Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'm not a Bollywood Blogger But... I

I pre-date Bollywood. In fact I detest the word. First, my pet peeves:

1. While to most people outside India, all Indian movies are Bollywood, the word refers *only* to the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry. This leaves out the rich (though dying in some cases) regional cinema, as well as artsy, small films that don't have blaring songs, a million costume changes and OTT melodrama. And now the monster that is Bollywood is gobbling up these little and little-known movies created by India's other film industries. A shame!

2.The word itself was coined by some smart-mouth BBC guy in a totally pejorative way, making fun of the Hindi film industry. It was, as we know, a combo of Bombay + Hollywood. So, shouldn't it now be Mollywood to reflect the name change? The Shiv Sena needs to get on this ASAP.

3. To die-hard fans (and even not so die-hard ones) this makes the largest film industry in the world (at one point it made 900 odd movies a year!) a poor reflection, an even poorer cousin and a totally destitute hanger-on of Hollywood. Whereas, of course, the hindi film indstury developed almost simultaneously with its Western counterpart and is almost as old. Plus, even as Hollywood has almost decimated film industries in other countries, hindi film fans have held strong and so has the industry. The movies are so different from Hollywood, that its world-wide fans (not just Indians and diaspora but in the middle-east, other parts of Asia, etc.) remain loyal and growing, making it *still* the largest, though not the richest film industry in the world.

4. A few months ago, during the episode of the pink sari and the holy cows, one of the people who later went on to bemoan her lost freedom of speech aka being able to get away with stereotyped racism complimented me. So, why am I bitching? All will be made clear now. I was wearing a turquoise skirt.
"You look so pretty in that color."
"Thanks," I mumble always uncomfortable with compliments and perhaps sensing what was to come.
"You know you remind me of this Bollywood movie I saw."
"Really?" I cringe.
"Yes...oh what was it? Yes...Bride and Prejudice."

I politely made my escape after thanking her again. Yes, I'm a coward but I try to be a polite one. Bride and fucking Prejudice is *not* a Bollywood movie. Correction, it's not an Indian/Hindi movie. It's made by a British woman of Indian origin. . Perhaps it's a diaporic tale or a story about immigrants. While we are on this topic, Gandhi, Bend it Like Beckham, or Slumdog Millionaire are not Bollywood movies either though I have sometimes seen them classifed as such. They are British movies, made by British film-makers that happen to have Indian stories and/or actors. This doesn't mean these movies are not great. Despite its problems Gandhi is one of my favorite movies and so is Bend it, but they are *not* Indian movies.

Calling any of these movies Bollywood is like saying Captain Corelli's Mandolin was an Italian film or The Da Vinci Code was a French-Vatican City-Scotland production. Perhaps all those movies supposedly in NYC but filmed in Vancouver are Canadian? Putting in a few shimmery costumes in a movie alongwith pretty ladies and dashes of tragic things like poverty and the proper behavior of girls in immigrant families do not an Indian movie make.

Indian movies (Hindi or not) have their own sensibility, their way of being and more than that they are Indian because they are made in India by other Indians for Indians inside the country and the diaspora. This doesn't make them better or worse...for we know they regularly still churn out dreck. It's just what they are and what they are not.

And even as a diasporic Indian who has not lived in India for a couple of decades there are evenings during which only an Indian movie will do, some emotions that are only plumbed when Amitabh speaks and Vinod twirls his moustache and SRK trembles his voice. It's part of me, in my blood and even as I despise certain aspects of Bollywoodism I cannot escape it.

So...I am not a Bollywood writer but in the spirit of Bollywood Blogging about the best movies of the 1970's, put into my motion by a wonderful blogger called will write I'm Not a Bollywood Blogger But...II tomorrow. And yes, it will be about the 1970's.


Beth said...

Interesting essay! I love learning what Indian cinema means to people. Thank you for your compliment, despite my ignorant blog name (quite seriously - I named that long before I knew anything about the origin of and various attitudes about the term. I ran across it so frequently, as I do "Hollywood" here in the US, that I thought nothing of it. I'd do it differently if I knew then what I know now). I'll look forward to your film post!

chavanni chap said...

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you can read it in roman aur just translate it in english.

Jawahara said...

Beth, I am seriously somewhat addicted to your blog and I love the sensibility with which you write. Thanks for visiting mine.

memsaab said...

I try not to use the term Bollywood myself much, although to me it seems now like a brand that the Hindi film industry may be stuck with (which is better than no brand at all? You decide!)...I am constantly amazed at the indifference and ignorance which even many Indians show towards the long and very interesting history of Hindi cinema. And one of the great sorrows of my life is how it is disappearing rapidly (films deteriorating--don't even get me started on dvd manufacturers--people dying with stories untold...and on and on) with very little interest or effort being made to stop it!

I have learned a lot from the people who stop by my blog frequently, so I know there are ardent film history fans out there...but oh. The sorrow at seeing it die such an ignominious death...

Beth said...

That's one of the nicest compliments I've ever gotten! :)

Jawahara said...

Memsaab, I wrote a long response to your lovely comment and damn Swisscom dropped my Internet connection and took it away.

I too am torn about Hindi cinema vs Bollywood as you know. It would be such a shame if the lesser-known, low-key or even in some cases cruder forms of Indian cinema disappeared forever.

One interesting thing is that because Bollywood is so much flashier and slicker and a bit culturally out of touch with people in the Hindi heartland, there has been a resurgence of Bhojpuri films.

Bhojpuri is, of course, one of the regional Hindi dialects. See...we sometimes forget that the Hindi of films is not the only Hindi. Bhojpuri is probably the most well-known and widest ranging dialect of Hindi, mainly used in rural areas and smaller urban centers.

Anyway, Bhojpuri films are cheaper to make and focus on family-oriented stories: arranged marriage, living in a joint family, etc. Themes that Bollywood rarely does and if it is does it's usually of over-the-top rich people.

Perhaps the success of bhojpuri films shows the resilience of smaller film industries in India. I hope so...but I fear it is an aberration and not a trend.

Anyway, thanks for your comment and I totally get where you are coming from.

Waheed said...

Nice Film

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friendonline said...

bollywood movies have a totally different flavor from all other movies. There moves are so predictable that sometimes watching a new movie makes us say the bollywood dialogues along with the character

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Anonymous said...

Remember that Bengali households still are known for their amazing food culture and this fact is known world-wide :)

tanSEN was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today? so was subash chandra bose and sri aurobindo :)

and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders.
we are the fifth largest speakers!

here are two lists to shut your mouth

these guys are not just making India proud but half the world knows about these guys dude :)

we bengalis have won pretty much every award in the world stage
you name it we have it and we are damn proud of what we have :)
its the only country in the world which took rebellion because it couldn't speak its mother tongue and it won! and won so hard that the UN had to adopt that day as the international language day, which celebrates languages from all over the world.


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