The Bala Joban Narrative: Creation of A New Identity for East Indians In Trinidad



The Indian influence was seen as pivotal to the expansion of the cinema industry in Trinidad up to the 1970s (Chapter 1) but after that, the loss of the Indian film audience was a devastating blow to the local cinema industry which saw the closure of the majority of cinemas on the island (Chapter 2). During the period from 1935-2011 there was an unbroken presence of Indian movies in Trinidad beginning with Bala Joban (Chapter 3). The movies that came were classified as religious, romantic or fantasy (Chapter 4) and were seen as mirrors reflecting the culture and traditions of East Indians in Trinidad (Chapter 5) through dress, dance (Chapter 6) songs, music (Chapter 7) and religion (Chapter 8).

This chapter brings together the discussion so far and argues for the creation of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad. In bringing together the discussion so far, there will necessarily be a repetition of some points made in earlier chapters, but this is necessary to situate relevant points in perspective as arguments are developed.

The chapter emphasizes that a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad evolved after the arrival of the film Bala Joban in this country. It posits that Bala Joban and other Indian movies that were exhibited in Trinidad, collectively and cumulatively, influenced major aspects of East Indian cultural and religious life that led to the development of a new identity for East Indians. That new identity was linked to the syncretic imitation of aspects of Indian movies and the indigenization of various aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad. The creation of new forms of Trinidadian Indo-cultural expressions constituted major elements of the new identity for East Indians in Trinidad.

The Setting

East Indian identity in Trinidad began taking shape with the arrival of the Fatel Rozack in 1845. Their journey of finding meaning to their existence and forging a new identity in a new land began to evolve in earnest in the settlement villages they developed. They were a “tiny slice of India” trying to find a space in Trinidad and were not considered Trinidadians because they were initially seen as birds of passage. They were a people, seemingly without a home, stuck between a land that did not want them (Trinidad) and a land that did not care for their return (India).

While the eighty percent who decided to remain in Trinidad seemed to have accepted the loss of the original homeland, their stay in their new home constituted for them, a “no man’s land,” socially, culturally and religiously because they were not welcomed as part of the larger society in Trinidad. This ostracism of the East Indian indentured immigrants and their early descendants, and their isolation on the estates and settlement societies, resulted in the exhibition of a type of “herding behavior” that created a homogeneous bubble that insulated them from the outside world. [1]  As they began to settle down, this allowed them to reconstitute from memory, the society that they had left behind.

It is important to note that the East Indian indentured immigrants were inputs into a plantation system, which was an artificial construct that did not have the necessary institutions that were needed for their social, cultural, economic and political survival. They had to re-create those institutions for their survival within the plantation system in the context of the larger Trinidad society and their reconstituted Indian society.

However, as they reconstructed and reinvented their new society in Trinidad there was a tendency to ignore or leave out negative aspects of the old society that they had left behind in India. Despite the fact that they were placed within this new society, they were generally kept away from the rest of the population and more or less imprisoned on the plantations to which they were assigned. They spoke no English and their only contact with the outside world was through the overseer or someone in charge of the estate. They were not permitted to leave the estates without a pass so their movements were definitely restricted. Their contact with the rest of the local society was extremely limited since most of the others lived in the towns and suburban areas while the estates where they ( East Indians) were placed were located in rural areas far removed from the towns. Theirs was a society, separate, but within the context of the wider society.

It was this separation and ostracism, this “left alone” attitude from the rest of the society that allowed them to recast, rebuild and re-create their identity in their new land based on their cultural memories of India. Isolation worked in their favour for retention of their cultural and religious traits. Their work patterns did not allow them much free time for some of the pleasures of life such as cultural and recreational activities. Nevertheless, while they worked on the plantation, with the little liberties afforded them, they practiced their culture and religion within the contexts and constraints of the new environment as their new identity unknowingly evolved based on their cultural memories and religion.

When their indentureship ended, many chose to remain in Trinidad rather than return to India. As they left the plantations at the end of their indentureship, they began to create little settlement areas around the estates where they lived and those settlement areas grew into villages. It was here that their new identity began to thrive. As those settlements grew, a new rural Indian immigrant society within the nation-state of Trinidad emerged. In the creation of those new settlements, there was the shedding of certain unwanted aspects of the original homeland culture and religion in favour of a freer, more liberalized new identity. Caste issues, which were the cause of much tension and poverty in the old Indian homeland, were therefore generally ignored in favour of a more equitable positioning of individuals in the society. Thus, their new society was structured differently where caste was no longer a major determinant factor in their life in terms of socialization, mobility, marriage and education.

The East Indian society continued to grow and develop its own standards, cultural norms, religious patterns and other factors that determined the major features of their new identity within the nation-state of Trinidad. Those cultural expressions came to be regarded in Trinidad as “Indian culture” and included their values, religion, food, dress, songs, music, dances and other aspects of their society.

As internal travel and intra-trading between East Indian communities and the wider society increased, there was more exposure of East Indians to the western trends as there was also the influence of western societal trends on East Indians in general. The majority of East Indians fought against western influences on Indian culture in Trinidad as they sought to maintain their Indian identity. However, their Indian cultural expressions in Trinidad were further influenced by an import from India-Indian movies- that also seemingly sanctioned western trends that they had earlier rejected. The impact of Indian movies on East Indians and their culture and by extension the national culture of Trinidad led to the evolution of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad as was very evident in areas such as dress, dance, music and songs.

Reception and Rasa Theories

Film is considered a major modern art form and like all other art forms, it conveys meaning through its own body of performance. This meaning is not singular but varied. Stuart Hall suggested that meaning was not an inherent property of a cultural text or subject and pointed out that the cultural products (read here as films) did not have a single meaning but were relatively open texts capable of being read in different ways by different people (reception theory). He argued that the viewers’ social location and class were determinant factors in the final meaning that they attained. [2] Therefore, the meaning East Indians in Trinidad made of Indian movies was influenced by factors such as their social status, isolation and cultural heritage. Additionally, the Rasa Theory in Sanskrit literature also bears significance in this discussion.

There are nine Rasas as follows: shringara (love), hasya (humour), karuna (sorrow), raudra (anger), bhayanaka (fear), vibhatsa (disgust), vira (valour), adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (peace). Rasa theory holds that the full significance of words and their meanings are combined with the actions and the environment within which the actions are performed (on stage) to create a new emotion within the individual which remained in the mental field and did not translate itself into everyday life and living. For example, if someone was looking at a play and there was a tragedy that took place certain emotions were conjured up within the individual. The individual would experience emotions of grief and sadness but there was no sense of personal loss, or grief, or a sense of self-struggle that would have been the case, had the individual actually experienced the death of someone close.

According to Rasa theory those emotions remained as a pure sentiment bereft of all other localized characteristics and emotive associations. Emotions of fear, loss, grief, anxiety, sadness, and happiness associated with the Rasa theory were therefore always present in the subconscious and unconscious regions of the self, lying dormant until brought to the fore during a performance. [3] The expression of emotions, experiences and sentiments in a piece of work such as a film was a highly individualistic endeavor. Within the context of modernity where the artist (read here as producer of the film) enjoyed great autonomy in terms of creative license and cultural particularity, the Rasas were explored through the use of metaphors, symbols, allegories, environmental settings, sound and other effects that portrayed the phenomenal world within a fantasy world. At one end of the extreme sat the initiator, the creator of the experience (director, writer or producer) while at the other extreme resided the viewer who as the ultimate recipient and appreciator of the celluloid creation, held the emotional valence through which the propounded aesthetics were translated and made meaning of according to his or her own previous life experiences (reception theory). This transference of meaning in whatever form, from one individual to another through the medium of film established a critical anchorage of emotional and other expectancies between initiator and receiver that was manifestly individualistic at both extremes.

When the Rasa theory was applied to the Indian filmi world, in the darkened cinema hall, through the artistic creation of the film, certain universal emotions were created and projected into the mind of individual viewers at the cognition, recognition and kinship level. This created an immediate affiliation of those individuals, one to the other, in terms of the transformation that took place almost universally in the audience. This kind of kinship and emotional identity, among the cinema audience, created a feeling of bonding within the audience viewing the Indian film, as they collectively identified with one another in terms of the similarity of emotive experiences and identity within that cinematic space. For the individual in this cinematic audience there was a tacit understanding as he or she entered the cinema that what he or she was about to see was not a physical occurrence but a creation in the celluloid world.

In viewing the film, the individual was aware that the actors and actresses were not real and that they were merely characters projected on the screen playing the different parts without manifesting any individuality associated with their real names and habitations. For example, when viewing a film on the life of Lord Krishna it was clear to the viewer that the man playing the role of Krishna was not the Divinity Krishna himself but someone simply acting the role seeking to present actuality if not idealism.[4] Regardless of what characters were portrayed on the silver screen and what scenes were depicted, when all was put together, there was the production of an individual and collective experience, which pervaded the audience. As a result, there was a form of actualization that took place within the emotional framework of the individual that translated the experience into a veiled kind of actuality. In so doing the past experiences, associations, and general life experiences that were latent, became connected with the new filmi experiences. Both past and present experiences became fused producing a completely new experience, giving rise to new meanings for the individual and the collective audience as a whole.

Each individual therefore took away from the cinema personal and distinctive meanings based on his or her previous life experiences. In addition, those experiences necessarily influenced aspects of daily life and living in ways reflective of a veiled actualization of the filmi world in songs, dress, music, dance, values and religion. The social dislocation, cultural enclaves, class factors and life in the East Indian settlement societies were combined factors that influenced the meanings that the local East Indians in Trinidad derived from Indian movies they saw. Each took away a different meaning from the cinema according to his own background and life experiences. On the other hand, there was the collective experience of the individuals attending the cinema that pervaded the home and society in a manner that transcended the individual experiences and created an aura of self-fulfillment and collective identity.

Indian cultural expressions were later influenced by another import from India-Indian movies. The impact of Indian movies on East Indians, their culture and the national culture of Trinidad is what this researcher refers to as The Bala Joban Effect.

The Bala Joban Effect: Connecting the Dots

Bala Joban exerted an enormous influence on the identity of East Indians in Trinidad. It reshaped, re-created and redirected their existing identity into a new identity barely recognizable today when compared to earlier East Indian cultural identity features of pre-1935. This new identity was influenced in many ways by Indian movies and their byproducts.

All people, wherever they are domiciled, after the initial struggle of locationality, of survival, of carving out a space for themselves, struggle to make sense of their being in the new environment and in so doing create an identity for themselves. In Indian society from which the indentured immigrants came to Trinidad, their identity was fixed, solid and stable. Identity for them was a function of pre-defined, predetermined roles within a traditional system, which provided socialization and religious stratification to their place in the world while rigorously circumscribing their thoughts and actions within the confines of a caste stratified society.

Caste and other issues such as the wearing of particular types of clothing and jewelry, the singing of particular types of songs, the reading of scriptural texts and other such features all played a significant role in identifying individuals and their place in that society. Identity for those immigrants in their homeland, India, where there was a homogeneous grouping of people was played out not by racial factors but by geographical, caste and cultural factors. Their entrance in Trinidad in the West Indies must have come as a shock to them because here they were no longer in a homogeneous society as in India, but were now part of a multiracial and multicultural society made up of people of Amerindian, African, Spanish, French and British extract. The translocation from a homogeneous society to a heterogeneous society created problems for both the new immigrants and the host society as East Indians sought to find their space in the new environment. However, the Indian immigrants were beneficiaries in the new arrangements as many of the constraints of the old Indian society from which they had come were no longer appropriate or essential in their new surroundings.

East Indians in Trinidad were faced with an entirely different set of values, traditions and mores that were particularized by inherent religious, cultural and societal adaptations. These adaptations were fraught with distinctive East Indian features that became the hallmark of the new emerging East Indian society in Trinidad. For example, caste issues had lost their societal and religious primacy and had practically become an appendage in terms of the new emerging Indo-Trinidadian society, whereas in India the caste system had assumed great importance in defining the roles and interaction of members of the society with respect to marriage, socialization, job specification, physical contact and living arrangements among different castes. In the new Trinidad setting, many of those arrangements fell by the wayside, as caste was no longer seen as the dominant” arranger” of societal life. Previously, where one from a higher caste did not sit to eat with those of the lower castes, or did not eat from the same pot, or drink water from the same well, those differences were now outdated in the new and emerging East Indian society in Trinidad. East Indians of all castes were forced to live together under new environmental conditions that did not validate caste or other differences. They lived in the same barrack and were served food from the same pot. Moreover, they shared the same drinking water source and worked in the same fields.

