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Trashy basketball and progress in India?
Observing progress through film
I recently came across a brilliant article titled Sorry, wrong number, by Shruti Rajagopalan which touches on the prevalence of “wrong numbers” in late 20th-century Bollywood films and how their disappearance from films is a sign of progress in India. I wouldn’t want to spoil the article, so I urge you to read it and check out her Substack if you haven’t.
Anyways, it got me thinking about the unique ability that films have to capture “what may be up in society” in that particular time period. They say “art imitates life” and while that may not always be the case, for now, I thought it would be interesting to dive back into a classic and see what it may have to say about societal progress.
1. Trashy Basketball
I was born in 1998 which was also the year when the film “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” came out. (My mother tells me this is the first film I watched) A Shah Rukh Khan classic with an IMDB rating of 7.5. To the uninitiated, the film is about a mother asking her daughter to unite her father with one of her childhood friends. Oh, and the mother is dying and leaves letters for the daughter to read when she is old enough. I’m doing a horrible job selling this, but what I want to focus on here is a basketball scene.
Dribbling as toddlers would, coupled with a few violations, this scene makes for a comical and slightly cringe-worthy basketball one-on-one. The actors and the director should have probably spent more time understanding the game. It’s not like, basketball quality was poor in the 1990s. After all, Jordan won his 6th ring in 1998.
Here is a 2017 film, Half Girlfriend. While I have not watched it, but you can see the quality of basketball go up, in the trailer itself. We see a sleek behind-the-back pass, a beautiful jumper, and a between-the-legs windmill. The movie has an IMDB rating of 4.5. Don’t think I’ll be watching it but it does bring up an interesting question.
What led to an upgrade in Bollywood’s basketball quality?
I think it can largely be attributed to better access to literally, everything! Let’s start with the basics - electricity.
From 1998 to 2017, India has seen a significant improvement in access to electricity. What probably had the bigger impact though, was internet and smartphone penetration.
Better access to smartphones and the internet led to two things happening.
Access to basketball is easier - Platforms like Youtube only came in 2005, yet we seem to have become so accustomed to them that it is hard to imagine life before them. Anyways it’s easier for people to know what basketball should look like, as it’s now just a Youtube search away. That was not the case back in 1998.
Meme Culture and social media - Now, a movie would be mocked mercilessly if it came out with a basketball scene like the one in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. This is not to say that people who understood basketball in 1998 did not find it cringe. It was. However social media did not exist in 1998. The margin for error seems to have reduced due to social media.
Another crucial thing to realize is that basketball is more global now than it was before. Back in the 1997-1998 season, less than 8% of the players in the NBA were from outside the States. That number is close to 20% (or more) as of 2022. (Business Insider )
The sport has seen a rise in popularity in countries such as India, where it has been gaining more attention and investment in recent years. This is mainly due to the better television deals that have been made available for the sport, which has allowed more people to watch and follow the game. You can watch NBA in Hindi now if you so wanted.
Additionally, there has been an increase in investment in the sports infrastructure and development in India, this includes the construction of more basketball courts, training programs, and academies. All these developments have led to more Indian players participating in international competitions, and the Indian national team regularly participating in the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) and the FIBA Asia Cup.
I write all this knowing well, that trashy basketball in Bollywood, could eventually just be laziness from the director.
2. To drink or not to drink?
If one is to start thinking about the portrayal of alcohol in Bollywood, the past two decades have had countless films that have portrayed alcohol “not negatively”. It’s often introduced when friends are catching up or in a moment of celebration.
Just two examples of the same.
However, just by how much my grandmother detests alcohol, I was positive that this was not always the take on alcohol, and I’m sure Bollywood captured some of this. Unfortunately, I have not watched enough Indian Cinema from the 60s and 70s and so I personally cannot comment on the same.
Fortunately, I came across this incredible study that takes a qualitative and quantitative look at the “Portrayal of alcohol in Bollywood movies”. The study is extremely detailed as it looks at three different decades (1960-1970, 1980-1990, 2000-2010) and picks 50 films from each decade. The top 5 grossing films each year are picked and so in all 150 films are analyzed.
An interesting anecdote I picked up from the study was about a film called “Purab Aur Paschim” which came out in 1970. As the study mentions “In the film, the heroine is shown to consume alcohol because of her upbringing in a Western country following Western values. She stops drinking and smoking after she embraces Indian culture and Indian values.”
While I wouldn’t want to summarize the whole study, I will highlight that there is a definite change in the portrayal of alcohol in Bollywood. Women drinking is far more accepted now than it was in the 60s, at least in films. The negative portrayal of alcohol by villains has also reduced compared to the past.
Interestingly, the presence of beer was higher in the 2000s compared to the past. I find that interesting because India is still largely a spirit-dominated market. More than 90% of alcohol in India is consumed in the form of spirits. (Sula DRHP)
This of course makes sense as beer and wine have lower alcohol concentrations. Furthermore, they are expensive and can be difficult to store, once opened. However, 92% of alcohol contribution coming from Spirits is absurdly high. The world average is around 44.5%.
The standard logic is that as discretionary incomes rise, alcohol may move from being looked at as something solely used to get “drunk” to something that becomes part of one’s lifestyle, which would in turn mean more consumption of beer and wine. The fact that some of this was captured in films in the 2000s was incredible to see.
This exercise about thinking about films that came out during a period to try to better understand a trend is a lot of fun so if you looking for an excuse to watch films, you are welcome! I mentioned 2 articles/studies in this newsletter.
Sorry Wrong Number by Shruti Rajagopalan
Rao R, Panda U, Gupta SK, Ambekar A, Gupta S, Agrawal A. Portrayal of alcohol in Bollywood movies: A mixed methods study. Indian J Psychiatry. 2020 Mar-Apr;62(2):159-166. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_294_19. Epub 2020 Mar 17. PMID: 32382175; PMCID: PMC7197829.
Do check them out. They are incredible. Finally, if you haven’t yet considered subscribing to my newsletter!