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Promoting India into the Mainstream

Vipul Gupta is an American born Indian who is one of the many people trying to promote Indian culture to American Entertainers, where does his progress stand? Read on as Ravi interviews Vipul...
by Ravi Ram

Vipul Gupta

Are you one of those people who always ask that infamous rhetorical question: "Why hasn’t mainstream America accepted Indian culture as a whole?" If so, then you need not look further than Vipul Gupta. This Michigan-based businessman is truly one of a kind. Unlike many desis, Gupta is the type of person who will attempt to move mountains in order to solve a problem. He feels very strongly about the fact that it is now time for Indians to be recognized in American entertainment. He has worked with the likes of Sony and BMG in an effort to make our culture known to the world. Here is what he had to say to DesiClub.com’s very own Ravi Ramnarain during a recent telephone conversation.

Ravi Ramnarain: FIRST OF ALL, WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS REGARDING THE FUTURE OF INDIAN MUSIC AND MOVIES?
Vipul Gupta: I think of myself as a sort of wheel helping to churn steam and motivation towards what WE as Indians would like to see happen with our entertainment. Isn't it exciting to think of:

- a hit Indian song hitting the mainstream airwaves,

- a popular Bollywood star positively showcasing the fashion and appeal of India on a major US show, or

- a genuine Bollywood blockbuster released nationwide, perhaps near Valentine's to coincide with the appealing romance of our film industry?

There are so many other ways our entertainment can gain exposure and creatively showcase its quality to the world. And it will be great to know that people all around the world can have the chance to feel the same affections we have for our music and films. So this is really my goal - to help showcase our culture on a mainstream level.

RR: THAT SOUNDS BRILLIANT! HOW MUCH SUCCESS HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED IN YOUR TIRELESS ENDEAVORS?
VG: We haven't quite broken our entertainment through yet and so I have to painfully admit that I have had limited success with all of my endeavors. These endeavors include such things as:

-working with Indian record companies to send out different top Indian entertainment samples to such mainstream avenues as the US television networks, Disney, and the Olympic Committee [to create more awareness of what India has to offer and lead to some opportunities for synergistic exposure],

-speaking with popular US consultants and analysts [to gain their influential support in seeing the potential of more Indian/international entertainment breaking through], and

-utilizing all opportunities to speak with top Indian executives and film stars [to gather internal support and momentum from within].

There has been limited success with all of this in the sense that some awareness and momentum is created, but I would really like to see much more mass exposure and networking take place to get real results. It is especially frustrating to not always be able to get our own successful Indian businesspeople and stars to be supportive of giving efforts because they have the resources and networking power to do a lot. It is not a matter of someone having to invest time as much as it is investing heart and desire!

RR: DEFINITELY. IT’S TOO BAD THAT MORE HIGH PROFILE DESIS AREN’T AS ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THIS CAUSE—AT LEAST, FOR NOW. WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS ONE CAN GO ABOUT MAKING THE INDIAN CULTURE POPULAR IN MAINSTREAM AMERICA?
VG: I happened to read today about Andrew Lloyd Webber initiating a new Bollywood-theme musical with Indian Hollywood film director Shekhar Kapur and musician A.R. Rahman. This is a great achievement and just the type of project that can really be an Indian breakthrough motivator. Well, this project came about because of networking. The article mentioned that Shekhar's wife worked with Andrew in the past and that Andrew has become a huge Bollywood film fan. The article also mentioned that since Shekhar introduced his "Elizabeth" film star Cate Blanchett to Indian music, she now is persistent in trying to get Indian music created more for Hollywood films. So you see the power of networking is just tremendous, and the potential is astounding if all of us act as ambassadors to promote the best Indian entertainment to our acquaintances. Let your friends hear and see the greatest from our culture and inform and invite the media. It can be showing them a blockbuster or classic Indian film, having them hear a hip-hop or Bollywood song, or taking them to an Indian party/club/event. The more efforts we all put in, the more word of mouth spreads of our very high quality entertainment. And the better the chances that high people in high places will take notice (if we cannot directly reach them) somewhere in all this networking. After all, we're each within only 6 degrees of separation, right?

One other critical thing I have to emphasize by the way is that another way to truly support Indian entertainment is to absolutely refuse to buy pirated products. And furthermore you should not hesitate to report retailers selling pirated copies. These retailers are very knowingly unethical and the amount of business they cost the Indian entertainment industry is tremendous. I have in fact been in a forum with some top Indian record companies and this piracy is their #1 concern as it prevents more mainstream marketing due to lost capital. So please don't lose this conscientiousness to fight off these killers of Indian entertainment who eat up YOUR morals in exchange for the appeal of illegitimately saving you a few dollars!

