East meets West over the cash register in Lalita Krishna’s documentary, which charts the efforts to bring Western-style retailing to India. With a fast-growing middle class fueled by young professionals and older expatriates returning to their country after lucrative years abroad, India seems ready to embrace many of the consumer standards and brand labels from North America and Europe, including high-end shopping malls and hypermarkets.
A great deal of the film involves the efforts of the Toronto-based consulting group Perennial Inc. to import this brand of upper-scale retailing to India. However, that country’s overwhelming low-income population cannot possibly afford the merchandise in these new shopping environments, and the country’s centuries-old tradition of open-air bazaar retailing continues to hold a dominant place across the population.
If anything, the film depicts India as a bifurcated nation, with a smaller and financially secure entity that is attracted to the popular culture of the Western world barely rubbing shoulders with a larger body of poor people that still need to scrape by in order to keep living. Perhaps not surprisingly, anger against the so-called “corporate stores” and their deleterious impact on the livelihoods of the small business owners has grown, sometimes to the point of violent riots.
How this situation will be resolved remains to be seen. For its part, the film provides a fascinating insight to a culture in a harsh yet remarkable evolution.