International Communication Gazette

Soft power, culture and modernity: Responses to Bollywood films in Thailand and the Philippines

by Adrian Athique (2019)

India's official embrace of the soft power concept and the popular equation of Bollywood films with India's international image are discussed here with reference to their contemporary convergence. This article seeks to make the case that the underlying claims of the soft power doctrine necessitate an empirical test at the level of grassroots reception. Further, this article also seeks to shift the emphasis from ‘impressing the West’ towards interrogating the dynamics of India's cultural diplomacy in other Asian states. With these aims in mind, this article presents two qualitative case studies from Chiang Mai, Thailand and Metro Manila in the Philippines. The responses collected in dicate the in herent complexities of Inter-Asian dialogues on culture and modernity as well as the importance of the local media environment in determining perceptions of contemporary India. Ultimately, the capacity of popular culture to create a positive impression and to counter existing prejudices and misconceptions is supported in a series of reception studies. At the same time, the ‘moral superiority’ and historical legacies that are assumed to underpin India's cultural prestige in the region are challenged by the content and tone of these responses from the general public. In the contemporary setting of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), it becomes clear that the mediation of Indian culture operates within an in creasingly transnational media environment and a competitive modernity that in forms comparative perspectives between Asian cultures.

Asian cultural studies, Bollywood, cinema, cultural diplomacy, India, international communication, Philippines, reception studies, soft power, Thailand.

India's soft power
Cultural diplomacy in a mediated world
The proximity of Asian civilisations
Soft power in South East Asia: Popular responses to Indian media
Responses to Bollywood in Manila
Responses to Bollywood in Northern Thailand
Grassroots reception and soft power
Declaration of Conflicting Interests

(Adrian Athique, University of Queensland, Level 4, Forgan Smith Building, St Lucia 4072, Australia. Email:


Athique, Adrian
Soft power, culture and modernity: Responses to Bollywood films in Thailand and the Philippines.
In: International Communication Gazette 81,5, (Aug 2019), pp. 470-489.