RR: VERY TRUE. BUT TELL ME SOMETHING-WHY IS IT THAT INDIANS ARE HAVING A HARD TIME BREAKING BARRIERS?
VG: I am of the belief that 110% efforts = 110% success somewhere down the line. And so I have to come back to the point that I just do not think that persistence and effort in wanting and trying to get Indian entertainment to breakthrough are at a high. I am just a tiny wave trying to get a tidal wave going. But we need more muscle and brains to support this. I especially would love to see such Indians as the superstar Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and our own entertainment stars do much more to promote our culture. Creative thinking is also important. So for example just like Demi Moore and Madonna got a lot of press for visiting/adopting India, we should keep inviting major entertainment executives and Western film stars to do special episodes/projects in India and familiarize them.

RR: OK, VIPUL, LET’S SWITCH GEARS A BIT NOW. WHICH BOLLYWOOD STARS, IF ANY, DO YOU THINK HAVE THE TALENT TO MAKE IT BIG IN HOLLYWOOD RIGHT NOW?
VG: To me, Bollywood stars are attractive for their ability to add a real 'zest for life' with their humility and talents. The ultimate test of how popular a star is sort of comes down to how much they can make the viewer feel like they really want to be their 'friend' in a personal sense. This might sound funny, but I think it is true. When you think about not only the most popular Indian stars but also about the most popular Hollywood stars, we admire those the most who are able to charismatically and naturally pick us up with joy and a personal connection when we see them. So while I do believe that any Bollywood star is capable of making a mark in the West if they put their mind to it, I will as examples mention the megastar Khans and Juhi with their real fan appeal [in fact as an interesting sidelight I have often thought of how much resemblance there is between Juhi and model/actress Kathy Ireland and how they could successfully do a joint project together]. The zest and naturalness of these stars is universally appealing. A key point to mention though is that Indian stars can integrate into Hollywood, but they need not become engrossed to the point of having to lose their unique charisma to try to fit in. Our Bollywood charm is a secret to many, but definitely transferable.

RR: INTERESTING. HOW ABOUT THOSE DESI DJS WHO HAVE LEGITIMATE TALENTS? DO YOU THINK THAT MAINSTREAM AMERICA WOULD APPRECIATE THEIR ABILITY TO MIX INDIAN MUSIC WITH AMERICAN BEATS? AFTER ALL, SONY AND THE REST OF MAINSTREAM ENGLAND ACCEPTED BALLY SAGOO AND HIS MUSIC AWHILE BACK.
VG: Definitely. That brings up another good point about the creative element to all of this. When you look at the Latin American craze, you can see that the popular stars have had to adapt their songs somewhat with English lyrics. Yet there is still that real Latino rhythm and the Spanish vocals are not void. So if Indian entertainment also is to take off, we have to find a way to neither be too foreign and alienating nor to adapt to the point of losing the Indian essence. These DJs you mention are very keen to this point. And so they know how to creatively fuse and appeal to everyone. I would love to see us go beyond just mixing given beats to doing something more creative though. I am trying for example to get Ricky Martin to consider doing something with Bally Sagoo or with Daler Mendhi. What an original mix this lethal combination could create! In fact, some groups like the mixed Indian-Latino-Reggae band Funkadesi are already trying to make their mark in this spirit.

RR: WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?
VG: Well I am currently working hard on plans to go to Bollywood to become a unique megastar who also happens to sing film songs. Totally kidding - if I have any artistic talents this is absolute news to me. Actually a real personal goal of mine right now, with my MBA recently in hand, is to go to India and find myself a beautiful wife sometime this year. All that Bollywood 'pyar' is inspiring after all. Professionally, somewhere down the line I would love to have or be part of a company dedicated to seeking out the best of FAMILY-ORIENTED overseas entertainment/products from around the world and adapting and creatively fusing these products to the mainstream. I have a lot of learning to do first though and perhaps I will get the chance to do this in a global marketing role somewhere.

RR: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT OUR SITE, DESICLUB.COM? HONESTLY.
VG: I like your vision very much and the monthly hit count of a million plus shows the attraction of your site for the youths and others. It is great that you have such unique things as a current listing of worldwide Indian parties. While I do think that there is sort of a loose scattering of some topics right now [models to poetry to Bhangra addicts], I think the evolvement of your site will bring more of a definition and focus for the whole site. I also see a lot more special exclusives and creative features from the drivers of Indian entertainment coming, which will allow more of a personal link for the users of the site. Desiclub.com is a site ever on the move, and of course it will get better with feedback from all users on what we would love to uniquely experience on the site!

Thanks, Ravi, for doing this great interview. I desperately hope it inspires others to be proactively ambitious in promoting our India. Anyone can feel free to contact me at guptavip@hotmail.com to share any thoughts. Cheers and peace.
RR: OK VIPUL, THANKS FOR THE TIME. GOOD LUCK.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Feel free to send Ravi an e-mail @ Ravi Ram.  

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