With London’s thriving South Asian community, it’s no surprise that Bollywood has found a second home here. However, in recent years its fan base has grown to include a diverse mix of nationalities. DJs Raj and Pablo, the dynamic duo behind the BBC Asian Network’s Love Bollywood show, have much to say on this cultural phenomenon.
“When we first started, Bollywood was a dirty word. It wasn’t credible, it wasn’t cool, it wasn’t in the mainstream consciousness,” explains Raj in his melodious Scottish accent. During the Nineties, an inclination towards the theatrics of Indian cinema was somewhat of an embarrassment, a clandestine guilty pleasure. Instead it was Asian Underground, as pioneered by Talvin Singh, which held the street cred and top chart positions.
But a decade has passed, and the situation is entirely different. Andrew Lloyd Webber brought the musical extravaganza Bombay Dreams to the West End; actress Shilpa Shetty became a household name after a stint on Celebrity Big Brother; composer A.R. Rahman won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire; and Aishwarya Rai is now one of the most recognisable faces of L’Oreal’s global ad campaign.
“We’re finding that a large proportion of non-Asians are trying to get into Bollywood, trying to find out what it’s about,” according to Raj. “People are more aware of it and it’s much more accessible.” Bollywood’s ascendance from niche interest to mainstream pop culture has even caught the attentions of busy LA agents.
While the lavish productions and over-the-top plotlines offer an attractive form of escapism, for Pablo the songs are the best part. The former drama school student (who once appeared in a Bob Marley video) believes that Bollywood music transcends any language barriers because the beats and emotions can be understood by everyone, regardless of ethnic background.
Given their expertise, the pair decided to handpick tracks for a special compilation album. It features classics from the legendary Asha Bhosle as well as the latest smash hits, such as ‘Jai Ho!’ by the Pussycat Dolls. And novices need not worry – “It’s very inclusive…we bring everything back to basics. But at the same time if you do understand Bollywood and you’re a big Bollywood fan, you’ll hear stuff that you probably haven’t heard in a while,” assures Pablo. “Because we run our club night, we get a real sense of what people like listening to.”
Before heading off to prepare for their weekend radio show – which involves calling Mumbai for gossip and updates, attending film screenings, and interviewing some of the biggest names in the business – Raj and Pablo reveal that they still enjoy shopping for CDs, clothes and food in Southall market, the place that gets you closest to India without leaving London.
Love Bollywood airs Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9am on BBC Asian. Raj and Pablo’s club night happens monthly at the Cobden Club.
Love Bollywood is also available at HMV, on iTunes and as a BBC podcast.