Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Sway of Bollywood

With a sprinkling of fairy dust, Bollywood transforms the world into a dream riddled with fun in the form of music, dance and colorful beauty, where most people live comfortably and very few need worry about survival. This, of course, is in sharp contrast to the life lived by the target audience of the average Bollywood film and I suppose that would be the whole point...
Whilst most in India struggle to find work, make ends meet, enjoy life and marry in the name of love instead of family ordained suitability; those on the silver screen live the highly sought after, but rarely attained, notion of the good life, where you work for fun and your sole responsibility towards others is to show that throughout all the insignificant trials and tribulations of an altogether undifficult life, love will always triumph.
I apologise in advance for being negative about a genre cherished by so many, (be advised that my scepticism will wane later on ) but Bollywood is positively unrealistic. In most circumstances, it just influences the audience to think that what they have is not enough to be happy with and if they could simply work and struggle and push their children hard enough to be wealthy, georgeous and enviable, they could also happily live the glamourous, carefree, love-filled and largely unattainable lives lived by those seen in the films.
To those working in the industry, I would say that your influence on people is not particularly admirable. When you could be pushing for people to be more charitable and good towards an in-need of help Mother India, you prefer to use the money, talent and famous faces you have to reaffirm the importance of wealth, fun and love: things that are sometimes out of one's reach.
But the greatest hypocrisy of all in Bollywood and the pinnacle of unrealism is yet to be reached. This, of course, happens when the films shoot overseas (thereby supporting already-rich foreign economies) so as to quench the audience's desire to see more of the well-to-do and their lives and less of the Indian reality which includes a hardly ever shown in films side to India where there simply is not enough for everybody when a few players decide to hold all the cards for wealth, government, status, education and employment. What deliberate ignorance to worship the unreal.
On a lighter and chirpier note, I must admit, unrealism in film has its benefits though for good old India. All you have to do to see manifestations of India's wealth is look at the level of creative flow coursing through a popular Bollywood film. Nothing even comes near to the level of art coming out of India these days in these films in the form of a visual feast with music and dance from the likes of directors such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali, musical maestros such as AR Rahman and Anu Malik and dance masters such as Shiamak Davar, Vaibhavi Merchant and Saroj Khan.
All you need to do, to feel that there is still true patronage of grace, in art, alive and well in the world today, is look at a well-backed Hindi film. There is nothing an audience could love better than a good Bollywood song and dance number with one Bollywood beauty opposite one Bollywood cutie who together keep the passions running high throughout the film. I guess it's this unending lineup of beauties and cuties that keep you rivetted to the screen in spite of all that poor acting, corniness to the extreme and utter lack of plot driving the narrative. This together with the poetry of words coming from the Hindi and Urdu languages would manage to keep most audiences mesmerised in spite of everything.
So if you were to ask me for examples of Hindi movies worth watching for the music, dance, poetry and, of course, beauties including Aishwarya Rai (a former Miss World), Kajol and Rani Mukherjee and cuties like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, I would give you the names of a few films of interest including Taal (musically divine), Dil To Pagal Hai (dance spectacular), Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (romantic saga) , Bombay (moving) , Dil Se (great music and issues), Lagaan (Oscar nominee) , Devdas ( grandeur unparalleled), 1947 Earth (a movie with actual substance), Bunty Aur Bubli (funny), Monsoon Wedding (includes the real India that sometimes make you squirm in discomfort), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (stunning visually), Saathiya (inspired by the Tamil film Alaipaiyuthey) , Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (crowd pleaser) and Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham (winner of the popularity contest and also with some great comedy and heartfelt moments)
All these movies are great to watch for their entertainment value but perhaps not all what they could be intellectually. What I sometimes feel is holding the entire industry back from world domination is the almost complete and total lack of substantial content, complex characters or admirable plot in any movie that has garnered popularity in the last few years. If just one famous actor or director could find themselves a decent story to get involved with, we'd all be saved.
I'd actually be able to sit through a Hindi movie without guiltily thinking that I was lowly enough to be watching the equivalent of a tv soapie or a Mills & Boon novel (so unchallenging that you would expect a person to be ashamed of reading them). Bollywood tries so hard to evade making the audience think, question or enter a state of turmoil that, as a member of the audience, you almost feel as if you are the lesser being.
Ten years ago, I would have said that North India just had to look to the South and be smart enough to be able to recognise a plot when it sees one. But now South India seems to be going by the popularity of Bollywood films and copying the lack of substance of all thing's North. Ten years ago I was proud of South Indian movies, especially those in Malayalam. They may not have been hip or glamourous but they had a level of intellectual credibility that had arthouse written all over it and the actors, like Mohanlal, could actually act. Movies such as Manichitratazhu, Devaragam, Desadanam and Aaran Thampuran had enough art, plots and real-life complications to make them memorable.
So, what I'm basically saying is, to anyone listening out there who has any connections to Bollywood, ask someone who holds some sway over the film industry to have the gall to do a remake of a movie like Manichitrathazhu, Bollywood style. The way I see it, that kind of a movie could actually contain enough Bollywood as well as intellectual elements to sustain any audience's appetite and then we would all have a truly applaudable blockbuster Indian movie to watch, proudly.
Don't get me wrong after seeing me critique the genre, I see that Bollywood has the potential to outdo every other film industry in the world and become the greatest source of inspiration for generations to come, I just want to see it reach that altitude soon so that I get to see films on a regular basis that make me think whilst enjoying a combination of high art with entertainment.


Kable said...

I agree to some degree about what your saying. But you have to face the facts that not all cinema is going to be intellectual. There will always be movies that are total crowd pleasers.

Even Hollywood has these. The Spiderman's, Sci-Fi flix and horrror movies would not fit the bill as movies that are educating. Hell they make Bollywood song and dance seem somewhat realistic.

Although, the 90's were really bad for Bollywood films, I firmly believe that in the past 3 years or so there have been many movies with actual substance (Rang De Basanti, Water, Mangal Pandey, Page 3 and Iqbal to name a few).

Keshi said...

Most Bollywood movies r an illusion but what most movie-makers want is an audience irrespective of their intelligence...:)



The pics here r so tasteful!!! Hey the remakes of Mal movies sofar have been a dissapointment. Some reason or the other the same magic does not work. May be that it does not fit every cultural environment. We make great movies, no doubt about it. We make TP movies too and they are just for the dance and glamour but there have been so many movies that have touched me immensely...:)

ekantha said...

Kable, I entirely agree with you on Water being a film we should all be proud of. The fact that it faced so much opposition from the Hindu community really highlighted how insecure Hindus including myself are in having to deal with the issues created by their own traditions.

ekantha said...

Rang de Basanti, on the other hand, had superb music but I felt that although it was meant to be an issue-based film it only managed to skim the surface of an immense corruption issue in India and then finally it ended with a brash and unacceptable solution to the problem.
Keshi said that Bollywood is a place of illusions and she's right, I would take that one step further and say that it presents people, esp. youth with the ideal illusion of what they want to be and what they want to do without giving much thought to the consequences. In this respect, Rang de Basanti was not a particularly significant film. It showed people who didn't really do much, who were easily swayed towards the wrong direction by a historical play and who basically sent the wrong message out to the world by killing a man. I must say, I was greatly confused by the hero treatment given to "the rebels" at the end of the film. Do you really think that killing people would cause people to flock to committing to the cause of ridding India of corruption? Yes, the message of getting involved in police, politics, etc. was crucial but somewhere along the line that message that message got lost, along with the characters' respect and credibility after choosing to kill.