“Put your hands up and sing . . .”: Cross-Cultural Film Reception and Fandom

in Projections

It has become a commonplace that the audience of a film is active. What sort of activity is involved when the audience is from one culture—say, Germany—and the film is from another culture—say, India? This article examines the processes involved in such cross-cultural film reception. It focuses on two aspects that are often regarded as problematic for the enjoyment of a film in terms of understanding and emotional response. The first is an obviously characteristic feature of Hindi cinema, namely the song and dance sequences. The second is perhaps less obvious, but no less characteristic—intertextuality and self-referential humor. The example explored in the article—Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om—displays a multitude of ironic allusions to the history of the Indian film industry and other culturally specific elements, which present a special challenge to uninformed audiences. In this context the article concentrates on a segment of active viewers that has at least some degree of familiarity with, but, more important, expresses a definite interest in Hindi cinema: Western (non-Indian) fans. The article argues that it is a misconception to regard cultural particularity as essentially problematic. On the contrary, elements that initially seem to present a hindrance might actually facilitate the development of empathy and identification. The point is perhaps particularly true in the social context of fan (culture) reception and offers some explanation for the films' cross-cultural appeal.