Last year around this time I was on the beach in Kerala watching the locals burn a huge Santa Claus effigy. There don’t seem to be any effigies in my neck of the woods this year although they seem to be popular in Iraq during this particular New Year’s.
It’s been a good year for India. Described as a marriage of an elephant and a dragon, India signed a wide-ranging trade deal with China in November, with the two Asian powerhouses planning to do $40 billion in trade within the next few years. And, also a sign of things to come, you know you’ve truly arrived as a commercial nation when Wal-Mart turns its sights on you.
The uber-retailer announced in November that it had signed a deal with Bharti Enterprises to open stores in the world’s second most populous country. Indian society seems well suited to the Wal-Mart model as the superstores’ chaotic layout seems in harmony with the average jumbled Indian street market. Actually, places like Chandni Chowk may have more order than Wal-Mart’s overstocked aisles.
On the tourism front, new figures support India’s apparent upsurge in popularity. Visits to the country have nearly doubled in the ten years from 1995 to 2005. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, foreign tourist arrivals to India increased respectively 14.3%, 26.8% and 13.2% over the previous years.
In other news, we in the US may be seeing more of India on the big screen, although we might not get to the point where the accompanying cinema popcorn is as spicy as it is in India. Yes, The Guru, a Bollywood pic disguised as a Hollwood pic, came out in 2002 to little notice and 2004’s Bride & Prejudice was similarly unremarkable. Recently, the venerable National Lampoon released The Rise of Taj although vis-à-vis US-India moviemaking it’s release was probably overshadowed by Brangelina shooting their picture (A Mighty Heart, the story of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl) in Pune, India (although it’s actually set in Pakistan but everyone knows how India and Pakistan are basically interchangeable, right?).
Will Smith also made a trip to nurture Holly-Bolly ties, although it could be that his main motivation was scoring a private audience with Aishwarya Rai (the former Miss World who will appear in The Last Legion with Ben Kingsley).
I’m a big Ben Kingsley fan and Ash is probably great at her craft but personally I’m looking forward to the release (in late 2007?) of The Darjeeling Limited, a project directed by Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore) and starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. Apparently they’re supposed to be brothers. I guess we have to ignore the fact that hey don’t really look like kin and just focus on the fact that they all have characteristic noses. Ah, the suspension of disbelief!