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How a Bollywood blockbuster sparked tourism in Iceland




Congratulations! How did your dissertation defense go?

“Thank you! Well, I was hoping we would have a covid-free ceremony where all the committee members would attend in person. Unfortunately, three tested positive, one after another. Then the same thing happened to three photographers. He called in sick just as my car stopped at the university, a few hours before the defense. I had already resigned myself to not having any photos until I realized that I could ask to the EM photographer. Maybe it was intended that way.”

It almost looks like a movie!

“Yes absolutely. My dad taught me his philosophy that whatever happens is best and whatever doesn’t happen is best.”

What is your thesis about?

“That’s an interesting question to ask, especially after defence. I still have a few more remarks, like a hunch while cleaning, about how I would answer a particular question. I keep reminding myself: now it’s done. Retrospectively, my thesis focuses on media tourism in the context of Bollywood. In general, research on media tourism has focused on Western cases, such as Game of Thrones or Harry Potter. I tried to diversify this field of research by taking an interest in Hindi films from different angles. An example is the film genre itself, with certain routines like song and dance, and how that mobilizes people to travel.

How do Bollywood songs inspire people to travel?

Bollywood films are built around a lot of dancing and singing, every 30 to 40 minutes. They are used to portray a story leap or a dream and play a fundamental role in the Bollywood film genre. In one of the cases I examined, the main characters entered a dream and found themselves in Iceland. The songs are hugely popular in the wider Indian media landscape and so they tend to shape potential travel destinations and flows as well. An example of this is the increase in the number of Indians visiting Iceland after 2015, when the music video Gerua (from the movie Dilwale) came out of. The increase was so great that there was a direct flight from New Delhi to Reykjavik.


“I also watched a Bollywood theme park in Dubai. And the Hindustani community in the Netherlands, the largest Indian diaspora community in Europe since Brexit. It was very interesting to see how the community took on different ideas about India and built a relationship with India by watching Bollywood movies.

How did you find this community?

“When I came to live here six years ago, I had no idea about the local Hindu community. In this regard, my arrival here has been successful as it has opened my eyes to the diversity of the diaspora I was living in Rotterdam West and was exploring the local supermarkets when I found a store with lots of Indian goods. They played well known Bollywood songs, but remixed with a Caribbean beat. I told the cashier i knew and liked the song and she told me that her great grandfather was from india it raised a lot of questions for me and when i got home i started reading about the Hindu community. They have become an important part of my research. Out of a total of 56 interviews, I conducted 18 interviews with members of the Hindustani community and I am grateful for the new ideas and contacts I made.

What was your main conclusion?

“One of the things I’ve discovered is how much experiencing Bollywood films and their stories outside of India creates a sense of national pride for Indian visitors. They take pride in see their culture celebrated in a foreign setting.

How did you come to write your thesis on Bollywood tourism?

“I had finished my studies in India when I came across this project from my supervisor Stijn Reijnders. He had received a grant from the European Research Council to conduct a non-Western comparative study on film tourism. I really felt a calling, also because I have a deep interest in Bollywood movies and saw that it had potential as a research topic.

Did you find it difficult to get a PhD?

“Yeah, it wasn’t easy. Apart from the PhD challenges, I was away from my family and because of covid, I couldn’t visit them as often as before. Luckily I got married halfway through my PhD and had one here too support system† I also had some issues, especially with my mental health, dealing with the different challenges of a PhD during a pandemic and all that. Discussing it with my supervisor really helped, but I often struggled to stay motivated and keep going. I also often doubted the relevance of my study during the most severe period of the covid pandemic. But above all, it made me realize the contribution and relevance of my research. I think it ultimately kept me as an empathetic researcher alert to changing circumstances. Media tourism may seem superficial, but it should not be underestimated. When people travel less, they increasingly want to give their travels a deeper meaning that mass tourism cannot provide.

I read in your thank you note that your supervisor helped you maintain a work-life balance. How did he do that?

“Especially by setting a good example. My supervisor organized various events such as spring pots or brainstorming weekends for his doctoral students. It allowed us, as colleagues, to take a break from our work. He encouraged me to go out, play sports and have a life beside the doctorate, showing that work is part of your life. It helped me find a balance in my own doctoral trajectory.

So in conclusion, for those who don’t know Bollywood, do you have any advice to watch and listen to?

My favorite is a movie from 1995: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge† A romantic story that begins in London, about a Eurail journey through Europe. Interestingly, Eurail also recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the release of this film and it is significant that the film’s impact is still felt even so many years after its initial release.




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