AI shows Bollywood obsession with fair skin and sons

Has Bollywood - India's hugely popular Hindi film industry - become more progressive over the years?

Yes - and no - says an artificial intelligence (AI) driven study of dialogues from hundreds of films over the past 70 years.

The $2.1bn (£1.5bn) industry churns out hundreds of films every year and has a massive following among Indians globally. Fans revere stars, pray for their wellbeing, even build temples to them and donate blood in their name.

Over the years, Bollywood films have also been criticised for being regressive, promoting misogyny, colourism and gender biases, but there has been no broad study into its social biases.

With the aim to fill that gap, researchers, led by Kunal Khadilkar and Ashiqur KhudaBukhsh of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in the US, picked 100 of the biggest commercial hits from each of the seven decades from 1950 to 2020.

The co-authors - self-confessed "huge Bollywood fans" - then fed the subtitles into automated language-processing tools to find out if - and how - Bollywood's biases have evolved over the years.

"Films act as a mirror of social biases and also have a huge impact on people's lives. Our study allowed us to see through the lens of entertainment how India has evolved in the past seven decades," Mr KhudaBukhsh told the BBC from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

To see how Bollywood compared with other major film industries in the world, the researchers also chose 700 films from Hollywood and 200 critically acclaimed films nominated in the foreign film category at the Oscars.

The study threw up some interesting results - Bollywood is biased, but so is Hollywood, although on most counts, a little less. And that in both the industries, social biases have reduced steadily over the past seven decades.


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