Themes such as corruption, political intrigue, poverty, and social injustice are frequently explored. These narratives serve not only as entertainment but also as a reflection of the challenges faced by Nigerians and the need for social change.
  • Family Dynamics: Family is at the heart of Nigerian society, and Nollywood TV, like Bollywood, often delves into the complexities of family relationships. Whether it’s exploring the dynamics of extended families, intergenerational conflicts, or the importance of traditional values, these stories resonate deeply with viewers.
  • Love and Romance: Nollywood TV excels in portraying love and romance in various forms. From epic love stories to modern romantic comedies, these narratives explore the intricacies of love, courtship, and marriage, often against the backdrop of cultural expectations and societal norms.
  • Comedy: Nigerian humour is renowned for its wit and satire, and this is reflected in Nollywood TV. Comedy plays a significant role in many Nollywood productions, offering light-hearted entertainment while also addressing relevant issues using comedy or satire.

International Reception

Illustration of a Nollywood star on the international stage.

Nollywood has experienced a remarkable international reception, given its relative youth compared to Bollywood and Hollywood.

Its influence and popularity have spread through various channels, including neighbouring African countries, global streaming platforms, and international film festivals.

Nollywood now produces around 2,500 movies a year, second only to Bollywood, and ahead of Hollywood.

Nollywood’s impact in African countries is a testament to its relatable storytelling. Shared linguistic, cultural, and social ties make Nigerian films and TV series immensely popular in neighbouring nations like Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Cameroon.

These stories, often reflecting common experiences and values, have fostered a sense of cultural unity across Africa, which has only grown in the post-colonial era.

The integration of Nollywood content into global streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, has also, like Bollywood, helped it to reach a global audience.

Consequently, Nollywood stars and directors have gained international recognition, contributing to the globalisation of Nigerian entertainment.

Nollywood has also made a significant impact on the international film festival circuit.

Films from the industry have received critical acclaim and accolades at prestigious events, including the Cannes Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Pan African Film Festival.

This recognition not only elevates the industry’s profile but also encourages cross-cultural collaborations with filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, something that has particularly grown in more recent times.

In addition, the Nigerian diaspora plays an instrumental role in promoting Nollywood globally.

Diaspora communities organise screenings, film festivals, and cultural events around the world that celebrate Nigerian cinema, fostering a sense of nostalgia and cultural connection among expatriates while introducing Nollywood to non-Nigerian audiences.

As Movieweb has noted, “The future for Nollywood is certainly bright, as it has great potential to produce high quality, brilliant films in an array of genres… Nollywood can surely wiggle its way towards the top of the ladder, especially with streaming services like Netflix, which opens up opportunities to young filmmakers.”

Section 3: Why the World is Tuning In

The growing international attraction of Bollywood and Nollywood are down to a number of different factors:

Authentic Storytelling

Bollywood Holi scene

A big attraction of both Bollywood and Nollywood is their ability to deliver genuinely authentic storytelling.

Both industries possess a unique charm rooted in their commitment to showcasing localised stories that authentically reflect indigenous cultures, values, and traditions.

At a time when Hollywood is stuck in a mire of remakes and superhero franchises, this is a refreshing change for many.

In Bollywood, viewers are transported to the heart of India’s diverse landscapes, languages, and traditions.

Whether it’s the vibrant celebrations of Holi, the grandeur of Indian weddings, or the spiritual journeys along the banks of the Ganges, Bollywood captures the essence of Indian society and culture.

Through its films and TV series, audiences around the world gain a deeper understanding of India’s rich history, its cultural tapestry, and the complexities of its social dynamics at the same time as meeting new characters a world away from the Hollywood norm.

Nollywood action scene

Nollywood, on the other hand, takes viewers on a journey into the heart of Africa, offering a window into the continent’s diverse cultures and traditions.

From the bustling streets of Lagos to the serene landscapes of rural Nigeria, Nollywood explores a wide array of themes, including spirituality, family dynamics, and societal issues.

These narratives resonate not only with Africans but also with global audiences from diverse societies who appreciate the authenticity and relatability of these stories.

Localised storytelling gives both Bollywood and Nollywood the ability to foster cultural connections, evoke empathy, and offer authenticity at a time when Hollywood is offering anything but.

Diverse Representation

Bollywood and Nollywood diversity scene.

Another compelling reason why the world is tuning in to both Bollywood and Nollywood in increasing numbers is the remarkable diversity of representation that these industries offer.

