Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boogieing to the Bollywood Beat

“Indian movies are extremely inane with no sense or story or message in them and it is time they stopped having silly songs.”, said a friend of mine to me. I was zapped momentarily at someone casting such aspersions on my favorite entertainment avenue!

“My dear friend”, I refuted him, “Bollywood is not a charity organization that makes movies for the sake of passing moral messages about righteousness or education or the evils of casteism or awareness about some obscure disease or empowerment. Movies are first supposed to be entertainment and then everything else is a bonus if it makes money. If they are not supposed to be entertaining, the producers might as well make documentaries which are a completely different genre. There have been wonderful commercial movies with meaningful social messages such as ‘3 Idiots’ on the education system, ‘Udaan’ on the ambitions of a young aspiring writer etc. However, if these social movies were not entertaining as well, who would watch them? The message wouldn’t hit the nail then anyway. A fantastic movie like Sholay would never have happened if it was only about the message.”

Melodrama, Romance, Music, Horror, Action, Titillation, Tragedy, Comedy, Meaningful cinema, Fantasy all bundled in one is one genre. Bollywood. In my head I agree though, sometimes movies get too silly for words. It is not uncommon to have a grisly death sequence in a comedy movie when the dying guy flashes back with his heroine dancing away on the Alps all of a sudden, and in the next moment onto the Pyramids with a retinue of dancers behind them! An audience not used to the Bollywood way of things might just get befuddled, but wait, there is more. As soon as the Hero’s ‘Mom’ is disparaged by the villain, the hero gets superpowers to thwart 10 goons against him, and he saves the heroine, the mom and everyone goes home happy while he goes to dance against the backdrop of an exotic waterfall with his heroine! But then, even Hollywood can boast of enough terrible movies. 2010 saw enough dumb movies such as Tron which was made from an old superflop, the Last Airbender by an otherwise wonderful director M Shyamlan, the Last Song, Sex and the City 2,..well you get the idea. For every one good movie, there are strings of ludicrous movies, be it Bollywood or Hollywood.

Scene from Raja Harishchandra, first Indian movie

The Indian Cinema industry has been prevalent for almost a century now with the first movie, Raja Harishchandra being made by Dadasaheb Phalke way back in 1913 (well, there’s a Marathi language movie on that too!). By 1930’s the industry was producing well over 200 movies per annum. And now, Bollywood comes up with more than 800 movies every year and that does not even include the other regional Indian cinema which has not all diminished in stature. Amazing. There certainly are reams that I can write on the history of Indian cinema and its development through the decades but you can just flip to Wikipedia for all that factual information. In a few lines, Hindi cinema has seen a wide variety of themes every decade, drawing inspiration and stories from epic tales such as the Ramayana and Mahabharta, history, social themes, books and ofcourse plenty from Hollywood including even the term Bollywood which has its roots in combining Bombay, the heart of Hindi cinema and Hollywood!

But what characterizes Hindi cinema, is its unique ability to be enjoyed by a widely different audience which I cannot stop emphasizing. Having studied marketing, I can well say, how difficult a task that must be. Catering to even slices of a teeming mass of culturally, politically, linguistically, economically, regionally, religiously and socially different billion people is certainly a daunting task. Just when I thought, Bollywood is transitioning to cater to a more urban intellectual and affluent audience that can afford expensive tickets at multiplexes and to international audiences targeting overseas sales, there came up ‘Dabangg’ a typical ‘formula’ movie with a super star as a cop hero, a villain with no scruples, interspersed with some unnecessary songs, an unnecessary heroine as an accessory, the omnipotent mother, plenty of action, melodrama and boom. A smashing hit! A movie liked by the so called urban intelligentsia as well as the rural masses. That is certainly tough to understand!

'Dola re dola' dance sequence from movie 'Devdas'

Refuting my friends point about not having the song and dance routines, “Well, that’s what Indian cinema is about!...I utterly detest the Indian movies without the songs and dances in them. All those beautiful haunting melodies by Lata, Asha, Mohd. Rafi etc, not ever existing! That’s unbelievable. And not having Shiela ki Jawani to save an utterly inane Tees Maar Khan or not having Dhan ta nan in Kaminey to keep the audiences grooving is terrible news too! Think about classics such as HAHK, DDLJ and all other fluffy SRK movies that the nation adored, and we are transported to exotic locales in Switzerland or US which most Indians would never have seen otherwise. No songs in those movies?! Bah! They wouldn’t be 1/10th as good as they are today. “

I guess, I am a die-hard bollywood buff with its melodrama and song and dance sequences and for all its detractors, I just need to say, we ought to be proud that our entertainment industry is one of the biggest in the world even as it caters to such difficult markets. Bollywood has so much potential to not just create entertainment, but also to showcase India’s rich culture in the international arena, delineate positively the burgeoning intelligent population and foster self confidence in Indians. Again, entertainment first, and then the messages!


