I will admit to having been a wandering fan of NWA-TNA-IMPACT-GFW. I fell headlong into my fandom when they were on Spike, a channel I could finally get in my Canadian cable TV packages, which i had to beg my Mum to add to our package. During this time something resonated with me in Then-TNA more than WWE. The X Division was brilliant and somehow they managed to reinvent and rebirth characters whom the E had failed me on. I fell out of regularly watching them shortly after Hulk Hogan made the decision to take away the six-sided ring and try to convince me that his presence was beneficial to the company. Nevertheless, I have occasionally popped back in from time to time, trying to get back into the product that had provided me with so much joy.
Once Anthem purchased Impact Wrestling (and now GFW too, Double J somehow keeps on winning despite all odds) some interesting details and news started coming to light. Piquing my interest the most was the announcement that they were heading to India to film a series of episodes. One of my favourite things in Pro-Wrestling is seeing how different cultures engage with and reinterpret the art. Never before had a North American company broadcast shows filmed with an Indian audience and I knew I’d have to follow along and see what the crowd was like. If nothing else about the shows was good, at least I’d have a window into the Indian audience.
I tuned in a few weeks ahead of the India episodes, so that I wouldn’t be blind to the storylines heading into these special episodes. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how focused the shows were on in-ring action, and was greeted with the returns of Low-Ki and Sonjay Dutt. A clever decision geared towards helping reintroduce returning fans to the product’s new age with some familiar faces. I’m not going to break matches down here, or dissect every single nuance of every single story that Impact has had going on over the last five or six weeks. That would miss the point entirely. I’d like to talk about a selection of details that really highlight the deep potential their programming has displayed over the last while. This week I’m going to talk about what pulled me back in to the fold: their excursion to India.
Beyond making history, and beating the E to the punch, by being the first North American promotion to broadcast shows filmed in India, Impact’s time in Bollywood gave the viewer some notable ups, with very few downs. The crowd in attendance for these tapings was hot for the product. They were there to have a good time and reacted at all the appropriate times in the appropriate ways. I’m certain that India is capable of producing smarks but they didn’t make their presence felt the way they so often do in North American audiences. This may be because having full-fledged promotions running in India is a relatively recent phenomenon, with things like The Great Khali’s CWE and WrestleSquare being relatively fresh in the cultural zeitgeist. It may also be because the Impact brand lineage was one of the first to try and push into the Indian market and establish themselves a foothold, even going so far as to create the short-lived Indian based Ring Ka King promotion for that market. Maybe they just wanted to be excited for the spectacle of a live event. Whatever the reason, the audience was so into the show that they elevated the product.
Another distinct upside to the tapings in India was the booking of Sonjay Dutt’s storyline. The creative team built up a story that worked to engage and captivate both the North American and Indian audience at the same time. For the North American fans the story hinged upon Dutt’s inability to capture the X Division title in his lengthy tenure with the company, and was back-dropped with his return “home” to India where he finally captured the championship that had eluded him for so long. For the Indian fans he was an Indian underdog, coming to the ring with an eye patch over his wounded eye, competing for a championship on home turf. He came out of these episodes as a babyface to both audiences. The booking rewarded both the longtime Impact viewer and the hometown fans equally. More importantly, while they did play with Indian tropes throughout the shows, at no point did they pander towards xenophobia. This is the right way to go about making an Indian the central figure to an arc to attract the Indian audience. Compare this to the criticism often leveled at the E: Jinder Mahal is an Indian for an American audiences to hate. Sonjay Dutt is an Indian for an Indian and American audience to love. He’s a bigger face now than he ever was before. All of that without even mentioning how good the matches he had with Low-Ki were, easily the best work I have personally seen from Dutt. I’ll talk more about the in-ring product another time.
Logistically I know that heading back there may not be easy or immediately cost effective but I do believe it would be to the benefit of the brand to make their presence in India a part of their annual schedule. It made the product feel extra special with the change in colours for the logos, and the different settings for the outdoors vignettes, and the simple but effective and respectful booking. If Anthem truly wants a “Global Force” in the business, they can do so if they can corner a solid share of the Indian market. Not only would it be financially beneficial to gain revenue from the huge Indian market, the difference in presentation to their North American audience would really make Impact feel special. If Anthem can capitalize on this market, and this special feeling to these shows, they just might #MakeImpactGreat again!
Come back next week where I’ll continue looking at the direction of GFW Impact Wrestling.
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