Despite the foregoing, remnants of the caste system were still prevalent mainly among the Brahmins who sought to marry only within their caste. Moreover, there were doubts with respect to many who claimed to be Brahmins since according to the agreed code for indentureship between the Indian government and the British government, Brahmins were not encouraged to indenture. There were claims that some Brahmins changed their castes in India to indenture themselves and once in the field in Trinidad announced their Brahminism. While many indentured East Indians accepted this, there was the view that many who announced their Brahminism on the estates or in the settlement societies may not have been Brahmins in the first place but changed their castes because it was an easy method of earning a living. Conceivably, they were able to chant a few mantras and this worked in their favour. This probably gave rise to the maxim that some were “Brahmins by birth while others were Brahmins by boat.”

However, because their “customs” that they came with was such a long-term centuries old enigma, psychologically ingrained as cultural memory, there may have been the need, in the new society, for the reassertion of certain aspects of the old “Indian homeland customs” in which the Brahmins were leaders in society but were hitherto marginalized in Trinidad. In an emerging society such as East Indian society in Trinidad, there emerged the need for spokespersons to represent the views of the Hindu community to the government and this presented the opportunity for the Brahmins to emerge as their spokespersons.

By the late 1920s, caste issues began to reassert their hold in the new liberalized settlement societies being established in Trinidad and there was a gradual contamination of the new liberalized identity. Therefore, the foundations of their identity in the settlement society underwent subtle changes over the years that saw the reemergence of a limited brand of Brahminism within the society. By the 1970s, there was a complete redefinition of the caste system in Trinidad, in that, by then there were only two castes (groups) of any importance in the country, Brahmins and non-Brahmins. However, despite those changes the East Indian society remained a more liberalized one than would have been the case had those indentured immigrants and or their descendants been living in India. The arrival of Indian movies in Trinidad was a plus for Brahminism here as the movies were used to reinforce and validate aspects of Brahminism prevalent in the society at the time.

For individuals, identities are accrued over a period of time, over an entire lifetime and cumulatively passed on from one generation to the next. However for the society this identity becomes identifiable at some point in time during its development, acquiring certain major distinguishable features, unique to that society, that were transmitted to future generations over time. However, as a society grew in time and moved on through the years, from generation to generation, changes took place that were at times simple or very conspicuous, but even through those changes, the major features of the society’s identity markers remained intact making it uniquely recognizable at all times.

In terms of the East Indian society in Trinidad, the major distinguishing features of its identity were embedded in the community during the early settlement days. Despite the changes that took place after the introduction of Indian movies to Trinidad, those major identity features that were distinctly Indian in nature and embedded within their dress, music, songs, dance, religion and artifacts, to name a few, remained largely intact even through the filmi identity evolutionary processes up to the 1970s.

The individual is made up of several identities, cultural and otherwise, that come together to create the individual identity. The collective identities of individuals pervade the society and become the identity of the society. In the Trinidad society of the 1930s, several group identities made up the society so that there was no dominant identity. There were identities that were influenced by various ancestries such as Spanish, English, French, African, Indian, Syrians and Lebanese.

The Indians were the last to arrive and were treated as outcasts and ridiculed for being different. Phinney’s model of cultural identity posits a certain level of “cultural identity achievement” where the individual has developed a solid grasp of his or her own cultural identity that was unshakeable in the face of negative actions and comments by others.[5] In the case of East Indians in Trinidad, particularly the early East Indian indentured immigrants, they had brought with them the cultural memory, which gave them a certain level of cultural identity in the face of negativity from the outside society. Even though they were ridiculed and laughed at because of their alien cultural patterns, they remained steadfast in terms of their East Indian identity. Vandana Bhandari, a visiting Professor from India in 2009 noted that

Indians have a very strong sense of identity

and especially those who have moved abroad,

they preserve their culture in a box.

Their clothes, their cuisine, religion, music

are the links to their culture… and India.[6]

She contended that Indians overseas had a tendency to preserve Indian culture as it was in the past while the Indians in India had moved on. Bhandari’s comment was reflective of the Trinidad East Indian situation where many of the traditional practices were kept intact even to the present time. Collier  on the other hand presented several complements of cultural identity including ascription, modes of expression, individualization, relational and communal forms.[7] When issues of gender, age, class and other key national and personal identities are added to this mix it created a complexity that engulfed the individual and presented him in a light that colored his cultural image both collectively and individually.

Among Collier’s cultural components, three are of importance to this thesis. (1) The affective component which involved emotions and feelings that were attached to cultural, ethnic, and racial identities, (2) the cognitive component which referred to members identifying with a particular cultural group who shared common beliefs and cultural understandings in relation to their identity and (3) the behavioral component which was made up of group members and non-verbal actions performed in specific situations that were identified as representing their cultural identity.

Drawing upon both Phinney’s and Collier’s concepts of identity when applied to the East Indian indentured situation in Trinidad it was found that the hostile and negative environment which continually confronted East Indians in Trinidad; the ostracism that they faced; the fact that they were a society apart from the rest of the society and their common origin were major factors in the evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad. Robert Sack alluded to the fact that the society or country and its prevailing environmental conditions exerted a certain amount of controlling effects on individuals in that it affected their conception and the development of their own identity in very subtle ways.[8] For East Indian indentured immigrants in Trinidad the prevailing environmental conditions had a great impact on their conceptualization of themselves and by extension, their identity in a new land that did not see them as equals.

For a people under the constant control of the British colonial masters, the East Indian identity framework in Trinidad was essentially decided upon for them by their rulers, because of their placement in the plantation system away from the rest of society. Their social, religious, cultural and collective identity and their census categorization as “Indians” affirmed their presence in a new land where their “settlement identity” was far removed from the prevailing codes of “national identity” in Trinidad. The conceptualization and operationalization of their sense of identity was therefore largely dependent upon their (own) view of themselves and not on the views of others in society if their identity was to mean anything to them.

Those early indentured immigrants, because of their language, culture and religion did not, in essence, view themselves through the lens of the ruling class in the new land and were generally left alone on the outskirts of the urban areas. This had the effect therefore of allowing them to develop their identity from within, based on their cultural memory that they had brought with them from their ancestral homeland. In the long-term even though their social activities, lifestyles, friendship actions, living arrangements, health styles, labour status, caste issues, religion and entertainment underwent many changes over time, the major features of the cultural framework of the East Indian identity in Trinidad that had emerged in those early days remained intact for decades while connecting and integrating diverse environmental experiences including the filmi ones in the Trinidad landscape after 1935.

This new identity emerged not only from the hard fought liberties that they had secured through successive generations but through their courage and conviction of their own conscious efforts to maintain a separate religious and cultural identity in Trinidad. Their inherent desire to re-create, to preserve, to propagate, and to develop their settlement society based on cultural memory and their own liberalized view of their new life in Trinidad determined to a large extent the shape and substance of the emergent identity that eventually became the custom for East Indians in Trinidad.

The earlier foundational period had cemented and crystallized certain cultural memories among East Indian indentured immigrants. Therefore, the evolution of their early identity in Trinidad was a deliberate construction based on their cultural and religious memory of their homeland India, its social constructs, mythological understandings and other local environmental factors. There was interconnectedness between their cultural memory, their new social life on the estates, their later life in the settlement societies and the filmi inputs. Fitzgerald contended that a people do not see their self-identity passively but through active selection and reconstruction.[9] When this was applied to the East Indian settlement societies that were developed in those early days it was instructive to note that they selectively omitted or downplayed certain negative aspects of their cultural memory, such as caste issues, that facilitated the creation of a more liberalized settlement society for themselves. This allowed them the room and the freedom they needed to develop their identity within their own selected contextualities surrounded by the wider landscape of the larger national population of which they were a part, yet, apart from, in many ways. Their collective memory therefore was the foundation for the development of locally institutionalized cultural, religious and social aspects of life and living in their new settlement villages.

Unlike India, a country with a long and ancient civilization, those new settlement villages had no “new” localized history of their own from which to benefit their new inhabitants except the history that existed in their memory and which was handed down from generation to generation. It was interesting to note that even though those settlement villages were separate and developed independently of each other and there was little contact among them, those re-created societies in those settlement villages from Rio Claro to Penal to Caroni developed many commonalities that were similar in many respects in terms of food, clothing, shelter, songs, religion, and other customs. They all developed similar patterns of behavior independent of each other, patterns which were similar to Indian society particularly in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding areas from where many of the indentured immigrants originated. They all spoke Bhojpuri, wore similar clothing in terms of dress, jewelry and makeup, developed similar religious patterns, constructed their houses in similar styles and developed similar cultural patterns. They spoke a different language, which other Trinidadians did not understand, they dressed differently, they behaved differently and they performed their rituals and customs in a manner, which seemed strange and alien to others in Trinidad. In fact, they did everything different to the rest of the society. The rest of the society did not understand their religious, cultural and social practices and because they were considered birds of passage, brought to Trinidad to do a job, they were literally left alone in an isolated, ostracized environment.

It was this ostracism, this isolation that worked in their favour in terms of the re-creation of a similar kind of society in Trinidad to one that they had left behind in India. This was their comfort zone, which facilitated the development of their eventual East Indian identity in Trinidad. It was important to note that as they developed their new identity here in this new land they did so in isolation in terms of their linkages with India. All they had to guide them was the memory that they had brought with them, a memory that was, compositely, a mixture of various regional, cultural, religious and social entities.

There were no teachers from India, no religious or cultural exchanges, no forward or backward linkages with their motherland except the arriving indentured immigrants. This backward linkage to India provided a window through which they were able to partially reconnect with India. This too was lost after 1917 when indentured immigration ended. Following its demise, that void was filled by Indian movies after 1935.

The composite collective memory of their homeland formed the basis for their new identity in Trinidad, as East Indians adapted to the new environment by continually creating renewed frameworks of cultural, economic, religious and social understandings from which standpoint they were able to interpret the changing local and national environment while maintaining their ethnic sensitivity about Indian identity.          

That was how they saw their reality in terms of their spatial and cultural presence here, in terms of being surrounded by a hostile society, ostracized, ridiculed and made to feel that they did not belong. As they struggled to develop their foundational cultural norms in the new settlement societies, new codes of behavior began to define their presence in this foreign land. For instance, new kinship systems such as Jahaji Bhai (brotherhood from the ship) began to define their family existence because very few of them had any relatives in Trinidad. This Jahaji Bhai system became one of the pillars for their sustenance in this new land and influenced to a great extent concepts of living, working, recreation, entertainment, marriage, inheritance and the general socialization of East Indians in Trinidad.

The reproducibility of the homeland (motherland) culture in this new land was dependent on the collective cultural, social and religious memories of the indentured Indian immigrants in Trinidad. Those cultural traits reproduced from memory created a comfort zone for East Indians in Trinidad within which they existed away from the mainstream culture of the land. This transference of cultural identity from a civilization setting to a settlement setting in Trinidad became the major plank for the development of East Indian identity in Trinidad in later years. Their collective resistance to things non- Indian had the effect of herding in the sense that they kept together and developed a very close-knit society. In this way, their shared combined resistance resulted in a common shared collective East Indian dominated identity in Trinidad that strengthened their common bond and created a sense of cohesiveness within the society. As the new settlement societies developed, East Indians evolved their own peculiar cultural ideologies, values, spirituality and other factors that eventually became the norm of their new society.

Their collective cultural memory that they had brought from India and which they passed on to successive generations and their deep sense of belongingness to the tribe had the effect of creating internal cultural, religious and social bonds that were developed and further strengthened through the Bala Joban Effect which became the foundation of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad. This new identity was effused with religious, cultural and western influenced practices that retained a very close resemblance to the society that they had left behind but which had been implanted in a foreign land as they sought to survive in the midst of an onslaught that was Christian and western oriented.

When Ranjit Kumar introduced Indian movies to Trinidad in 1935, it started an evolution in terms of Indian identity among East Indians that continues even today. It unleashed a combined process of acculturation, assimilation and syncretization among East Indians in Trinidad that had to do with forging and extending their identity, through the Bala Joban link, with the wider society and their ancestral homeland India. From their perspective, they did not see Indian movies as a foreign element. Instead, even though they lived in Trinidad, they saw the rest of Trinidad society as the foreign element with assimilative strategies such as conversion, education and English language. In their fight to preserve their culture, they largely rejected these approaches but embraced Indian movies, which had a colonizing acculturative impact on their identity. Indian movies (songs, music and dances), which were foreign imports into the society, bore certain validating commonalities with East Indian cultural identity. In addition, it initially generated acculturative changes within certain aspects of Indian cultural patterns such as traditional dances, songs and music as explained in earlier chapters. However, East Indians had assimilated certain Trinidad and western traditions into their repertoire of cultural patterns and there was a merger between certain assimilated preferences and the Indian movie acculturative influences. For example, Indian songs were initially mimicked by East Indians and in that mimicry they changed, replaced or pushed aside certain traditional aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad. As the mimicry of the Indian songs continued, there was a syncretization of the mimicry with assimilated Trinidad and Caribbean rhythms in the production of new cultural patterns such as chutney, for example. Their selective syncretization and assimilative participation in the new emerging society was made possible by the strong cohesive bonds of Indian identity that existed among the East Indians in the society.

