Sport & Culture

The Bollywood of France

Bollywood’s influence isn’t hard to find in Europe. But one France-based band is taking it to a different level.

Since the late 1990s, when Bollywood really arrived in Europe, the sounds, images and everything else associated with India’s film industry have spread in different ways in different countries and at different paces.

One place where Bollywood has certainly made an impact is France – but not simply in terms of the traditional movie going experience. I’m always looking for new and interesting ways that Bollywood movies have had an effect in European countries, so I was delighted a while back to come across Paris-based band Olli and the Bollywood Orchestra, an outstanding ensemble that plays with and builds on some of the numerous traditional sounds we associate with India and its movies.

The multicultural band has travelled around Europe playing intricate tunes that offer a new and unique musical experience for listeners. Writing some time back, French magazine Oueste France, commented: “Olli & the Bollywood Orchestra c’est avant tout une aventure humaine,” which basically translates as: Olli & the Bollywood Orchestra are first and foremost a human adventure.

Indeed they are. But who are they?

Orchestra creator Olli (Oliver Leroy) is a France-based musician from Rennes, who was introduced to the classic Indian percussion instrument the tabla 20 years ago this year. Fascinated by the enchanting, outlandish sound, he left for India to study Indian ragas, as well as Hindi and Sanskrit.  

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After returning home, he started experimenting, composing music that was a fusion of what he knew and what he learned from his time in India. Traditional bhajans (devotional songs), strings and the extreme rhythmic complexity of Indian music became part of Olli’s musical world.

In 2002, he decided to go even further in embracing his adopted culture. Playing off the success of Bollywood films, he created what have been dubbed “Olliwood” songs, which he has taken on an extensive tour of France, Italy, Britain and Africa. Following his travels, he was finally able to realize a dream – his first album, Kitch’en, which was recorded in Kolkatta at Prime Studios.

The album consisted of two well-defined sections. The first was made up of acoustic songs, while the other part introduced a fusion of lyrics and electro music. This album was followed in 2008 by a second album, Tantra, which with the exception of two songs was composed of lyrics in Hindi. Here, the flavors of Bollywood films were mixed with Hindi pop music, hip-hop and rock to create an improbable and yet convincing puzzle of sounds.   

Twenty years after he embarked on this journey, and what I like about Olli’s music is that it avoids simply imitating its inspiration, instead having the courage to come up with something quite new. Together with Sudeshna Bhattacharya, Prabhu Edouard, Lannig Le Faucheur, Sylvain Barou and Jesse Lucas, the band has helped create a kind of Bollywood of France.

I chose my words carefully there—Bollywood of France rather than in France. The difference? Olli and others have created something quite new, music that not only draws on Bollywood itself, but also the inspiration the industry has sparked within non-South Asians in parts of Europe.

It’s good to find something that transcends stereotypes rather than simply playing with them.

Monia Acciari teaches film and television at Swansea University, where she specializes in popular Hindi cinema and world cinema.