By Dushyant Shekhawat Jun. 11, 2017
For several kids of my generation, Jurassic Park was our first real exposure to Hollywood. It marked the arrival of American culture, in all its ugly beauty, in the subcontinent.
The earliest memory I have, aged five, is the one where I’m crouching behind a movie theatre seat with my hands over my eyes. From my vantage point, all I could see through the rows of Bata-sandalled feet, was glimpses of a Tyrannosaurus Rex rushing towards me. The year was 1993, and the film was Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur-driven blockbuster that would go on to imprint itself upon the collective consciousness of pop culture all around me.
There are some films that go beyond being mere movies, and ascend to the pedestal of being a monumental cinematic event. Jurassic Park is one such film. Of course it was about ground-breaking visual effects, sound design, and the sheer joy of watching dinosaurs come to life, but it was also much more than that. Jurassic Park was, for an entire generation, the first live-action English-language film that we saw in theatres.
English movies, up until then, had been alien to us. Besides the anger of Amitabh Bachchan, we’d been brought up on love stories like Dil and Aashiqui. We thought of cinema as a place we’d go to watch stories of romance and dance, and many times we didn’t even know that. We were dragged along like all good Indian children by our parents, who had no place else to dump us.
But then Jurassic Park happened. In a runtime of two hours, it exponentially expanded our horizons. Suddenly, we had a whole new world of cinema at our feet. It was outrageous, exciting, filled with extinct creatures, and a mad scramble for survival. The sets were big, but the imagination at play was bigger. Was this what English movies were like? How could language make so much of a difference?
In those days, English films were the indulgence of the urban elite, something whisky-drinking uncles would discuss in an off-putting, pseudo-intellectual manner to show how international their tastes were. “The ‘Indians’ just don’t get English cinema!” they’d say. Their snobbery was justified. Hollywood releases in India before Jurassic Park were films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining, which were an alien fare to audiences who got their taste of first villain-led movies, Baazigar and Darr, only in 1993.
There will be some who say that this was the destruction of Indian culture at the hands of the West, but I would argue that it was the start of a happy coalescence.
Jurassic Park, then, sat in a place of perfect compromise. It unabashedly pandered to the sensibilities of the mainstream Indian audience, offering fearsome monsters, cute kids, and brave heroes. This was a Hollywood experience that my generation could get behind, one that was far removed from the Clint Eastwood westerns our dads seemed to obsess over.
It came at the perfect time too. In the ’90s, liberalisation hit the Indian economy under the direction of then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh. Along with it came globalisation. Our mango Frootis became replaced by Cokes, Mewar Ice Cream melted before Baskin Robbins, and we switched our TVs from Hum Paanch to Seinfeld. There will be some who say that this was the destruction of Indian culture at the hands of the West, but I would argue that it was the start of a happy coalescence.
Today, India gives back as much to western pop culture as she consumes. From Hollywood adopting the famed Bollywood song-and-dance routine in films like Moulin Rouge, to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau doing the bhangra, and Modi opening for Coldplay, Indian culture is now fully assimilated into the global whole. In return, Indian audiences now comprise a 1.7 billion-dollar market for Hollywood movies, and international streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are orgasming at the thought of cracking the Indian market.
Four years after Jurassic Park, English movies had exploded. Titanic came and cinema was never the same again. English movies were no longer the domain of whisky-swigging uncles. Aunties, nephews, and annoying neighbours had invaded their sanctuary.
I was done with Bollywood romances! My sights that year were trained on the sequel of the movie that had changed my world. Jurassic Park’s sequel, The Lost World had released, and I couldn’t wait to be sent crouching behind my seat again as the velociraptors came. This time, I would see no Bata sandals. I was in a sea of Adidas & Nike.
America, in all her ugly beauty, had arrived.