One of the most important social functions of Indian movies in Trinidad, particularly in the early days, was their ability to act as a syncretic interface between Indian traditions and western incursions in East Indian society. In doing so, for East Indians in Trinidad, it gave cultural meaning to their existence in a westernized country and demystified, to some extent, many of the inherent societal structures they had rebuilt or adapted here based on memory of what existed in the motherland (India), what they imbibed from Indian movies and influenced by western practices. For example, the wedding rituals that were performed in Trinidad were the same as those performed in India as seen in Indian movies but Indian film songs and dances had become an integral part of the local wedding traditions in the cooking nights and the wedding ceremonies. Furthermore, many of those filmi song recreations in Trinidad were influenced by rhythms such as soca, which was also a local combination of Indian and Trinidadian rhythms.

In addition, Indian movies also helped to create an acceptance of certain western elements of living and being such as wearing of western clothing that were necessary for their survival in their new adopted land, even though East Indians had earlier rejected many of those western encroachments such as women wearing trousers and girls cutting their hair short. Seeing Indian stars exhibit similar elements of westernization in Indian movies gave those elements a certain legitimacy in their eyes and hence acceptance and validation to behave in a similar manner.

That link to the homeland that was beaded through the celluloid thread of Indian movies provided what East Indian indentured immigrants thought was the real India but which was in fact a celluloid image of India, an India that lived only in the imagination (for the film was a product of the producer’s imagination), an India that they hoped that they could one day visit. Bala Joban and other Indian movies that followed fulfilled that hidden desire of seeing India because Indian movies, for them, became “a slice of India” in Trinidad.

Those Indian films with their catchy songs, lively dances, talking stars seemed to have mesmerized East Indians in Trinidad. Many of them imagined themselves stars in the making. There was no doubt that they loved it, they relished every moment of the Indian movie and they looked forward to the next Indian movie. The India they so loved and sought was brought home to them in Trinidad. In addition, for those who pined for India and wished to return to the homeland but for financial reasons could not do so, Indian movies seemed like a panacea for them. To many East Indians the Indian film represented India, subconsciously, unknowingly, causing them to think that what they saw portrayed in those films were in fact images of the real India, the reality that was India. To them India was here with them in the cinema, via the film. They were not entirely wrong, in that the images of India that they saw on the screen were images of the real land, of the real India that had for so long lived in their memories. Some critics contend that except for the language in Indian movies, all other factors such as the filmi songs, music, dances and storylines were mere commercialized entertainment fantasies that did not represent the true India but to the East Indians they nonetheless represented India.                                                                                                                                                               

The tenuous link with India that had existed from the time of their arrival here was re-energized and strengthened by the coming of Indian movies here in 1935 and thereafter. It was this linking of Indian movies with the identity of East Indians here that was the catalyst that allowed them to forge a new identity in the land. Primarily the linking of Indian movies with India and their local identity in Trinidad was the turning point in the construction of a “New East Indian Identity” in Trinidad. This spawned a completely new identity crisis within the East Indian community that saw the shedding of certain aspects of their cultural traditions and the acceptance of the new filmi related cultural patterns, which eventually became new cultural norms of a filmi mimic nature.

While it was argued that Indian movies did not portray or represent any aspect of Indian culture and were not representative of the “most minuscule aspect of Indian culture” [10] there were other arguments that stated that Indian movies not only shaped the image East Indians had of India but also played a dominant role in shaping the future image of Indian culture in Trinidad because East Indians generally linked Indian movies with India and with Indian culture, Indianness and Indian identity. East Indians who went to view Indian movies in the pre-1970s were generally regarded as identifying with Indian culture. Going to see an Indian movie in the 1950s and 1960s was one of the most important events in the life of the average East Indian. It was something they looked forward to and for which they saved money from their meagre earnings. There was a feeling among East Indians that:

If you were an East Indian, you were expected to go to Indian movies. Somehow, it made you feel more Indian. It made you feel proud to be an Indian. It was the right and proper thing to do. If your friends were going to see an Indian movie and you refused to go you generally felt like an outcast because later when the boys gathered on the block to discuss the movie you were left out of all conversations.[11]

However, while there was a general feeling of euphoria among East Indians in terms of the advent of Indian movies in Trinidad there were those East Indians, particularly the older ones, who thought that the advent of Indian movies would destroy traditional Indian culture and values among East Indians. They argued that the heritage of the ancestors that they had fought so hard to preserve was being destroyed by Indian movies and the new music. There was a view expressed that the influence of Indian movies would diminish the lines of separation between Indian culture and western culture and create a watered-down version of Indian culture in Trinidad. Those critics were in the minority and did not create any significant impact against Indian movies perhaps because of the popularity and all-pervasive nature of Indian movies among East Indians in Trinidad.

Whereas before 1935 East Indian identity was dependent upon traditional types of clothing, music, songs, dances, rituals, festivals and language, Bala Joban and subsequent Indian movies influenced changes in almost every aspect of East Indian culture in the country. After 1935, many of the local Indian cultural syncretic reforms were validated, reinforced or influenced by what was seen in Indian movies.

The changes in East Indian culture in Trinidad that were influenced by Bala Joban and other Indian movies after 1935, are what is here referred to as the Bala Joban Effect.[12] This Bala Joban Effect in turn was the axis mundi for further cultural adaptations that shaped and charted the evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad.

The Bala Joban Effect as the Axis Mundi in the Creation of a New Identity for East Indians in Trinidad

When the first Indian movie, Bala Joban, came to Trinidad, East Indians saw it as a precious link with India, as “a slice of India coming to Trinidad.” This epitomized the way in which they considered Indian movies here. the Bala Joban Effect provided the tools by which they were able to adapt to new situations through the creation of renewed frameworks of understandings in their changing society from which standpoint they were able to interpret the local and national environments while maintaining sensitivity about Indian identity and themselves. 

Indian filmi culture gave local East Indians a perspective on culture that they did not have before. Its catchy rhythm and melodic synchronization provided them with a means to present a new cultural face to national Trinidad life in a non-religious non- secular manner, which was more acceptable to non-Indians within the context of national culture. Hitherto their culture, religion and traditions, were guardedly practiced only among East Indians themselves with few outsiders invited to their rituals and ceremonies for fear of being ridiculed.[13] However, there were none of those taboos with this new form of Indian music and dance that originated from Indian movies. Wherever Indian cultural items were required, whether it was a cooking night, a birthday celebration or any Indian cultural occasion, even when an event was requested for an official program sponsored by the government, Indian movie songs and dances formed the main part of the program’s content. They were proud of that new culture and as it became more and more popular among them so too did it become progressively more acceptable to the non-East Indian population.

The Indian movie was public entertainment, seen and offered in a public space for everyone to access in the public domain. Although many non-Indians did not attend screenings of Indian movies, the songs and dances from the movies when performed locally by locals found easy acceptance nationally as opposed to the rites, rituals and other ceremonies, which were generally seen as private. Indians were proud of their new culture as they were welcomed on the national stage with their new filmi influenced national culture of songs, music and dances. Many non-East Indians also began to participate in public Indian cultural events appearing on stage and singing filmi songs at the village, regional and national levels. Some non-East Indian performers such as Owen Ali, Eddie Pitt, Cyrus Bailey, Sonny Matthews and Raymond Cameo (dancer) became national celebrities appearing at both religious and secular East Indian functions. Many joined Indian orchestras as singers or musicians. Indian songs, particularly the songs of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were on the lips of Indian film fans everywhere in the country. Those movie songs became so popular among the East Indian population that there was hardly any room for traditional styles of singing and dancing at East Indian weddings and social events.            

Songs and dances from Indian movies became the norm for major religious events such as Divali and Kartik Snaan programs at Manzanilla beach, and non-religious events such as Indian Arrival Day. Indian orchestras and individual singers with small groups preferred to sing Indian movie songs, as this was what the audience preferred. Even some of the established classical singers began to include the catchy filmi rhythms as part of their repertoire in an attempt to appeal to the audience and hold the filmi onslaught at bay. Indian movies had so captivated the Trinidad audience, particularly the East Indian audience, that over the decades, they pushed almost all other aspects of local Indian culture into the background, as they became the foremost items on East Indian cultural programming.                

Indian movies contribute to a significant part of East Indian culture in Trinidad. If Indian movies and their spinoffs were removed from Trinidad’s Indian cultural expressions, there would be very little left to highlight in terms of Indian culture. A few Caribbean countries such as Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia, and Jamaica where Indian indentured immigrants were sent to work but were never exposed to Indian movies are examples where Indian culture had almost disappeared. While it is recognized that their smaller numbers was a contributing factor in their loss of cultural traditions, it is also argued that the lack of Indian movies as support mechanisms for the retention of Indian culture as was the case in Guyana, Suriname, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius and Trinidad, was a major factor in the loss of those traditions.

Indian movies have become the mainstay culturally between the People of Indian Origin (PIO) living in USA, Canada, England, Holland and other countries and India. Even second and third generations of East Indians from the Caribbean and elsewhere, in the second wave of migration from Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname also found Indian movies a major link between themselves, India and other Indians in the diaspora. Indian culture in the diaspora was indelibly linked to Indian movies. Ruben S. Gowricharn, Professor of Multicultural and Transnational Studies at the University of Tilberg in the Netherlands, a third generation Indian, who is of Indo-Surinamese background, in an encounter at an international diaspora conference with another Indian, this time a first generation Person of Indian Origin (PIO), took this filmi identity memory to an international level, which demonstrated how strong the bonding of Indians, movies and songs can be. He related an incident during an academic meeting on the Indian Diaspora held in Prague, which articulated the point:

In the corridor of the conference building I met a shabbily dressed Indian; we were finished with our presentations and we had nothing much to do. ‘Let’s go for a walk,’ he proposed. During the walk, he expressed his need for coffee and we went into a cafe. In the meantime, he had established that I was not a ‘real’ Indian and thus the inevitable question came: ‘Where are you from?’ After I had explained to him that I was a third generation descendant of ‘indentured coolies, ’ living in the Netherlands and doing research on minority elites there, he told me that he was a first generation Indian who lived in the USA. He was a Professor of Asian American relations at a university in Boston. Nothing unusual in that, for we were fellow congress attendants and all of the participants worked at a University. At a certain moment, he interrupted his story and started, while he was drumming on the tabletop, singing a song of the famous now-deceased Indian singer Mukesh. I was familiar with that behavior of Indian men in good cheer, especially after a drink. I also recognized the melody; it was a song that had been popular in my teens. However, more took place at that table. I realized with a shock that this strange man and I, due to the melody, had something in common, that we originated more or less from the same culture of which the melody, the words, the language and the singer were characteristic elements. We were not connected by the fact that we were social scientists, but by Indian (Indianness- my emphasis). Because of that Indian song, I felt a cultural kinship with this man. [14]

Gowricharn’s anecdote demonstrated the power of the songs from Indian movies and its impact on individuals in terms of space, time and memory. Millions of diaspora Indians the world over connect through the various linkages provided by Indian movies. It was interesting to note that, like Gowricharn, local East Indians who were strangers to each other, also connected through Indian film songs at weddings, at the cooking nights, at the river lime, in rum shops, and other public spaces. Conversations were initiated using the song as the contact point of reference and many of those chance meetings turned into lifelong friendships.     

Partap Sitahal referred to a chance meeting with a stranger of East Indian descent at the Caura River during a river “cook-up” (cooking) lime with friends from his village.[15] Not far from where they were cooking, another group was playing oldie film songs loudly and enjoying them. He recognized most of the songs as melodies that he loved and went across to compliment the group on their choice of songs. He was introduced to the person who owned the cassettes that were being played. He struck up a conversation with the person and, like Gowricharn, realized that they had a great deal in common, that they loved the same playback singers, the same songs, the same Indian movies and a host of other matters that related to Indian movies. The two became lifelong friends. Episodes such as those mentioned above were common occurrences at events such as cooking nights, weddings, rum shop limes, Divali and Indian Arrival Day programs where strangers met and began conversations about matters connected to Indian movies or Indian songs. The Indian movie therefore acted as an internal link among local East Indians and was a major identity point of reference for them.

Until 1962, the British Crown ruled Trinidad and there was no clear definition of what constituted a Trinidadian identity. Unlike India, which had thousands of years of civilization behind it, Trinidad had no such history of its own. The Indian immigrants in Trinidad, therefore, while acknowledging allegiance to the British throne, looked to India for identity even while they were faced with programs of acculturation and assimilation, and serious accusations regarding their commitment and loyalty to the nation of Trinidad and their “Trinidadianess.”

