MUMBAI, India, July 24...Today Bollywood tomorrow the world.
The announcement last month that Indian movie mogul Anil Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Big Entertainment, had closed billion dollar production deals with Hollywood A-listers like Stephen Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Jim Carrey was proof to Efraim Durg that India is now officially the coolest country in the world.
"It's the culture, stupid," says Durg, owner of the Delhi Deli in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. "Indian movies, art, literature are taking over. American culture hustlers are jumping on the juggernaut which is an Indian word by the way."
Durg points to the significant investments that Hollywood is making in the Indian culture industry. Disney recently bought a 33% stake in Indian television company UTV and is partnering with producer Yosh Chopra to make animation features for the Indian market. Sony has invested 250 million in production company Pritish Nandy Communications and Warners is co-producing an Indian feature called "Chadni Chowk to China."
Ambani emphasized that he would not try to influence the movies that his American partners made and advertising exec Pradcon Joshi added that "there will be no creative interference."
But Durg scoffed at these assurances. "Culture spreads like a virus. Clooney and Pitt are already working on Ganges 14. Spielberg's next project is "Indiana Jones and the Search for the Sacred Cow Pie" Durg says America's days as a cultural superpower are over. "We were Number One during World War II with Coca Cola, nylon stockings and Benny Goodman. Nobody could touch us in the '50's when we were selling Marilyn, Elvis and tail fins. In the '60's we had Sinatra and the Rat Pack , JFK and Jackie ruled the world from Camelot..." Durg gets a wistful look. "Everybody wanted to know what we were up to in those days. " He shakes his head in sorrow. "But then we had Vietnam and urban riots and the Weathermen. Assassinations, man--JFK, MLK, RFK, Malcolm X-- really cut into our lead. We gained back some ground with Motown and Disco, but then the BIble Bangers, Falwell and Robertson-- took over and we were toast. The 2000 election and Guantanamo sealed the deal. We just ain't cool anymore, end of story."
Other nations have rushed to fill the coolness vacuum, Durg says, but he's not impressed.
"Russia is has a bully culture," he says. "Do what I want or I'll turn off your oil. That's clumsy. The Russians gave this ex KGB spook some kinda nuclear poison to make him glow in the dark. They killed a reporter because she busted them for torture in Chechnya...Very uncool..."
China, the country in which the compass, the printing press, paper, gunpowder and noodles were all invented in the space of a century, is trying to recapture it former glory. Some of the world's most prominent architects and urban planners have turned the skyline of Beijing into a modernist sketchpad with the Water Cube, the Olympic swimming center, whose walls glow blue in the dark, the National Stadium and the Chinese Central Television Tower designed by Rem Koolhaas. The city is full of modern art galleries. Avant garde music is played in the hippest clubs. There's a four star restaurant on every corner...
"They do all this great stuff," Durg says. "But then they execute a guy for bouncing his rent check...Very uncool..."
"India has a caste system and it's messed up in Kashmir," Durg says. "It has separatist movements in the northeast. There's even rebel tribesmen shooting at cops with bows and arrows in Assam, which is kind of cool-- if you're not a cop...With all this going on it's a real democracy so you know it'll keep growing."
Durg is going into the Indian business in a big way. He's planning to run elephant rides through Central Park in the fall. He already has five Delhi Deli franchises and more being sold every day. As his pots gurgled releasing a cloud of curry, Durg pointed to an eighteen wheeler parked outside. "Know what's in there? 33 tons of garlic nan and that won't get us through the weekend."
He offered this bit of advice to entrepreneurs. "Take your Nehru jacket out of the closet, trade your guitar for a sitar and buy yourself a white heifer, bro. Lord Vishnu is coming across the Williamsburg Bridge."
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