Do you have to be Indian to enjoy Bollywood? I have been scrambling to find friends to come with me to see Bollywood movies. Most of them don’t come because they dislike subtitled movies in general. Some of them don’t come because they associate Bollywood with silly boy-meets-girl plots while dancing and singing.
Well, maybe Bollywood is not for who likes dramatic, over-complicated narratives where every scene is strategically planned and every detail of the movie can be explained. Which, let’s face it, rarely ever happens in Hollywood movies either. A far cry from realism, that goes mostly for both genres. People want to escape realism, they want the fantasy. Going to the movies suspends you in time for those two hours or so. It’s a meditation of sorts. You stop following the chatter in your head and immerse in a different world. Movies are a powerful drug in that sense.
If you enjoy Bollywood movies, as a Westerner, you have developed a tolerance for imperfections and you go with the flo…. You have accepted the fact that the subtitles suck, the song translations make you cringe, and you concentrate on what makes you feel good. You are looking forward to the songs, which at first you might have hated. You submerse in an exotic culture, a culture where apparently people don’t kiss, women wear saris when they go to sleep * (it’s CHANGING ), a culture seemingly embedded in a lawless country, where everything goes, where parents slap their kids, teachers abuse students, like in Taare Zameen Par, Udaan. You will suffer from a slight culture shock when you start watching Bollywood movies, but at their heart, there is The Heart. It differs from our calculating, well-organized anglo saxon society where political and all other correctness permeates movie culture.
It teaches us that our values aren’t perhaps all there is to life. It gives us a new perspective on how differently you can view life. Villains in Indian cinema will be fully embraced and their black deeds forgiven, if they only treat their parents with respect. Parents and educators often look like villains themselves. Seniority counts. I am older, I am right. Homosexuality doesn’t exist in India. Yes, all right…. :-) we get it. At the end of the day though, the very essence of the Indian movie is The Family. If we want it or not it will appeal to us. In India you are rarely ever alone. You will be surrounded by relatives and friends all your life long. To me, as a Westerner, it feels like looking at a vanished continent. Atlantis. I want to climb back into the fuzzy womb of an extended family, who constantly celebrates itself. This is not to say they will embrace everything that’s going on.. young women and men are still fighting for living the life they want, not a fate dictated by parents. Peer pressure can be just as negative as in our society and can lead to disastrous outcomes, like in the Shaitan, where drunk, reckless driving has a catastrophic outcome, Shor in the City, another example, another study in recklessness. Some of our realities intersect. Others not.
it can be overwhelming too. I know a couple of Indian guys on the Indian Cinema board of IMDb who shred almost every single Indian movie. They LOVE American cinema and poke mercilessly into the weaknesses of Bollywood movies. There are critics in India, like Rajeev Masand, who will tear into Bollywood movies, big enough you’ll need a boat to cross the pothole. Then there are the Indians who dislike everything Hollywood represents. They are conservative at heart, America represents what they don’t want in their lives. I wonder if they have problems with subtitles…. haha.
You have the two distinct camps here. Who loves, who hates… everyone who loves cinema has an opinion. It’s often tainted by either ignorance or intolerance. People here in the US, who say they don’t like Bollywood, have, actually, often never seen one and go by hearsay. One of my friends watched Veer Zaara, it was too long for her and I could never get her to see another Bollywood movie. I am working on her to give Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara a try. There are all kind of Indian movies, it’s not all love, family and soapy. It’s an eclectic mix worthwhile to explore. A world to discover.
My greatest victory to date is that I have managed to convert a 16 year old son of a friend of mine, who looks fwd to every new release now. His mom is thrilled because she says it’s something that they do together, brings her closer to him at an age where parents and kids naturally will separate. He says Bollywood movies make him feel good. They are different and he enjoys that. Hollywood movies all for sudden are not so appealing to him. They are too clinical. Now his older brothers got curious and started watching Bollywood movies. Less passionately than him perhaps, but with curiosity.
There should be a greater effort on part of Bollywood, to maybe dub a movie here and there, try to show them on cable, get people interested in the fascinating world of Bollywood. In Germany it has a great following precisely because someone with connections had them dubbed and showed them on cable TV. Why not here?
I am firmly resting one foot in Hollywood and one in Bollywood. I enjoy the medium. I am a cinema nut. I can’t live without movies. They are my ultimate addiction.
But just like my son’s friend, I walk out happy when I’ve seen a Bollywood movie, with a smile on my face. A song in my head.
heck, maybe you even turn into a patriotic Non-Indian, as I did….