Historically the early East Indians were never viewed as being Trinidadians because of their tenuous labour contracts, which led others to believe that they were just birds of passage. However, as time went by and many decided to remain and settle in Trinidad rather than return to India there was no doubt that by the 1960s they had become an integral part of the nation even though they were still seen as outsiders because of their Indian cultural and religious practices. There was a view among many in the non-East Indian population that to be considered a Trinidadian, East Indians were required to give up their Indian cultural roots and accept “Trinidad culture,” which was portrayed as calypso, Carnival and steel band.[16] Even in the media such as radio and television, (both government and public sectors) as late as the 1980s, only Indian songs that were sponsored were played on the radio or television stations [17] and East Indians who chose to practice their Indian culture were deemed unpatriotic.[18] In addition, Trinidad was seen as a western country, steeped in Christian and western hegemonies with English as its language. Christian and western goals were projected as essential targets to which Trinidad East Indians were expected to aspire because Indian culture was not accepted as part of Trinidad’s culture.[19]

In the 1950s and 1960s, East Indians were told, “Indian culture cannot give you a job” so many of them were faced with the predicament of conversion to Christianity in order to progress economically, politically, socially and otherwise. Many who were converted to Christianity were warned, “Indian movies could lead you astray,”a clear reference to a misunderstanding of what Indian movies were all about.[20] Within that scenario, East Indians were faced with severe challenges and many of them converted from Hinduism and Islam to Christianity in order to attend particular schools and to get jobs. However, conversion to Christianity did not prevent them from going to see Indian movies.

By the 1950s, Indian movies had become a way of life for East Indians in Trinidad and going to see an Indian movie during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was an identity statement for them. It was an identity cap that fitted the Indian movie routine. In the Trinidad setting, therefore, one cannot underestimate the influence of Indian movies because by becoming a cultural facade, Indian movies provided local East Indians with a counter culture against the hegemonic western and creole culture that was threatening to overcome their way of life and destabilize their religious and cultural base. Indian movies and their cultural and religious derivatives protected, as in a cocoon, the Indian religious base as it exposed itself to the vicissitudes of the national society and took the public gaze away from the ritual and ceremonial aspects of East Indian life which many considered taboo. Indian movies therefore provided a barrier that prevented over exposure and further derision of East Indian religious rites and ceremonies that had earlier been the source of much mockery for East Indians. That filmi protection of those religious offerings allowed the survival of their religious traditions in the face of westernization and the projection of a callaloo culture in Trinidad by the political directorate. However, even in the act of protecting their religious offerings in terms of Ramayan, Divali, Phagwa, Ramleela, Krishnaleela, Shivraatri, and other festivals, from western influences, the filmi element also infiltrated those same festivals changing their general outlook, giving them more positive audience appeal.

Indian cultural patterns in Trinidad, for the most part, therefore, became identified with Indian movies, their songs and dances. In this sense, it became the main contributing factor to the evolution of a new East Indian identity in Trinidad. In this way, the Bala Joban Effect became the axis mundi of the new East Indian identity in Trinidad, which had its genesis in the mimicry of Indian movie songs and dances that were manifest among East Indians in Trinidad.

The East Indian Filmi Mimics and Indian Identity in Trinidad

R. K. Jain stated that East Indians of the Caribbean (Trinidad) did not have a history of their own because theirs was a settlement society whose history came into being upon their arrival here in the West Indies. [21] This was in accord with Naipaul’s thinking on creativity when he suggested, “history is built around achievement and creation, and nothing was created in the West Indies.”[22]

Naipaul’s concept of creation therefore, of West Indian creativity, suggested that for creativity to take place there must be some kind of history and for a people without a history such as West Indians, they must become mimic men copying other cultures and merging their identity with those cultures, in this case the Eurocentric cultures. He saw this as perhaps the only route to progress for the domiciled West Indians. Naipaul’s notion that Caribbean countries exist in a historical void, a kind of historical amnesia, mythologizes the creativity of the colonizers and intimates that the colonized were bereft of any kind of creativity. [23] However, both Naipaul and Jain ignored the fact that those people, the indentured immigrants, had a long civilizational history that followed them around and that their memorialized history was responsible for the creation of their new homes in the new lands. In addition, that history helped East Indians to reconstitute aspects of the old homeland in Trinidad.

In the re-creation of their new homeland, the new cultural environment and the natural landscape were contributing factors to the early identity that East Indians created in Trinidad. The isolation and their rural residency allowed them the chance to create new cultural settings based on existing cultural and religious realities and filmi material. They had dotted the landscape with jhandis, temples, mosques, Hindu schools and other paraphernalia and had kept alive their songs, music and dances. The arrival of Indian films complemented their cultural domain. Furthermore, they used the filmi material as mimicry (imitation of aspects of Indian movies) in the creation of their new cultural landscape in Trinidad. Naipaul’s assertion “that nothing has ever been created in the West Indies and nothing will ever be created” was put to rest because not only did East Indians create a new space for themselves here, but they created a new cultural landscape which saw the invention of local Indian classical singing and chutney singing while the descendants of African slaves also went on to create steel pan, calypso and Carnival. For East Indians, creativity did not mean the rejection of the older East Indian traditions but rather the syncretic mixing of those older traditions with newer filmi and western cultural trends.

While it was true that the East Indian immigrants were unsure, vulnerable and unsettled in their new environment, they were not totally disconnected from their ancestral history. Their rite of passage in the new land presupposed the emasculation of their historical antecedents by their colonizers but they nonetheless, over time, captured and overcame the landscapes, the ostracism and other negative factors that allowed them to create a new and unique culture in their new space. It could be argued that they used a historical reckoning in the creation of their new culture. This was in contrast with Jain’s postulation of “historical amnesia” for East Indians who settled in Trinidad.

There was no denying that one of the major dilemmas that confronted the early East Indian immigrants in Trinidad was the construction of an identity in the new land. That identity, however, was based on a connectedness to their pride that spoke of their civilization in India that they had brought with them to Trinidad in both memory and physical quantities. In the creation of the new identity, they had to revisit, internalize and find within themselves new emergent identities within the context of their new surroundings in Trinidad through a new but distant understanding of the India that they had left behind. With time, and their struggle to redeem themselves through a new re-formulation of the ancestral motherland, replete with garbled memories that were handed down from one generation to the next, they re-created and remanufactured many aspects of the older civilization that they had left behind. So contrary to Naipaul’s understanding, they created their own styles of classical singing, and as many interviewees believed, forged new instruments such as the dantaal and the tassa and reformed the many social and religious institutions to suit their new liberal environment. [24]

Their struggle to redeem themselves, to reconnect with the motherland and to reclaim their historical civilization was met face-to-face in 1935 with the entry of Bala Joban. The Bala Joban Narrative that ensued meant that while they mistakenly saw Bala Joban and other Indian movies as representing the link between themselves and Indian civilization, the motherland that they had yearned for in the past, those very sentiments allowed them the freedom to mimic many aspects of what they saw on the Indian silver screen, thinking that it was Indian culture.

However, this mimicking of Indian movies in the context of the Bala Joban Effect may have rescued their identity in Trinidad from calcification. That period 1935-1970, when Indian movies helped to crystalize the broad framework of Indian culture and Indian identity in Trinidad, was a defining phase in the history of  East Indians in Trinidad where the earlier fragmentation and nuances of society building gave way to a greater collective cultural identity that not only strengthened ancestral ties, but also renewed and invigorated existing commonalities among East Indians. the Bala Joban Effect gave expression to their internal cries for identity rather than sever their ancestral civilization ties. In that context, their imitation of filmi songs, filmi music and filmi dances appropriated for them, a new culture that they thought represented Indian culture but which was not regarded as Indian culture in the land of its birth. They took that which was not considered Indian culture in India and over time converted it into “Indian culture” in Trinidad and that was an affirmation of their historical memory that they had brought with them because many of their memorialized practices were informed, validated, influenced or reinforced by what they saw on the Indian silver screen. Moreover, this gave them the strength and courage to continue along the path that they had consciously chosen, creating in that evolutionary process new cultural meanings from what they saw on the Indian silver screen.

The creation of their new identity from their earliest intervention in Trinidad could not be seen in the likeness of the colonizer because they were determined to forge an identity that was linked, anchored and solidified within the concept of their ancient civilization and which was in turn reinforced by the Bala Joban Effect. That ancestral past that was bequeathed to future generations was indelibly aligned to the Bala Joban Effect after 1935. As time went by, and the East Indian community began to imitate various aspects of what they saw in Indian movies, beginning with Bala Joban, there was a mistaken tendency to accept those emanations as representative of the civilization culture that they had left behind in India. They imitated the songs, music, dances, dress, mannerisms and other aspects of Indian movies that were shown here believing same to be aspects of Indian culture from India but which were considered mere commercial paraphernalia of the Indian film industry.

Naipaul’s concept of the mimic men, while associated with the Eurocentric view of things, was applicable here where a developing local Indian culture among East Indians was almost totally replaced by an artificial filmi culture emanating from the Bombay film industry in India. Their mimicking of the celluloid India, while it gave them great satisfaction and a pseudo- Indian identity, was an attempt to imitate a culture that did not really exist in the true sense of the word because it was a filmi culture that was not considered Indian culture in India. Even the Indian government had banned filmi music from All India Radio in 1952 because it thought that this filmi music was not Indian culture and was destroying the real, authentic culture of India.[25] However, in Trinidad that filmi culture was allowed to flourish among East Indians as they continued to imitate almost every aspect of Indian movies.

While local East Indians were mimicking what they saw in Indian movies, this mimicking was not a blind copying of another’s culture but more, an empathy because it synchronized with East Indian beliefs and practices that originated in India. This public mimicry of Indian filmi elements by East Indians protected the older traditions, rites, rituals and festivals from western hegemony but even while protecting those aspects of their core cultural expressions, it nonetheless invaded some of those very festivals and ceremonies while giving them support and greater public acceptance in the changing national environment as was the case with Divali, Phagwa and Ramleela. The mimicry that was associated with Indian movies in terms of songs, music, dances and dress became part of East Indian cultural body politic in Trinidad and gave them a new cultural face.

This act of mimicry by East Indians in Trinidad was perhaps psychologically an inventive method of subversive resistance against the colonial powers, and by extension, the rest of Trinidad society. This subversive activity was an enactment of one of the few weapons available to them to fight the British colonial assimilative programs, western hegemonic cultural persistence, the later image of being seen as a recalcitrant minority and the melting pot callaloo culturethat surrounded them in Trinidad. However, it could be argued that the acceptance of the filmi culture was similar to replacing one form of colonialism with another form of “Indian filmi colonialism,” for as Narsaloo Ramaya admitted, before the arrival of Bala Joban he was “on the verge of being ‘englishised’ but the coming of Bala Joban changed all that.” [26] In this new scenario, Indian movies had a greater colonizing influence on East Indians in Trinidad than the British colonial assimilative programs, in that because of the supposed cultural and religious linkages with India, East Indians gullibly accepted as genuine the “filmi cultural camouflage” and “western influences” that emanated from Indian movies.

The mimicry of songs and music from Indian movies permitted the evolution of numerous individual “mimic” local singers imitating the songs of  Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and other playback singers from the Indian film industry. In addition, it also promoted the phenomenal growth of hundreds of Indian religious and music bands cum Indian orchestras that mimicked songs and music from Indian movies to the delight of East Indian audiences. This mimicking was not limited to the songs and music from Indian movies but was extended to dress, dance and other aspects of Indian movies by East Indians. Audience appreciation was highest for those who were the best imitators or mimics of the Indian movie song offerings. When a singer sought to imitate one of the playback singers, it was expected that he would perform an almost perfect imitation of the song.

This imitation of the filmi culture became widespread throughout the country as East Indians began to inculcate into their lives major aspects of filmi culture in terms of the songs, music, dances and other aspects of the movie in exact mimic format for both the performers and the audience. As mentioned before, even when major film song competitions were held, they were given names such as Hemant Kumar Imitation Singing Contest, Mohammed Rafi Imitation Singing Contest[27] or Lata Mangeshkar Imitation Ladies Singing Contest. [28] Everywhere East Indians were imitating songs and dances from Indian films. The reproduction or imitation of the filmi culture among themselves and in the wider society, had the effect of creating a new filmi influenced local culture among East Indians in Trinidad. This imitation or mimicry that had its basis in the filmi world became accepted East Indian culture in Trinidad and East Indians were literally identified with, and by it. While it gave them a heightened sense of identity, Indianness and belongingness, nonetheless the filmi Trinidad Indian pseudo-culture came to represent major aspects of Indian cultural offerings in Trinidad and was accepted as Indian culture on par with traditional Indian culture that had existed before 1935.