Unlike the more standardised narratives and token representation often found in Hollywood, non-Hollywood series from India and Nigeria offer a broader perspective that many people can relate to better.

In Bollywood, viewers are introduced to a vast array of characters representing India’s multilingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic society.

Bollywood shows feature actors from various backgrounds, portraying characters that reflect the complexity and diversity of the Indian population.

This diversity extends to exploring themes specific to different regions, languages, and communities. It gives audiences more interesting storylines and lets them gain insights into the rich tapestry of Indian culture.

Nollywood, similarly, presents a wide range of characters and narratives that showcase the immense cultural diversity within Nigeria and Africa.

It paints a vivid picture of African societies and tells stories that resonate with audiences worldwide, offering a refreshing departure from the often stereotypical portrayals of Africa seen in Western media and in Hollywood.

Economic Factors

Lastly, economic factors also play a role in the growing global appeal of both Bollywood and Nollywood.

These industries have harnessed budget-friendly production costs, leading to a surge in content creation.

In Bollywood, the cost-effectiveness of film and TV production is a driving force behind its prolific output. The industry’s ability to create high-quality content with relatively modest budgets has enabled filmmakers to experiment with diverse genres and narratives.

This efficiency not only sustains the industry but also appeals to international investors seeking opportunities in the world’s second-largest film market.

Nollywood, too, excels in cost-effective filmmaking, producing movies and TV series with limited resources. The industry’s ability to do more with less has led to an explosion of content creation, making it one of the most prolific film industries globally.

The economic viability of Nollywood has also drawn attention from investors and distributors looking to tap into the African market.

Alongside this, increased global popularity has also led to more collaborations between non-Hollywood and Hollywood production houses.

Joint ventures, co-productions, and distribution partnerships have also paved the way for cross-cultural exchanges. Hollywood’s interest in these industries signifies their potential for global success and highlights the importance of diverse storytelling in the entertainment landscape.

It has created a self-fulfilling circle, with low budgets allowing more innovation, creating bigger audiences and therefore attracting investment from Hollywood and elsewhere that is allowing Bollywood and Nollywood to increase budgets and keep drawing new and diverse audiences.

Collaborations and Co-productions

The following are notable international collaborations or co-productions involving Bollywood and Nollywood TV series.

Bollywood

1. Beecham House (2019)

  • Collaboration: British-Indian co-production.
  • Synopsis: “Beecham House” is a historical drama series set in 19th-century India, exploring the lives of residents in a grand mansion. It was produced in collaboration with ITV (UK) and features an international cast.

2. The Empire (2021):

  • Collaboration: Co-production with Disney+ Hotstar and National Geographic India.
  • Synopsis: “The Empire” is a historical drama series based on the book “Empire of the Moghul” by Alex Rutherford. It explores the rise and reign of the Mughal Empire in India.

3. Out of Love (2019):

  • Collaboration: Adaptation of the British series “Doctor Foster.”
  • Synopsis: “Out of Love” is a Hindi-language adaptation of the popular British series “Doctor Foster.” It explores themes of infidelity and marital discord.

4. City of Dreams (2019):

  • Collaboration: Produced by Applause Entertainment, a subsidiary of the American company Endemol Shine Group.
  • Synopsis: “City of Dreams” is a political drama series that delves into the power struggles within a prominent political family in Mumbai. The collaboration involved the creative expertise of an international entertainment company.

5. The Gone Game (2020):

Collaboration: Notable for being one of the first Indian series filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Synopsis: “The Gone Game” is a thriller series that unfolds during the lockdown, focusing on a family’s search for a missing member. It garnered attention for its unique production approach and suspenseful storytelling.

Nollywood

1. Blood & Water (2020):

  • Collaboration: A Netflix original series that featured a predominantly South African cast but included Nigerian actress Ama Qamata.
  • Synopsis: “Blood & Water” is a teen drama series that explores the secrets and complexities of identity and family in the context of a high school setting.

2. Citation (2020):

  • Collaboration: Nigerian film “Citation” was directed by Kunle Afolayan and featured international cast members, including Haitian-American actor Jimmy Jean-Louis.
  • Synopsis: “Citation” addresses issues of sexual harassment and abuse on a university campus.

3. African Magic’s Jara (2011-present):

  • Collaboration: A popular African entertainment TV series that often features international actors and celebrities.
  • Synopsis: “Jara” is a talk show that covers various aspects of African entertainment, including interviews with Nollywood actors and international celebrities.

