Saturday, November 19, 2005


Hurray for Bollywood!

I was first exposed to Bollywood films in the mid 90s, when, on my lunch hour, I would head over to small Indian section on the East Side of Manhattan for a quick bite at Curry in a Hurry. Devoid of much atmosphere, the one thing this fast food Indian restaurant did provide was a steady stream of Bollywood films, playing on TV screens above the customers' heads. The noise volume in the dining area was often too loud to hear much of the film, but there was no mistaking a Bollywood trademark. In the middle of a dramatic scene, the performers would suddenly burst into song and dance (sometimes as part of a fantasy sequence) before resuming the dialogue. "Bollywood" is a nickname given to the Bombay (now called Mumbai)-based, Hindi-language film industry in India. Bollywood films are usually musicals. The plots are often melodramatic and include elements such as star-crossed lovers, corrupt politicians, twins separated at birth, conniving villains, angry parents, prostitutes with hearts of gold, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences. Although set in modern-day India, in many ways, these films strive to be much like the Hollywood-made melodramas, romantic comedies, and musicals of the 30s and 40s. It's difficult for films with such vibrancy, good nature, and unabashed energy not to be enjoyable. Just the other day, I saw Bollywood/Hollywood, a Canadian film, made in 2002, by director Deepa Mehta. It's a real charmer. The film was a critical and boxoffice hit when it opened in Canada. A clever and funny homage to Bollywood movies, it tells the story of Rahul, a wealthy young man who is desperate to stop his mother and grandmother from interfering in his love life. When they threaten to cancel his sister's wedding unless he finds himself "a nice Indian girl," he hires an escort, named Sue, to pose as his fiancee. But as the film's tagline says, nothing is what it seems to be; and, in true Bollywood fashion, the film sings and dances its way to a predictable, yet satisfying conclusion. Recognizing the immense popularity of these films (one report claims that the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, in terms of ticket sales), major U.S. film studios, including Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox, are, reportedly, setting up offices in India. Although not made in India, Bollywood/Hollywood may offer a glimpse into how future Bollywood productions, with larger budgets, will look. Like the Italian and French new wave of the late 50s and early 60s, Bollywood films are poised to be the next big thing to hit these shores. And a happy ending like that is just what you'd see in one of these films.

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