This mimicry of Indian filmi culture cum “Trinidad Indian culture” was put to the test in 1965 when a local Indian cultural team was chosen to form part of the Trinidad contingent for the Commonwealth Festival in London. Local Indian singers in the group had prepared several songs of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and others to perform at the festival. However, on arrival they found out that the contingent from India had done the same, except that the Indians had original singers, dancers and musicians from India to perform. Trinidad Indian artistes had gone to London to imitate Indian artistes from India who were themselves performing at the festival. This brought into stark reality the question of who owned those cultural items. The Trinidad contingent hurriedly changed their performance items to reflect more local indigenous Indian cultural items. [29]

The mimicry of Indian filmi material became so widespread that identity for East Indians in Trinidad during this period was largely dependent on derivatives from Indian movies and the ability of the East Indian community to imitate aspects of Indian celluloid culture. However, this filmi culture in Trinidad, while providing a sense of identity for East Indians was rejected in India in terms of what constituted Indian culture. Conversely, to the local East Indian community, the fact that Indian movies originated in India was enough for them in terms of their Indianness and acceptance of Indian movies as a symbol of Indian identity. To the local East Indian people of that earlier period (1935) who were literally cutoff from India, the Indian movies represented India and by extension Indian culture, and this filmi Indian culture was passed on from one generation to the next complemented by other aspects of the ancestral traditional Indian culture. Everything that emanated from Indian movies constituted aspects of Indian culture for them and as they continued to imitate the filmi culture, over time, due to its repetitiveness and inculcation into their everyday lives, they began to see it as their own culture with their own singers, musicians and dancers imitating the filmi culture. Seepersad Naipaul, a reporter with the Trinidad Guardian reported that in 1952, N. P. Balakrishnan, a renowned Indian vocalist from India visited Trinidad, and at the end of his visit, when he was asked about what he had seen in Trinidad in terms of Indian music and culture, responded as follows:

Trinidad Indians are trying to imitate as best they can. There is plenty of room for improvement. But Indian film music is often not true Indian music. The film people often improvise with a bit of Spanish, Mexican, Hawaiian, South America and other blends … What I have seen is only copy, copy and copy.[30]

Expanding on Balakrishnan’s point, clearly East Indians in Trinidad were imitating almost totally the songs, music and dances from Indian movies considering them Indian culture, but which, according to Balakrishnan, was not Indian culture in the real sense of the word. Generally, at cooking nights and other Indian programs the mimic men or grand imitators performed to their leisure, imitating singers of their choice from India. This imitation culture that they had grown accustomed to, and which they propagated at every opportunity, gave them (East Indians) a national identity that they had lacked before even though that identity may have been based on a false assumption of Indian cultural traits. It was an identity, however, that kept them together and gave them a collective senseof pride and fulfillment in their culture. This translation of the filmi culture into the national psyche of both East Indians and non-East Indians in Trinidad saw the filmi influence of major aspects of East Indian culture developing a national image that was considered East Indian culture in Trinidad. The songs and music from Indian movies, the filmi songs played by Indian orchestras and mike men, and the filmi dances performed by local dancers, came to represent major aspects of East Indian culture in Trinidad.

This mimicry continued for years and culminated in the evolution of aspects of new East Indian cultural art forms. These included local remakes of Indian film songs using Trinidadian and Caribbean musical rhythms; chutney songs including chutney soca and filmi influenced chutney songs; local dances that were influenced by Indian film songs and locally choreographed filmi influenced chutney dances. The filmi culture had infiltrated all aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad but in some instances, this infiltration was controlled while in others it was left unchecked. For example in the area of religious events, only filmi bhajans were allowed in the temples, mandirs and other religious services. Moreover, in later years, in Phagwa celebrations only Phagwa related songs were allowed but in the Divali celebrations, this did not occur as many filmi non-religious songs were played at public Divali programs.

Balakrishnan’s comment with respect to the fact that there was a lot of room for improvement was a comment that was made ahead of its time but which was realized later as subtle changes began to seep into the filmi culture that was being copied from Indian movies. The use of westernized instruments, the changes in the rhythm, the use of local and Caribbean beats and presentations allowed local artistes to syncretically use the filmi melodies and superimpose them with English lyrics of their own while keeping the Indianness of the melody as was seen in chutney songs. As those changes took root, there were syncretic fusions with other local and Caribbean styles of music that saw a host of spinoffs in terms of songs, music and dances that inspired the development of “filmi influenced chutney songs” in which local composers and singers used filmi melodies in the production of chutney songs.

Looking back at Naipaul’s contention of creativity in terms of a domiciled people his view of mimicry suggested stultification. What appears unchallenged was the fact that out of the imitation or mimicry arising from the Indian movie outputs local East Indians were able to create, over time, new and changing aspects of their culture in Trinidad although major aspects of the imitation and traditional culture were still prevalent in the society. Most of those new creations were linked to Indian movies and the imitations or mimicry thereof.

The transition from a traditional culture through a filmi mimic culture to a new cultural disposition created a new set of cultural offerings that begged labels in terms of whether they represented traditional Indian culture or Indian culture or Trinidad Indian culture or Trinidad-Indo-culture. One of the major issues that arose therefore was the definition of Indian and East Indian culture in Trinidad.

Indian culture may be defined as the culture of India. When East Indians came here, they brought their traditional culture with them and as they settled in the country, their culture was labeled “East Indian Culture” to differentiate it from India’s Indian culture and West Indian culture. After 1935, their local traditional culture, influenced by the filmi elements, underwent numerous changes that transformed the face of their traditional cultural patterns to one influenced by filmi elements and local and Caribbean inputs. Despite those changes one of the questions that needed to be answered was one relating to issues surrounding the playing of Indian film songs on radio, public address systems and television and whether such activities constituted promotion of (East) Indian culture in Trinidad. If the position was taken that local East Indian culture was defined as aspects of Indian culture that were produced here or had undergone some kind of transformation from their original format, then songs, music and dances emanating out of Indian movies and played on the radio or television in their original form cannot be considered local Indian culture.                       

In terms of what can be considered local Indian culture the imitations that arose out of Indian movies in Trinidad should not be considered local Indian culture because the originals were not produced here. Where those reproductions consisted of variations and there were changes from the original in sufficient quantity to make them appear different from the original then that could be considered local Indian culture or Trinidad-Indo-culture. The copying of another’s culture cannot make it one’s own culture so that while thousands of East Indians in Trinidad gravitated towards the original filmi songs and dances and other aspects of Indian movies and the filmi songs were played almost nonstop on the local Indian formatted radio stations, it cannot be considered local Indian culture. For example if an Indian movie was released in Trinidad in March 2011 with a popular song by Kumar Sanu and which was played in the original format every day on the radio stations, at cooking nights and other public functions, the question that arose was whether that made it local Indian culture. The evidence suggests an answer in the negative. The application of World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) traditional knowledge and cultural assessment suggests that the song remains the property of India. [31]                                                                    

Similarly, songs that were released in the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s from various Indian movies and were still played in their original format on local radio stations, mike men and other media cannot be considered local Indian culture because they did not originate here. Many interviewees such as Ashram B. Maharaj and Harrikissoon, found it troubling to accept that the beautiful and melodic filmi songs that they grew up with could not be considered legally part of Trinidad’s culture. On the other hand, even though the ownership of those songs remained with India, they nevertheless, formed part of the overall camouflaged wider structure of East Indian culture in Trinidad because they had been around for such a long time and had been transmitted from one generation to the next. Once it was transmitted from one generation to the next, there was a tendency to look on it as part of our culture. The local imitation of such songs over the last few decades had placed them in the public domain for such a long time that they were considered part of East Indian culture.

In the example above, it was understood that the song was a new release and was played and imitated by local artistes and as such could not be considered local Indian culture. If on the other hand, the song by Kumar Sanu was taken and redone, remixed or rearranged by a local artiste with local fusions or variations using local musicians and singers, fusing it with a Trinidad or Caribbean rhythm, then that may be considered local Indian culture. If the melody was used and local composition words were superimposed on the filmi melody, this can be considered local Trinidad East Indian culture or Trinidad-Indo-culture. A worthy example of this was the song by Kenneth Salick Radica Where You Leave and Gone. Salick used the filmi melody of the song Ek Masoom sa Chehera (An Innocent Looking Face) from the movie Zinda Dil (2003) to produce his masterpiece that won him the first prize of $200,000.00 in the National Carnival Chutney Soca Monarch Competition 2009. Similarly, Ravi B (Ravi Bissambar) who copped the same title in the 2010 version of the competition also used a filmi melody O Saathe re Tere Bina bhi Kyaa Jeena (O My Companion, What is Life Without You) from Abhiman (1973, Pride) overlaid with English lyrics for his winning song Ah Drinka.

Many local singers and composers produced hundreds of songs each year through a process of syncretism using filmi melodies as the basis for their chutney songs or in other cases creating their own musical accompaniment, yet maintaining some resemblance to the filmi music. Some notable singers such as Rakesh Yankarran, Deolal Gildharrie, Rikki Jai and the late Sundar Popo were at the forefront in the creation of this filmi influenced local chutney Indian culture. It is imperative to note that while the mimic songs, which were popular among many East Indians and accepted as Indian culture in Trinidad may not be considered local Indian culture because of its foreign origin, the local chutney syncretic creations are considered truly local Indian culture

In the same way that the singers syncreticallyimitated the songs from the movies, local dancers similarly syncretically imitated dances from the movies but here, many of the dance movements were locally choreographed. There were also songs that were taken from the movies and made into dance songs locally (those songs as they appeared in the movie were not accompanied by dancing). As time went by local individual dancers and dance groups began to, in a syncretic manner, choreograph their own dance movements to songs from Indian movies. In addition, they also choreographed dances accompanied by local remakes of filmi songs appropriated from Indian movies. Michael Salickram, Cunaripo Cultural Dancers, the Vikaash School of Dance, Baby Sandra and Chan Chan Mala have been choreographing filmi dances locally for many years. Salickram, one of Trinidad’s foremost local Indian dancers generally used the film songs and influenced by classical mudras (dance postures) and local rhythms choreographed his dance items around them inculcating his unique filmi dance movements in the process. All his dances were local in that they were not copied from Indian films.[32] Wherever those dances were performed, whether it was for Divali, Phagwa, Indian Arrival Day, public or government programs, they were well received by attending audiences.

The fact that those dances were done locally by local dancers with Indian film songs or local remakes of such songs as the musical accompaniment did not mitigate against them being considered part of local East Indian culture. On the other hand, using the above analogy, it became clear that once the dances were re-choreographed and presented in the local setting even though the original filmi music was used, they came to represent Trinidad-Indo-culture because it largely represented the efforts of the local filmi dancers, local musicians and singers. Most of the local filmi influenced dance tutors insisted that while they used filmi songs as musical accompaniment, their dances were locally choreographed and not copied from Indian films. For example, Jassodra Kistow, manager of the Cunaripo Cultural Dancers indicated that all their dances were locally choreographed even though they used filmi music as accompaniment. Those locally choreographed filmi based dances were therefore local and formed part of Trinidad’s Indo-culture even though they used foreign filmi songs as accompaniment. However, many local critics, including Rajkumar Krishna Persad, expressed the view that those filmi based dances did not represent Indian culture or local Indian culture. He contended that the only authentic Indian dance in Trinidad was Indian classical dance.

Expanding the above analogy with respect to classical type dances, the question that arose was: Can these classical dances such as Bharat Natyam, Odissi and Kathak be considered local Indian culture? Once again, the application of World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) traditional knowledge and cultural assessment suggests an answer in the negative.

Some critics contend that those exponents of Indian classical dance were all trained in India and returned to Trinidad to teach those dances to people in identical form as they learned them, and have been doing so since the 1960s. Rajkumar Krishna Persad was the first Trinidadian to return and set up a school of Indian dance in the country. Persad stated that he had taught the dances in the exact format as he had learned them from his guru because those dances were generally taught in exact fashion as they were learned from the dance gurus in India. Students who learned those classical dances here, in turn, taught them to their students in the exact manner in which they were learned. Satnarine Balkaransingh confirmed that he also taught his style of classical dancing in the exact format in which it was learned. He conceded, however, that over time certain minor changes were made in the manner in which those classical dances were taught locally. The application of WIPO’s traditional knowledge and cultural assessment suggests that those Indian classical dances taught in Trinidad, unchanged, cannot be considered local Indian culture.

Those classical Indian dances have their origins in India in the Natya Shastras and as such rightfully belong to India and cannot be claimed by another country. Regardless of how many times those dances are performed or for how many years they were performed in Trinidad it was troubling to accept the fact that once they were performed unchanged from their original configuration, they cannot be considered Trinidadian Indo-culture. Therefore, while we enjoy those dances, appreciate them, and give them the title of “Indian culture” they rightly belong in India but were in the public domain in Trinidad and had been there for decades. The fact that they had been in the public domain here for many decades gave Trinidadians the right to enjoy them and consider them part of their Indian cultural traditions as they passed from one generation to the next. They were part of their East Indian and the national culture in terms of their traditions but ownership for purposes of intellectual property rights remained with India. The same position also held true for the filmi songs that were imitated so often in the country. Any new creations that were derivatives from those aspects of Indian culture can be claimed as Trinidadian Indo-culture but the original remained with its owner. Balkaransingh explained that whenever local dance productions or co-productions were done many aspects of the classical dance routines were inculcated in those local productions.    

