FOR DECADES, INDIAN FILMS HAVE MAINTAINED THEIR POPULARITY IN GHANA. WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THIS ENDURING POPULARITY?
In the past decade, Indian TV shows have become common in many households in Ghana as they are now available on cable and satellite channels. These shows, such as Till the End of Time and Razia Sultan, have gained popularity in genres like romantic and historical dramas. Additionally, Kumkum Bhagya, a show loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, has become a hit and was even dubbed in Twig, an Akan language spoken in southern and central Ghana. This show’s success led to a visit by the Kumkum Bhagya stars to Ghana for a tour in 2017.
My PhD thesis and recent academic paper explore the history of Indian media in Ghana, dating back to the mid-1950s when Hindi films were distributed and screened by Sindhi and Lebanese film distributors and cinema owners in major urban centers. These films gained widespread popularity among Ghanaians during the postcolonial period and have remained particularly popular within the majority Muslim communities, including bongos – neighborhoods that were established as settlements of foreign traders and have a complex history of colonial segregation dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. In an interview with a former cinema owner, it was revealed that the Hindi film Arbela (1951) was played every Friday night for a year at Kumasi’s Rex Cinema, which was located near a bongo neighborhood and sold out its 2,000-seat capacity each week during the 1960s. The circulation of Hindi films in Ghana during the postcolonial era reflects the cosmopolitan engagement that Ghanaian viewers had with South Asian popular media during a time of independence in both countries. In places like Tamale, the popularity of Hindi films has only continued to grow over time.
THE CASE OF TAMALE
During my two-year ethnographic research in Tamale, I discovered that residents continue to watch older Hindi films from the postcolonial period in their homes and neighborhood video centers. The films that remain popular include Albela (1951), Love in Tokyo (1966), Norrie (1979), and Andha Kanoon (1983). These films, along with hundreds of others from the same period, are available for purchase in specialty DVD shops in Tamale’s central market, with new shipments arriving every week.
However, my research revealed that the circulation of Indian films in Tamale was not indiscriminate. While Bollywood, India’s most well-known film export, was introduced to the city’s market in the mid-1990s, it had little success among older Dag bamboo viewers. Many were not impressed with the films and expressed concern about the cultural and moral shifts, particularly the perceived Americanization of the films.
As a result, distributors, shop owners, and cultural authorities in Tamale intervened in the circulation of Bollywood in the city. DVD shop owners refrain from selling newer Bollywood films, and owners of neighborhood video centers choose not to screen them actively.
THERE ARE VARIOUS REASONS WHY THE OLDER FILMS HAVE CONTINUED TO BE POPULAR IN TAMALE.
One form of Hindi films that is popular in Tamale is the melodramatic form, which presents a clear moral universe that emphasizes the importance of community and extended intergenerational families over individuality and consumption. This form of Hindi film distinguishes between ‘evil’ and ‘good’, ‘individuality’ and ‘community’, and ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ practices. It is likely because of this clear moral universe that older generations in Tamale encourage young people to watch these films at home, and the ‘Alarikah family’ community even screens them at Chief palaces in the city to “save youth from immoral behavior”. Additionally, Muslim viewers in Tamale appreciate the depiction of Muslim life in some Hindi films, as many of them feature modest costumes and recognizable architecture, including mosques. Finally, many Hindi films include Arabic loan words, such as ishq (passion) or duniya (world), which are recognized by Muslim viewers in West Africa who hear the same loan words in their own languages, such as Wolof, Fulani, Serer, Hausa, and Dagbani.
COLLABORATIONS AND CONNECTIONS BETWEEN MOVIES AND TV SHOWS.
My research revealed that in Tamale, the recent influx of Indian television series has been well-received alongside the ongoing circulation of older Hindi films. Viewers in the city who are familiar with the traditional Hindi films have noticed similarities between the new Indian TV shows and the older films. These similarities include the use of modest Indian fashion such as sarees and kameez, which were commonly used in postcolonial Hindi films.
Tamale viewers have also drawn parallels between the religious aspects of certain Indian television series and their Muslim faith, similar to the patterns observed in the viewership of Hindi films in the city. The recent Indian TV shows have also adopted the melodramatic moral universe of earlier Hindi films, focusing on multigenerational Indian families who live together and collectively navigate issues of love, class, and marriage.
It is important to note that Hindi films and songs, and more recently Indian television series, have been circulating in Ghana for over 70 years. Thus, seemingly new trends such as the arrival of the Kumkum Bhagya cast in Ghana in 2017 are part of a much broader and prolonged history of Indian media circulation in the country.