4. Doctor Bello (2013):

  • Collaboration: Nigerian film “Doctor Bello” featured American actor Isaiah Washington in a leading role.
  • Synopsis: “Doctor Bello” is a medical drama that explores themes of healthcare and spirituality.

5. Hush (2016-2017):

  • Collaboration: A Nigerian TV series that featured the British-Nigerian actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo (RMD).
  • Synopsis: “Hush” is a drama series that revolves around the lives of the wealthy elite in Lagos, Nigeria, and their secrets and power struggles.

Section 4: Challenges and the Road Ahead

Scene showing Nollywood film makers using advanced filming technology.

As Bollywood and Nollywood continue to gain global attention, they also face a set of unique challenges on their road ahead.

Overcoming Stereotypes

One of the key challenges is to address and break free from long-standing stereotypes. Both industries have occasionally been criticised for perpetuating clichéd narratives and character portrayals.

To appeal to a more discerning global audience, Bollywood and Nollywood must focus on evolving their storytelling and moving beyond conventional themes and characters to explore more nuanced and diverse narratives that challenge stereotypes.

Sustaining Quality and Originality

It is important that the self-fulfilling circle we talked about above isn’t allowed to become a vicious one.

With increasing global expansion, there is a need to balance innovation with maintaining the essence of what makes these industries unique.

As Bollywood and Nollywood reach broader audiences, they must ensure that they continue to produce high-quality content that stays true to their cultural roots.

Striking this balance between innovation and tradition is crucial to retaining authenticity while appealing to a global audience.

Embracing Technology and Distribution

Lastly, leveraging technology and embracing modern distribution methods are essential for sustaining growth. Both industries have already made strides by partnering with international streaming platforms and utilising digital technology for production and distribution.

Embracing these trends further can help them reach even wider global audiences, especially in regions where traditional theatrical releases may be less feasible.

Fun Facts

Bollywood

Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi

This iconic Hindi TV series holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-running television soap opera. It aired for a staggering 8 years, from 2000 to 2008, with over 1,800 episodes.

The show’s popularity made its lead actress, Smriti Irani, a household name in India.

Indian Adaptation of 24

The Indian adaptation of the American TV series 24, starring Anil Kapoor as the lead character, was notable for bringing a high-quality, action-packed thriller to Indian television.

Anil Kapoor reprised his role from the original American series, making it one of the earliest instances of a prominent Bollywood actor featuring in a TV series.

Ramayan Record-Breaking Viewership

Ramayan, a popular mythological TV series that originally aired in the late 1980s, holds the record for the highest single-episode viewership in the history of Indian television.

The episode depicting Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya garnered over 77 million viewers.

Nollywood

Igodo and Early Success

The Nollywood TV series “Igodo,” released in 1999, is often considered one of the earliest successes in the industry.

It was a historical drama that captivated audiences with its storytelling and remains a classic in Nollywood history.

Tinsel – Longest-Running Series

Tinsel is one of Nollywood’s most iconic TV series. It first aired in 2008 and has since become one of Africa’s longest-running TV dramas. The show has featured many notable Nigerian actors and has maintained its popularity over the years.

Checkmate – The First Nigerian Soap Opera

Checkmate is often considered the first Nigerian soap opera. It premiered in the late 1980s and quickly became a cultural phenomenon in Nigeria.

The show’s blend of drama, intrigue, and memorable characters set the stage for the growth of Nigerian television drama series.

Conclusion

With the obsession with franchises and remakes and the dearth of creativity and risk-taking, it is easy to argue that Hollywood is its own worst enemy.

But it is not just the decline of the Hollywood machine that is boosting new entertainment markets such as Bollywood and Nollywood. Yes, they are doing what Hollywood cannot or will not do and are benefitting from that. But there is more to it than that.

Bollywood and Nollywood are generating fresh content, and new digital mediums are making this more accessible to international audiences eager for better and more diverse content.

An increasing cultural assimilation of overseas diasporas into new communities is also seeing an increasing awareness and appetite for alternative entertainment content that Bollywood and Nollywood are perfectly placed to fill.

These pull factors are only going to strengthen in the years ahead. And that bodes exceptionally well for Bollywood, for Nollywood, and for other entertainment markets around the world.

It also means that Hollywood needs to take a long, hard look at itself.

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