          Within the last two decades, some exponents of classical dancing in Trinidad such as Sandra Sookdeo and Balkaransingh have produced local dance programs or dramas that used the local landscape, local musicians and aspects of Indian classical dance in the production of local East Indian dance dramas. Sandra Sookdeo’s Krishna and Satnarine Balkaransingh’s Eyes Wide Shut (a local Indian dance production) and Penal Harvest are recent local Indian classical productions that according to the present analogy may be considered local Indian productions. Mungal Patasar, on the other hand, a trained musician in the art of classical music and sitar has used his skills not merely to reproduce the raagas of the ancient art form but to compose new music within the Trinidad landscape retaining the Indian elements of identity in those productions. Additionally, his Pantar group has been able to fuse aspects of Indian music with Trinidad and African rhythms in the production of this new brand of music, yet retaining the elements of filmi Indianness in the music. Mungal Patasar pointed out that like the others, he grew up with the filmi music and dance and all his productions were in fact influenced by the filmi music. In addition local bhajan singers and pundits regularly appropriate filmi melodies to sing bhajans and chaupais at religious occasions such as Ramayan and Bhagwat yagnas and pujas.

Arising out of this discussion therefore there is reason to revisit what has been accepted in Trinidad as Indian culture as opposed to what might be legitimately referred to as “local East Indian culture” or “Trinidad East Indian Culture” or what might be termed “Trinidad-Indo-culture.” Balakrishnan’s contention that Indian filmi culture was not representative of Indian culture must be viewed within the context of the filmi cultural appropriations and syncretic local filmi influenced creations by East Indians in Trinidad. If Balakrishnan’s position that filmi culture was not Indian culture was accepted, then much of what was considered Indian culture in Trinidad would be erased from Indian cultural programming in the country. It does not however, detract from the fact that the filmi culture, which was copied wholesale by local East Indians, has had a tremendous impact on East Indians and non-East Indians alike in the country. This mimic culture has been given the status of “Indian culture” in Trinidad in the same way that authentic Indian classical dances were accepted as an integral part of Indian culture in this country. They have played a significant role in providing a camouflaged cover of what passes for Indian culture, Indian identity and Indianness in Trinidad.

The broad recognition of what is generally accepted as Indian culture in Trinidad by both East Indians and non-East Indians alike had conferred “Indianness” and a “high Indian identity” status on the filmi Indian culture and other aspects of Indian culture that were imported from India post 1935. It conferred on those filmi elements and classical dances the effect of being considered “local East Indian culture,” particularly the classical dances and the older versions of music, songs and dances from Indian movies. Many of the changes that took place in the classical dance arena were influenced by the filmi demands of audiences. The fact that all the local performances of those filmi cultural appropriations (songs, music and dances) were done by local people was perhaps enough to allow the camouflage of semblances of “local Indian culture” to supersede all other considerations.

This was due to the contextualities of the immanent local environment that demanded the creation of an Indian identity for East Indians in Trinidad if they were to survive culturally and religiously in the new homeland. It must be recalled that they were faced with the hegemonic onslaught of westernization and European cultural patterns, attempts at conversion to Christianity, lack of political power and the later exigencies associated with the perception of a callaloo culture as being the preferred culture of Trinidad by the political directorate following independence in 1962. Under those circumstances, it was not surprising therefore, that during the crystallization period of Indian cultural offerings in Trinidad (1935-1970 that East Indians latched onto anything that remotely resembled Indian culture and appropriated it as local Indian culture.

Indian films gave East Indians here something familiar to hold on to with which they were able to identify in this oasis of hostility in which they found themselves. Filmi culture was very pervasive among East Indians and exerted a tremendous influence in helping to preserve their cultural and religious continuity in Trinidad. Indian films were like a cultural life raft to East Indians and had a tremendous influence on their life and culture in general. Without the Indian filmi link, it would have been extremely difficult for East Indians in Trinidad to preserve and propagate their culture in the manner that they did. Indian films provided the major sustenance for this purpose and there was a natural link between the ensuing Trinidad-Indo-cultural expressions and their emergent identity in the land.

The filmi elements were so pervasive in the life of East Indians in Trinidad that they affected almost every facet of their cultural expressions. In that scenario therefore anything remotely resembling Indian culture such as the mimicry of Indian film songs and dances was accepted by East Indians and other Trinidadians as part of Indian culture and by extension therefore anything that evolved out of that Indian cultural setting that kept the Indian flavor such as filmi influenced chutney songs was accepted as Indian culture and a contributor to East Indian identity in Trinidad. Therefore, filmi elements such as songs, music, dress, dances, their mimicry and their spinoffs such as remakes of filmi influenced Indian songs and dances, and filmi influenced chutney songs and dances were accepted as Indian culture in Trinidad.

East Indians in Trinidad were overwhelmed not only by Indian movies but also by the songs, music, dances and other identity factors that emanated from those movies. In imitating those aspects of the Indian movie, they created a new Indian identity for themselves. The continued imitations of those filmi spinoffs and their fusion with western elements and local creativity transformed the local efforts into a new genre of music, songs and dances that became uniquely Indo-Trinidadian. Out of the mimic filmi culture, therefore, a new Trinidadian Indo-culture was forged that contributed immensely to East Indians identity in Trinidad. While the filmi inputs in local Indian festivals and other aspects of Indo-Trinidadian life can be considered as imitations from films, they nonetheless served a useful purpose in locally reinventing those festivals and institutions giving them, in the process, a new life that eventually led to new creations that can be considered indigenous to Trinidad. For example, Divali is a case in point that gained new life and acceptance by East Indians as well as non-East Indians because of the filmi influenced Divali entertainment that emerged as part of the national celebrations. In addition, the local cooking night in Trinidad was a unique feature of Indo-cultural life that has as its basis filmi songs and filmi dances yet is local and indigenous. Thus the “traditional Indian culture,” the “filmi mimic culture” and the “Trinidad-Indo-culture” were major components in the creation of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad.

Bollywood and its Borderless Kingdom

In 1935, East Indians in Trinidad made a connection between themselves and India through Indian movies. This connection has continued through the years to the present day. They were not unique in forging an “Indian connection” as other East Indians in various parts of the world such as Guyana, Suriname, South Africa, Fiji and other countries where East Indians were indentured and where Indian movies were shown have made similar connections with India. In other parts of the world, numerous Indians, in a second wave of migration from India after indentureship, settled in countries such as England, Canada, USA, West Indies and Holland. They were in turn joined in these developed areas by a third wave of migration comprising descendants of the indentured immigrants from the Caribbean and other “indentured” countries. This mixture of People of Indian Origin (PIO’S), estimated at 25 million people worldwide, has had Indian movies as an area of mutual bonding among themselves for many decades.

It would be problematic to understand the impact of Indian movies in the diaspora without recognizing the natural flow of information that existed in the early colonial days between India and the western world and the cultural baggage that passed between the borders of the Diaspora spread and India. In the early days, up to the time after Indian independence, (pre-1950s) when Bollywood movies became a major export from India, there was a predominant one-way flow of information from the West to India. After the 1940s, with the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, and India’s emergence as the first independent nation within the British Empire, there was a gradual reverse change of the information flow patterns. Moreover, with the economic development of India, especially in the technological area and with Bollywood movies becoming a major export after independence, the two-way flow of information between nations and hemispheres was expedited and sustained mainly by the Bollywood movies which now provided a counter flow of such information and culture in a kind of reverse cultural imperialism.

The strong connection between India and the diaspora in terms of culture and language, family and other aspects of living, was in fact a corollary of the transnational life of diaspora Indians. ‘Indian filmdom’ lent itself to a commonality that was recognizable among the disparate sections of the diaspora and was indicative of a common bond that bound diaspora Indians as no other factor in Indian life had. It not only bound them one to the other but collectively to India and bolstered the information flow from India to the West and vice versa but more so from India.

Indian films therefore have had the effect of blurring national boundaries among the diaspora children of India. When Indian filmdom began to spread its wings globally and cornered a larger slice of the global cinema market, it not only provided but also reinforced the issue of identity of the diaspora Indians in the global setting, thus issues of nationality, patriotism and other identity-coded symbols became of paramount importance to the settler country.[33] Most settler countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, saw the local East Indians, as identifying with India and the Indian movies rather than with their own ‘adopted’ country. This identification with India by the East Indians in Trinidad may have caused the then Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams in 1958 to state that ‘There can be no Mother India for those who came from India. There can be no Mother Africa for those of African origin…’ [34]

The blurring of boundaries in the global Indian Diaspora setting in modern times was caused mainly by Indian movies and the use of technological advancements such as the Internet, computer, high-end cell phones and other gadgets in the settler countries. The average diaspora Indian could be anywhere in the world and still have a huge “slice of India” with him right in his home. He could review the latest Indian movie, download any Indian song, read any Indian newspaper or magazine or journal, watch any Indian movie, get any video song of his favourite stars or politicians all from the comfort of his home, a feat still far removed from the average Indian in India but common to most diaspora Indians. The early East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago, who saw the arrival of Indian movies as a ‘slice of India’ coming to them, would probably be wonderstruck today at the latter-day diaspora Indians who now have many ‘slices of India’ such as magazines, newspapers, novels, radio stations, television stations, DVD movies, ‘Indian movie on demand’ and of course the original cinema at their fingertips

The “Bollywoodization” of the Indian Diaspora has in some ways, created a kind of borderless overseas Indian state made up of disparate communities in the global setting linked primarily by the Indian movie – the main cultural export of India in the modern global village. [35]

These Bollywood movies have become the single most potent bond that joins together all Indians of the diaspora, individually and collectively. This is perhaps, the Naag Mani (Crown Jewel), the most treasured link with India among Indians of the diaspora everywhere, because it attempts to portray a Pan-Indian value system that finds favour with all diaspora Indians, regardless of caste, color, religion, regional origin, language or other divisive elements. There is no doubt that among the majority of diaspora Indians, Indian movies form a major pillar of their very identity and existence.

The estimated 25 million diaspora Indians living in several countries or states around the world are therefore linked together by Indian movies as if the Global State Borders or the Oceans did not separate them. To the diaspora Indians, Indian movies are regarded as Indian cultural ambassadors, linkages that culminate in a degree of convergence which contextualizes not only the presence of the diaspora Indian but the Indian at home in India also. It does this through an amalgam of various techniques that is peculiar to the Indian movies, such as contextualizing the narrative with transnational Bollywood content that appeals to the diaspora Indian overseas. Within recent years, there has been a trend among Bollywood producers to develop narratives that portray Indian values peculiar to the diaspora NRIs and PIOs and their descendants abroad to the extent that identity within these diaspora focused Bollywood films assumed a transnational outlook, as it projected itself through the diasporic lens. In that way the diaspora flock assumed a celluloid reality on the silver screen and Indian fans living in India got a view of how the diaspora Indians lived.

Indian films earn a vast income from the diaspora market in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, the West Indies including Trinidad and other countries. It is a fact today, that the Indian Diaspora market is now the major source of income for many Indian producers. Therefore, it is understandable that they would make efforts to tailor many of their movie offerings to the diaspora Indian market. Recent market surveys indicate that while some 14 million cinema tickets are sold in India for Indian movies on a daily basis, the income from the diaspora market accounts for about 65% of Bollywood’s income. [36]

Indians overseas today live in a kind of borderless Indian transnational Bollywood state, a de-territorialized non-geographic state, which, while global in its setting, its dialogue is sustained mainly by the flow of movies from India. Brinsley Samaroo, in Ruben Gowricharn’s Caribbean Transnationalism: Migration, Pluralization and Social Cohesion, “The Mahatma in the Caribbean”argued that Indian embassies and missionaries also contributed to this transnational dialogue in a major way.[37] What Samaroo calls, “transnational dialogue,” rests on the major pillar of Bollywood films and its byproducts such as clothing, jewelry, food, magazines and other such items flowing from India to the West.

 It does not matter how far East Indians live from one another, or what part of the globe they live in, they are connected through the telephone, through the Internet, through the cinema, through the music and songs that are played on the radio stations (both local and on the Internet) and most of all they are connected through Bollywood movies. It is possible that they are connected more by a psychologically directed cultural bond that has an interconnectedness that is related to the overall aura created by Indian movies and the music and songs that emanate from them. The easy availability of Indian movies and video compilations of Indian film songs, gave the local East Indian community an anchor from which they saw themselves and their relationship with the rest of the national community in terms of their identity and their place in emerging nationalism.

