The Importance of Being Cool:
India is home to some of the oldest civilizations on earth. As an anthropological treasure trove for both past and modern societies, the subcontinent is a key contributor to global culture. But, let’s be honest for a second here, the average person is neither a culture vulture nor an amateur anthropologist, but ask them the top 5 places they’d like to visit, India will probably be on that list. Why is that?
Granted, my last statement is purely anecdotal but the 10% growth in foreign tourism recorded this past year (link: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-logs-10-rise-in-foreign-tourist-arrivals/articleshow/45529904.cms) isn’t. So, what is causing the world to visit India in droves? In short, familiarity, many of the world’s most visited destinations – London, New York, Paris etc. – aren’t sought after because they’re perceived as being exotic or far-flung, it’s actually the opposite. People like to visit New York because they’ve seen it a thousand times in their favourite TV shows and movies, Paris is the setting in half of their most beloved novels and London is no slouch in either regard.
India is now benefiting from its recent surge in pop cultural relevance, thanks to a slew of major media hits, making it a “cool” place to visit. So what are the movies, books and shows that have got the world wanting to see India?
Well I guess let’s start with the one that got everyone who watched it to add, “take part in a Bollywood dance routine,” onto their bucket list…
Slumdog Millionaire: Slumdog Millionaire is credited as being a British movie but that didn’t deter it from inspiring a surge of foreign visitors to Mumbai back in 2009 (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-02-19-slumdog-millionaire-mumbai_N.htm). That comes as no surprise, as the film depicted Mumbai in its earnest, rugged and most natural state, contrasting the city’s vitality against a poverty stricken backdrop that’ll only excite the adventurous traveller. Directed by Danny Boyle, the film was a western take on Bollywood, which to the Indian cinema aficionado might seem almost blasphemous, but actually proved to be beneficial as it opened many eyes to the wonders of Bollywood who had previously overlooked it. The heightened melodrama and the fairy tale ending made flights from London to Mumbai a popular romantic choice around my parts.
Eat, Pray, Love: This memoir by American author, Elizabeth Gilbert, spurred a mid-noughties resurgence in indo-centric spirituality that led to yet another boom in Indian tourism. Many of the book’s fans hoped to retrace the writers steps in her ‘Pray’ chapters, were it is rumoured that she stayed at Gurudev Siddha Peeth in Maharashtra. India has long been seen as a global spiritual hub, being home to numerous schools of philosophy and spiritual disciplines, such as yoga, many a traveller come to the subcontinent as an act of renewal. A sentiment that Gilbert captures perfectly.
Russell Peters: A Canadian born comedian and actor, Russell Peters is arguably the most successful stand-up of Indian heritage, ever. Granted, Aziz Ansari is another wildly successful comedian, however, Peters has made his Indian ancestry the cornerstone of his racially observant and diverse act. Being a North American comic, where Indian culture is not as dominant as it is in other English speaking nations (e.g. England), his act provides meaningful insight to a part of the world that often mistakes Indians for Latinos (as one of his jokes puts it). He also performs quite regularly in India, in fact, he just rounded up his 2015 tour earlier this year with a sold out show in Delhi. Definitely a worthwhile act to book your next holiday around.
Other honourable mentions are, The Life of Pi, the works of Vikram Seth, Chatan Bhagat and the recent Ritesh Batra movie, “The Lunchbox”. India’s pop cultural influence is growing and so in-turn is the world’s desire to pack a bag and explore the sub-continent for themselves.