  1. Although hindi cinema has come off age thanks to the likes of Kashyap, Bhardwaj etc there is still a long way to making them universally appealing. I agree about the bit on movies carrying a message. I dont think even Hollywood does that. What message does Indiana Jones carry? Stay away from false doors??

    Good cinema is essentially one that can entertain. For everything else we have Al Gore making movies in Global Warming and winning the Nobel! Good post!

  2. Spoken like the true Bollywood champion! You are right about the film makers being marketing geniuses. I watch movies very selectively, though.

  3. Hey Richa..Awesome post!!!

    I totally agree with you and there are no second thoughts on the way the Indian cinema operates. Please tell your friend that the Indian cinema industry is the biggest in the world..far ahead than the much respected Hollywood (sadly by Bollywood as well..still!!!)
    Anyways, please ask her/him to watch Tom Cruise in all parts of MI, Sean Connery in all Bond series (and I can list atleast 10 more movies and actors here!) and then make him/her watch our Rajnikant's or Amitabh's or any of bollywood's hero's stunts...I bet you'll harldy find any difference, less for the technological advancement!!!
    Like you said, no doubt some Hollywood movies are really great and so are Bollywood's; in the end its business with its own ups and downs.

    P.S I am assuming he/she has great opinions about Hollywood.

  4. @vineet: I am glad you agree. Your words reflect exactly the point I am trying to make. Though Indian cinema may not be all meaningful, though there are directors who are trying, it does entertain and that I believe, is the whole purpose of the industry.

  5. @zephyr: Being brought up on a staple diet of Indian cinema, I do what I can to support it! Even I watch movies pretty selectively. There isn't time for all between working, reading your blog, writing sometimes, and reading to write on!

  6. @Sarvesh: haha..however, I guess a lot of the action has been copied from Hollywood flicks :). Though ofcourse,Indian cinema has developed its own distinctive style. Yeah, all the detractors I know lovvve Hollywood movies and detest all thats desi!So, much for pride in Indianness! Several Hollywood movies have been wonderful no doubt, but then so are so many Indian movies.

  7. Great post, I too love Bollywood movies... If nothing else they take your mind of the difficulties around you... One of my recent favourites Taare Zameen Par was an excellent movie with a message... But I love the mindless ones as well so long as they are well made!!

  8. Richa, you are absolutely right. Bollywood represents India's "Soft Power". Hindi movies are liked by people of even Iran, China, Afganistan, Far Eastern countries besides Europe and US/ Canada and Africa( what else is left?). I am myself witness to a Chinese driver having CD of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and cherishing it and one Iranian youngster telling me that he and his family enjoyed Baghban telecast on Iranian TV.

    You are correct about the songs and dance sequences. These are the heart of the Hindi movies and without them the mere storyline would be like a Bhendi Bhaaji.

    Someone has rightly said that after few years, stars in Hollywood would look forward to acting in Bollywood movies and grabbing Filmfare award. May that time come soon.

    Besides entertainment , Bollywood movies has a significant contribution the economy as it employees many thousand people in the entire process of production, distribution and marketing the movies and helps government to get entertainment tax.


  9. nice take on bollywood. enjoyed the read.
    bollywood is the best.

  10. @Arti: Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I liked Tare Zameen pe too. I liked 3 idiots too..that was entertaining and carried a good message too.

  11. @Baba: It is great to know how far Bollywood has reached. And whats better is the fact that it is non-Indian audiences as well who are enjoying it.Even here in US,the American gym instructor plays Bollywood masala songs and there are even Bollywood dance workshops by Americans! I don't know how far Hollywood stars will look forward to working in Bollywood, but well, they already have guest appearances or item numbers in the movies!

  12. Brilliant writeup!!
    Indian bollywood movies have touched the heart of every Indian across the globe.

    The action, drama, and horror,catchy music have been incorporated in the Indian cinema which is getting popularity by leaps and bounds

    Indian audiences expect paisa vasool for their money; they want songs and dances, love interest, comedy and dare-devil thrills, all mixed up in a three hour long extravaganza with intermission ,in short want a Masala Movies.

    love to read ur blog

  13. That was a heartfelt post from a true blue Bolly Masala fan. Don't we all love our nach -ganaa and lots of melodrama!

    The late 80's - early 90's unarguably was the worst phase for Hindi movies. Thank god we don't have to put up with that crap anymore. The audience now wants believable scripts, movies that make them think.

  14. @Amruta: Well,I guess, the paisa vasool movies loving public is what makes Bollywood tick like you rightly said. Little wonder that the directors try to squeeze in every element of cinema in one movie!

    @Purba: Thanks for visiting my blog. Welcome! I agree, we do have more believable movies than we did in the 80s and 90s but we still pine after masala entertainment and Karan Johar nonsense still sets the counters jingling with money! The Indian audience may change a bit for the better, but it intrinsically will love dramebaazi more than the story!