Trinidad East Indians have become part of this borderless Indian Diaspora state, linked by Indian movies across the globe through DVDs, cable TV, Internet and the cinema. This transnational borderless state has come to symbolize ‘Indianness’ among Indians everywhere. They can connect with one another wherever they are through the Indian movie in a transnational dialogue that never seems to end. East Indians in Trinidad seem to be connected to ‘Indianness’ everywhere, and more so, they are connected with the ancestral homeland, India, through the Indian movie and with one another through blogs, chat rooms, Internet and other such devices.

This transnational cultural phenomenon, which significantly ties in with Indian films in Trinidad, constituted a major plank in the evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad that was linked not only to India but also to other Indian Diaspora entities in the Caribbean and across the globe. It supports the observation that Indian movies in Trinidad had a catalytic effect in the creation of a new social and cultural identity for people of East Indian descent in Trinidad.

Bollywood in Contemporary Trinidad

Indian movies constitute an element of national culture for East Indians in Trinidad. Despite the few releases of Indian movies in Trinidad, Bollywood songs continue to be one of the major entertainment resources for East Indians and are played regularly on all Indian formatted radio stations locally. Bollywood melodies have become an integral part of chutney singing, political songs, jingles in advertisements, cooking nights, weddings, entertainment shows and other aspects of national life. Anything Bollywood sells in contemporary Trinidad yet many people are amazed that most Bollywood shows in Trinidad are sold out.

Several Bollywood stars appear in entertainment shows in Trinidad each year to capacity audiences. One of the most recent was Zubeen Garg who appeared with Raymond Ramnarine in February, 2011at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya. Zubeen who has more than 7,000 songs in his repertoire and over forty albums to his credit, performed some of his hits from movies such as Gangster (2006), Big Brother (2007), Naqaab (2007,The Hidden Mask) and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007, Dance Baby Dance). Another successful Bollywood singer who made a big hit with audiences in Trinidad recently was Babul Supriyo who made a major stopover in his international concerts to perform with a full band of musicians at the Centre Point Mall Chaguanas on April 16, 2011. He sang some of his hit songs from movies such as Tera Jadoo Chal Gaya (2000,Your Magical Spell Worked); Dhai Akshar Prem Ke ( 2000, Two and a Half Alphabets of Love); Chupke Chupke (1975,Hush-Hush); Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai (2001, I Have To Say Something); Albela (2001, Besotted) and Aashiq (2001,The Lover). In addition, religious singer turned entertainer, Anoop Jalota, gave a performance in Trinidad on Friday March 25, 2011at Centre Point Mall in which he sang many of his bhajans. Though he is not popularly known as a filmi playback singer, he sang filmi songs of Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Hemant Kumar, Mukesh and bhajans by Hari Om Sharan. Jalota, for the majority of the show, imitated filmi songs of other playback singers much in the same way that local singers had been doing in this country since Bala Joban first arrived. The difference this time around was that Jalota came from India to Trinidad to imitate Indian playback singers. Other playback singers from India who visited generally sang their own songs with sprinklings of songs by other singers. In many of these concerts, local artistes such as Michael Salickram and the Shiv Shakti Dancers, Neval Chaitlal, Kavesh Maharaj, Ravi B, Rikki Jai, Indar Kanhai, Nandini Kanhai and Raymond Ramnarine also appeared alongside the Bollywood stars.

Another big Bollywood entertainment event that locals attended recently was the Bollywood dance production “Ticket to Bollywood” from India put on by the NCIC on March 27 and March 28, 2011 at the Centre of Excellence. This was another Bollywood entrant in the long line of Bollywood shows from India that attracted huge audiences locally. Although there were no Bollywood “stars” in the show, it was well received by local audiences. Equally, one of the largest gatherings of Bollywood stars in Trinidad was the local hosting of the Bollywood Awards show in 2006 when locals got the opportunity to greet and meet many of their Bollywood stars in the flesh. More than fifteen stars from Bollywood made their appearance in the country at that show. Some of the major Bollywood stars present included Akshay Kumar, Karishma Kapoor, Dino Morea, Urmila Matondkar, Rajesh Khanna, Zeenat Aman, Gulshan Grover, Chunky Panday, Kunal Ganjawala, Alisha Chinoy, Sukhwinder Singh, Amir Jamal, Anuradha Sriram and Tanaz Currim. It was the first time that East Indians had seen such a large gathering of Bollywood stars on one stage locally.

Bollywood movies and their spinoff entertainment shows continue to frame social and ethnic spaces for East Indians in Trinidad and as such remain a major source of cultural confirmation for them, despite the loss of the cinematic audiences for such movies. The modern day East Indians and East Indian Indian movie audiences have largely moved away from the public spaces (cinemas) to the home viewing of movies on several media such as Videos, DVDs, television and cable. It is important to note that in spite of the home viewership of Indian movies, they still display notions of Indianness and Trinidad-Indo identity at public Bollywood and East Indian events that authenticate the Bollywood link with their identity.

Filmi Indigenization Issues in Trinidad-Indo-Culture

Some clarification is needed with respect to filmi inputs and other aspects of local culture that have over the years infiltrated areas of Indian culture in Trinidad and in the process helped to indigenize Indian cultural events. While indigenization is usually taken to refer to the localization of foreign aspects of culture,[38] the syncretization of Indian film songs and Indian film dances into festivals such as Divali and Phagwa can be seen as the indigenization or localization of these festivals.

Many non-East Indian Trinidadians did not accept Indian culture such as Indian film songs, Indian film dances, Divali and Phagwa as part of local culture. These were seen as foreign and not belonging to Trinidad. However, they (non-East Indians) accepted Spanish, European and African cultural patterns as Trinidadian although those were also foreign to Trinidad. In like manner, they had also accepted Christianity as local. There was a tendency among non-East Indians to view non-Indian culture as local, and condemn Hinduism, Islam and Indian culture as foreign imports. East Indian culture was singled out for villification and East Indians were made to think that their cultural heritage did not fit in with the rest of Trinidad’s culture.

Another factor that was prevalent in the local Indian indigenization processes was social pressure from the non-East Indian society for East Indians to abandon their cultural heritage and show loyalty to Trinidad by embracing creole cultural forms such as Carnival, calypso and steel pan. The East Indians rejected this and instead, took aspects of the creole culture, and selectively fused them with filmi and other aspects of Indian culture in the evolution of a syncretic Trinidad-Indo cultural framework that included their Indian festivals, filmi influenced chutney songs, remakes of filmi songs and filmi dances.

While it was stated in this thesis that Indian movies played a major role in the indigenization processes of aspects of East Indian culture in Trinidad, it must be understood that this was within the broader context of the general process of accommodation and acculturation that was taking place across the country at the time with each ethnic group striving to find its own space within the national milieu. In a multicultural society such as Trinidad, it was inevitable that there would be some sharing and erosion of cultural patterns among the various ethnic groups. In time, better understanding of each other’s culture led to improved accommodation, acculturation and syncretic practices taking place and for the East Indians this involved local as well as foreign Indian filmi inputs into their evolving cultural configurations. The result was a cultural identity that was far removed from its Indian counterpart.

In considering the indigenization processes that involved East Indian festivals in Trinidad, one major consideration was the differentiation that can be made with respect to the manner in which the particular events were celebrated in India and in Trinidad. The manner in which festivals such as Divali, Phagwa, Ramleela and Ramayan and Bhagwat yagnas were celebrated in Trinidad was manifestly different to what obtained in India. While the same names were used in India for the mentioned festivals, the Trinidad versions of those festivals had a substantial filmi and local input that made them peculiarly Trinidadian.

In the case of Divali, in addition to the filmi inputs already mentioned, there were Christian influences such as the crèche and the candle that helped to differentiate it from its Indian counterpart and so localize the festival. Crèches were set up in the yards of Hindu homes with Lakshmi and other Hindu deities replacing the Virgin Mary and other saints. Moreover, the candle, which was seen as a Christian symbol, was fused with the deeya in the production of the waxed deeya, which became very popular in Trinidad and spread to many other countries where Divali is celebrated. There was also the use of elaborate bamboo designs and bamboo design competitions, Divali queen competitions, bamboo bursting and fireworks that became an integral part of the celebrations.[39] These factors made Divali unique to Trinidad.

In Phagwa, besides the filmi inputs, there was the influence of Carnival. The concept of groups appearing at centralized locations, lining up in Carnival band style, with banners, and appearing on stage and giving portrayals during their on-stage presentations was influenced by what obtained on Carnival stages in the country. In addition, there was the influence of calypso styled presentations in English in the annual Pichikari competition and locally choreographed Filmi Phagwa dances which had also become an integral part of Phagwa celebrations nationwide.

With respect to local Indian dances, there was the influence of Trinidad and Caribbean rhythms in the filmi remakes of Indian film songs, which were used as accompaniment by local dances. In addition, there were the influences of Carnival, Chathi and Barahi styles of wine and jam in the evolution of the chutney dance in Trinidad.

Commencing in 1970s, non-Indian filmi indigenization factors in Indian music and songs, included the use of Trinidad and Caribbean rhythms infused with Indian filmi melodies; calypso styled presentations by East Indian artistes such as Sonny Mann (Lotay La – Sister-in Law) (1996) at National calypso events and filmi influenced chutney songs as Radica in the Carnival Chutney Soca Competition (2009). These acts were complemented by huge on stage background presentations including chutney dancers and props. In addition, the Bhatwan night (cooking night) entertainment format is unique and indigenous to Trinidad and most items on the programme are filmi songs and dances. The configurations of those presentations with huge local inputs were factors that contributed towards making them uniquely Trinidadian.

Using Divali as an example of the indigenization processes that were involved in the evolution of local East Indian festivals there was a strange mixture of the fusion of two foreign cultural patterns in its indigenization. Divali had arrived in Trinidad with the East Indians and was considered foreign. Indian movies arrived in 1935 and were also considered foreign. The fusion of Indian film songs performed by local Indian orchestras at local Divali religious programs unintentionally gave Divali a local flavor that had its origin in Indian movies. This pattern of indigenization was true for most of the other East Indian festivals mentioned above.

In terms of Ramayan singing in Trinidad the filmi melodies and filmi bhajans for aarti and Ramayan chanting that were used, were factors that were not found in India. In addition, the English explanations of the chaupais to local audiences differed vastly from their Indian counterpart and therefore made the local Ramayan singing uniquely Trinidadian, indigenous to Trinidad. In effect therefore, it was the infusion of the filmi melodies into the local Ramayan singing that gave it a level of indigenization that made it local. By extension the filmi elements in other local presentations of festivals such as, Shiv Raatri, Raksha Bandhan, Ramleela and Kartik Snaan as practiced in Trinidad make them uniquely Trinidadian and as such indigenous to this country.

Elements that were present in the localization of almost every aspect of Indian cultural patterns in Trinidad included the filmi input of songs, dances, music and dress. Whatever the view taken, the local inputs, although often foreign in nature, when combined with local inputs contributed to the changes of Indian festivals and other East Indian events to such an extent that they were no longer considered foreign to Trinidad. They became indigenous to Trinidad since they were not found in any other country in the formats in which they were found in Trinidad. Thus Divali, Phagwa, Ramleela, Bhatwan Night, local Indian classical singing, filmi influenced chutney songs, locally choreographed Indian film dances and other aspects of Trinidad-Indo-culture have become uniquely Trinidadian and indigenous to this country.


This chapter argued for a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad. It contended that the evolution of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad commenced after the arrival of the first Indian movie, Bala Joban. It was argued that Bala Joban and other Indian movies that were shown in Trinidad, collectively and cumulatively, influenced major aspects of East Indian life including their values, religion, dress, music, songs, dance and artifacts. Consequently, several changes accrued over the years to major strands of East Indian culture in Trinidad that changed the face of Indian culture in the country and contributed to a new identity for East Indians. It was further argued that this new identity was linked to the imitation of aspects of Indian movies and filmi influenced indigenization of various aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad including their religion, festivals and social customs. The creation of new forms of Trinidadian Indo-cultural expressions that emerged out of the Bala Joban Narrative constituted major elements of the new identity for East Indians in Trinidad.

In the process, East Indian identity therefore moved away from a dependency on traditional Indian art forms as prevailed in the pre-1935 East Indian society in Trinidad. At that time Indian traditional cultural forms such as classical singing, folk songs, dress, festivals, dances, rituals and ceremonies formed the major components of that identity. Today local East Indian classical singing, folk songs, dress, festivals, rituals and ceremonies still constitute major components of the East Indian identity but their form and content, influenced by the filmi inputs, have undergone many changes during the last seventy-five years that make them uniquely Trinidad-Indo-cultural forms. New genres of local Indian music and dance such as chutney, filmi remakes, locally choreographed filmi and classical dances that evolved, have contributed to this new Indian identity in Trinidad. This new Trinidad-Indo identity was manifestly different from the identity features of the East Indian community pre-1935 as it combined traditions and values of the past with the modern filmi culture and its spinoffs.

The Bala Joban Narrative posits that beginning with the advent of Indian movies in Trinidad there were at first subtle changes in East Indian cultural traditions but as Indian movies continued to arrive on the island their influence became more pronounced, marked by major changes in East Indian cultural programming. From the performance of traditional songs and dances at public and private East Indian events, East Indians began to imitate songs and dances from Indian movies. Gradually with time, the imitations changed to remakes of filmi songs and dances using Trinidadian and Caribbean rhythms yet maintaining the filmi melody. As the imitation of filmi songs from Indian movies continued, local artistes began replacing the Hindi lyrics with English lyrics (not the translation of the songs) yet maintaining the filmi melody in their new productions. Similarly, local dancers had initially imitated filmi dances but by the 1970s had begun to choreograph their own dances using filmi songs. The next logical step for these local filmi dancers in the evolution of the local filmi influenced dances in Trinidad was the use of local remakes of the filmi songs combined with local choreography in the production of local filmi dances and local filmi influenced chutney dances.

Indian films afforded East Indians in Trinidad a national space where their cultural values and their Indianness were legitimized outside the mainstream political life of the country. While many saw it as a public space that legitimized their Indianness, it nevertheless heralded the dawn that attuned them to new concepts of Indianism in Trinidad. In the period before the 1980s, a visit to the cinema for the average East Indian was a major justification and celebration of his Indianness. By the 1990s local filmi influenced Trinidad-Indo-cultural strands had become major pillars of identity for East Indians. With time, it became an equalizer and normalizer of their Indianness in the public space, which was in stark contrast to the social, political and cultural marginalization they had earlier encountered that was rooted in years of colonialism where they were regarded as citizens of the lower class.

Unlike the Afro-Trinidadian who underwent similar colonial and postcolonial marginalization as the East Indians, East Indians saw representations of Indianness on the Indian silver screen that often provoked a sense of nostalgia and linkage with the ancestral homeland India. They saw a range of Indian lifestyles, mythological symbols and values that revitalized and awakened their Indian identity which evolved into a Trinidad -Indo identity, culled from the celluloid images of the Indian silver screen. This was different for the Afro-Trinidadians who were not exposed to African movies but who saw themselves in Hollywood movies in marginalized, disparaging and be-littling roles.

East Indians in Trinidad were faced with social, cultural, religious and spatial changes and their collective thought processes were thereby generally affected by the visual consumption not only of Indian movies but also by their interface with, and interpretations of, the rest of the society. Their seeming distance from the larger society, their appropriation of aspects of Indian movies into their daily lives and their hybridization of Indian melodies forced a partial dissolution of certain aspects of their traditional, cultural and spiritual identities and a reconstitution along new filmi influenced syncretic (creole/westernized) lines.

Largely, however, this resulted in the fragmentation of their rural, traditional, cultural and religious harmony that culminated in the hybridization of a new genre of local Indian film songs and dances that were influenced by Bollywood melodies and local rhythms. In that transition, there was also a flexible accumulation of several aspects of Indian filmi dress, songs, music and dances as cultural appropriation, which unknowingly became a strategy for their social, cultural and religious survival in a land that was moving from traditional to modern in its journey from independence (1962) to Republicanism (1976) to the present. The fact that, in this movement of cultural nationalism in Trinidad, there was no definite agreement of what constituted national culture, allowed East Indians to carve a cultural niche for themselves in the national cultural landscape.

As their cultural, social and settlement landscapes developed, the political landscape also developed side-by-side even though few East Indians were initially involved in the political landscape. The inheritors of the political landscape (mainly whites before independence and Afro-Trinidadians after independence up to 1994) enjoyed great power over the cultural, social, economic, educational and religious landscape and pursued a hodgepodge of cultural and social settings into a callaloo culture for the nation. East Indians, however, generally resisted this callaloo culture in favour of the tossed salad concept of national culture where each cultural strand maintained its identity while being part of the national cultural landscape. Now, although East Indians had largely resisted and, or rejected western culture, Indian movies, by their seeming portrayal and acceptance of western traditions, such as western clothing, English language and western music, encouraged East Indians in the gradual acceptance of westernization practices. Indian movies generated new cultural and identity vistas for East Indians in Trinidad by stimulating a new outlook of the national landscape through new creations that were brought about by appropriated, assimilated and syncretic creations.

Indian movies became the major constructor of Indian identity for East Indians but they were not the only constructor of Indian identity in Trinidad. Other factors such as food, plants, economics, education and politics played constructing roles in the evolution of Indian identity in Trinidad but were not as influenced by Indian movies as other aspects of East Indian life already outlined. As their new identity evolved many aspects of it remained rooted in traditions while there was a merger of new trends that incorporated aspects of Bollywood and Trinidad and Caribbean rhythms.

This syncretism was repeatedly present in the creation of a more comfortable Trinidad-Indo environment for East Indians. This new hybrid environment though seen as more acceptable to the younger generation of East Indians and the wider society in general, created complications for the older generation of East Indians who preferred the “purer” traditional aspects of Indian culture in Trinidad and rejected the .diverse and complex hybrid cultural strands that were developing around them. It might be argued that in a multicultural society such as Trinidad, where different cultural strands have existed side-by-side for more than 150 years, and where Indian movies were present for the last 75 years, there has been a continual erosion of Indian cultural “purity” and traditions over time. This has provoked the argument that Indian culture in the country is continually in a state of flux due to the myriad of other cultural forces at work in the country and there is the assertion that there can be nothing such as “pure” or traditional Indian culture in Trinidad anymore.

Nevertheless, there is the contention that while the peripheral aspects of Indian culture may change to suit the new environment, the core areas of the culture tends to remain the same. There is the argument that many aspects of Indian culture such as Divali, Phagwa and Ramleela are fundamentally tied to in-built religious protections and as such, the core aspects of these cultural components remain intact regardless of the diversity and peripheral changes and that occur around them. The influence of filmi songs and dances in the evolution of new Trinidad-Indo-cultural identity markers for East Indians in Trinidad changed the national cultural offerings to the extent that Trinidad-Indo-culture had moved from the base of the Trinidad cultural ladder to a rung near the top of the ladder in contemporary Trinidad. Despite its rise in the national cultural arena, Indo-filmi-influenced syncretic cultural offerings in contemporary Trinidad have maintained an Indian cultural distinctiveness within a multidimensional national cultural establishment. This has allowed East Indians to maintain an Indian identity (Trinidad-Indo identity) within the context of Trinidad society and the South Asian diaspora in general.

The evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad therefore, must be seen within the context of East Indians moving from a situation of cultural, social and religious resentment to one of cultural defensiveness during the first and second phases of their presence here in Trinidad. The intervention of the Bala Joban Narrative, which began in 1935, ushered in a period of cultural renaissance that gave East Indians a cultural voice that became a major pillar of their identity within the context of cultural nationalism. In their attempt to portray East Indian nationalism in Trinidad, their cultural dexterity in syncretizing Indian cultural strands with Trinidad, Caribbean and western rhythms while using English lyrics, allowed for the evolution of an East Indian identity which, while rooted in traditional cultural strands, was circumscribed by modern Trinidad-Indo-cultural offerings.

The original intended purpose of the study has been fulfilled between these stated mandates, which were to research and document in a comprehensive manner, the influence of Indian movies in Trinidad. The main argument of the study revolved around the evolution of a new identity for East Indians in Trinidad. The study provides new source material for self-appreciation, intercultural understanding, further research and a new re-approachment with respect to East Indian patriotism to Trinidad and Tobago. It was a pioneering research into the influence of Indian movies in Trinidad and was comprehensive in its own way in touching on several topics that could not be fully ventilated due to the limitations and boundaries of the study. The study inherently raises further questions for research and in that respect may be seen as a work in progress.

The new Indo-Trinidadian identity will continue to evolve with time and while projections can be made about its predictability, just as the present identity is vastly different from that of seventy-five years ago, the next seventy-five years may produce an Indo-Trinidadian identity that is quite dissimilar to the new identity advocated by the Bala Joban Narrative.

It is hoped that the findings of the study will help to demystify, illuminate and explain the differences that exist with respect to traditional East Indian culture, Indo-Trinidad culture and Trinidad-Indo-culture and that East Indians and their culture will be seen as an integral part of the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.


[1]. Herding Behavior. For a more detailed explanation on this behavior see Wilfred Trotter (3 Nov 1872 – 25 Nov 1939) Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (1914).

[2]. See Stuart Hall, Encoding/Decoding, in Culture, Media, Language 128, 134-39 (Stuart Hall et al. eds., 1980)  also Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas Kellner, Media and Cultural Studies 166-176, Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

[3]. For a more expansive explanation of this theory, see Pravas Jivan Chaudhury: “The Theory of Rasa.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 24, No. 1, Supplement to the Oriental Issue: The Aesthetic Attitude in Indian Aesthetics: Pravas Jivan Chaudhury. (Autumn, 1965). 145-149; Saxena, S.K., ‘the Rasa Theory: its Meaning and Relevance’, Sangeet Natak, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, 2002, Sangeet Natak Academy.

[4]. Lord Krishna is an avatar (incarnation of God) in Hinduism.

        [5]. Phinney J. S.,  “A three-stage model of ethnic identity development in adolescence.” M. E. Bernal and Raimes, Ann. Identities Readings from Contemporary Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996. 61-69

[6]. Dr.Vandana Bhandari, professor researcher and author New Delhi, India. Newsday newspaper [Trinidad] section B. Sunday, May 17, 2009. 3.

        [7] Collier, M. J. “Cultural identity and intercultural communication.” L.Samovar and R. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural Communication: A Reader [36- 44]. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth. 1997.

         [8]. Sack, Robert David. Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History. Cambridge (Cambridgeshire): Cambridge UP, 1986.

        [9]. Thomas K. Fitzgerald. Metaphors of Identity: a Culture-communication Dialogue. Albany: State University of New York, 1993.

[10]. R.K.Persad.

[11]. Jagroopsingh.

        [12] The Bala Joban Effect refers to the general influence of the Hindi (Indian) film Bala Joban and other Indian movies that were released in Trinidad after Bala Joban.

[13]. Lalla.

[14]. Assisi, Francis. ‘Features – Bollywood Culture Binds Global Indian Diaspora.’ Planet Bollywood. 25 June 2009 <

[15]. Cook-up here refers to cooking food at the riverside during a session of drinking alcohol, bathing and eating.

[16]. Lalla.

[17]. G. Hanoomansingh.

[18]. Kangal.

[19]. Lalla.

[20]. Jagroopsingh

[21]. Jain, Ravindra K . “Civilizations and Settlement Societies: Cultural Development and Identity at the end of Twentieth Century” in Saraswati, Baidyanath. Interface of Cultural Identity and Development (Culture & Development Series). Chicago: DK Print World, 1996.

[22]. Naipaul, V.S.  . The Middle Passage. New York: Vintage, 2002. 20.

[23]. For a more detailed reading on the issue of the Mimic Men, see Naipaul, V. S. The Mimic Men. United Kingdom: Penguin books, 1981.

[24]. Satnarine Balkaransingh, in a public lecture demonstration at UTT campus in Corinth, San Fernando, on 27/05 10 disputed the conclusion that the dantaal and tassa was indigenous to Trinidad. He claimed that both had their origins in India.

[25]. Pauwels, Heidi R. M. Indian Literature and Popular Cinema Recasting Classics. Routledge, 2010. Print.213.

[26]. Ramaya.

[27]. Filmindia magazine April 1966.

[28]. Filmindia magazine October 1966.

[29]. Ramaya.

[30]. Naipaul, Seepersad. Trinidad Guardian. May 15, 1952. 6.

[31]. WIPO.WIPO seminar on Establishment of a Regional Framework on the Protection of Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Cultural Expression and Genetic Resources. NCIC Headquarters. Brinsley Samaroo and Mary Ann Richards 2/5/09. Explained in chapter six.

[32]. Conversation with Michael Salickram 15/08/09. POS.

[33]. Settler countries refer to those countries where East Indians settled in all waves of migrations.

[34]. Williams, Eric. History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. 1964. 278

[35]. Bollywoodization. For more on this topic see Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 4, Issue 1 April 2003, pages 25 – 39 The ‘Bollywoodization’ of the Indian cinema: cultural nationalism in a global arena. Ashish Rajadhyaksha.

[36]. See for a more detailed explanation of these facts.

        [37]. Gowricharan,  Ruben Caribbean Transnationalism: Migration, Pluralization and Social Cohesion, “The Mahatma in the Caribbean2006. 151.

        [38]. Indigenization here refers to the manner in which locals take foreign elements and combine it with local attributes in the evolution of new cultural patterns

       [39]. For more on the use of bamboo bursting and bamboo designs see: The author’s: The changing face of Divali in Trinidad; a paper presented at the Conference on Caribbean Religions 2010, UWI.