Friday, April 11, 2008

Kacy's Guide to Bollywood for the Unintiated

[Originally posted to the myspace blog]


So everyone who knows me knows I love Bollywood but truthfully, I completely understand that no one wants me to launch into "cool stuff about Bollywood" when I’m talking to them. It makes me sound like I want to be a know-it-all and it’s usually uninvited. That must be annoying, so I’m going to curb my urges to share random trivia about my favorite past time with people in face-to-face conversations.

So to get it out of my system (and to maintain current friendships), I’m going to start a blog about bollywood for the average, American celluloid fan. I’m fairly certain no one will read it, but maybe it will stop me from grabbing Indians in supermarkets just to ask them if they know where I can see "Jodhaa Akbar" in the state of MS.

Since this is my first blog, I thought I’d write about the basics.

1. Bollywood films are all musicals. Those who let their curiosity get the better of them should not be surprised if, at a very dramatic and dark point in the movie, like in Salaam Namaste where 2 characters struggle with abortion, the characters break out into song. They don’t have musicals and non-musicals; they just have movies, which all involve singing. And a particularly successful movie will cause Desis to dance in the aisle -- literally. Some Hindustanis, or Indians, will see movies several times over so that they can sing with the flick if they like it.

2. None of the Bollywood actors sing their own songs. They have playback singers who do that, and they’re really popular. And Indian MTV is directly linked to Indian cinema.

3. The most recognizable face in the world (according to a study based in London) is Sharukh Khan, affectionately known as SRK. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- knows him but the Americans. He’s the face of hundreds of commercials, and he’s made more movies in 20 years than anyone in Hollywood. He is Bollywood’s leading man, and he’s known as King Khan because he’s so popular. At the latest Bollywood Filmfare Awards, he actually descended to the stage on a throne.

4. Speaking of King Khan, if you want to give bollywood a try, you should start with Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (The Bridegroom will Carry the Bride), or DDLJ for short. It’s the longest running Bollywood film, and something like 15 or more years after it opened, it STILL plays in theaters. And SRK is the star. There are more references to that movie in all Bollywood movies than any other I’ve seen.

5. That brings me to 5. Bollywood is infectious because it’s full of inside jokes, references to other films, and cameos. Indians go to more movies per week than anyone in the world, so they all know the actors, the movie themes, even the directors and directors’ families on sight. So there are a lot of cross-references that make Bollywood fun. If you start with DDLJ and a kitschy 1970s flick called "Bobby," you’re set to get all the jokes too.

6. Speaking of the 1970s, the man whom SRK is constantly trying to live up to is Amitabh Bachchan, or "Big B." He’s been in more movies than SRK and is twice as versatile. He invented the "brooding man" role in India. And that leads to --

7. Bollywood is a nepotistic system. Almost everyone who makes it has family in the business. Amitabh’s son Abishek is a huge star now, in part due to his own abilities but he got the break because of his dad (SRK’s kids are too young, though they’ve had small roles). Abishek married Aishwarya, or Aish, Rai, the most beautiful woman in the world (no really that was her title for a while) who is also a famous actress. Aish Rai marrying Abishek Bachchan means that they are now called the Royal Family of Bollywood -- and if you see them all in a film together, you know it’s a showstopper.

8. But even Abishek and Aish can’t kiss onscreen. Indians believe that kissing on the mouth and sex have no place on the silver screen because it demeans Hindustani values and defiles the actors/actresses in the film. Some risk the shock -- like Aish Rai did with Hrithik Roshan in Dhoom 2 -- but they have to go to court for indecency charges for it. In the 1990s, it was more than a court sentence; the Muslim mafia (India is made primarily of Hindus, hence "Hindustani") tried to control Bollywood and would do anything to damage the set or the people on the set if they were adopting "Western" values onscreen. Censorship and this lingering violent threat means you won’t see any sex in a Bollywood film, but they get around it by kissing everywhere else (neck, arms, all OK) and drenching women in water whenever possible. Seriously, you’ve never seen so many wet saris in your life. Interestingly (or not depending on if you’re still reading at this point), Bollywood films in the 40s show kissing -- but that’s because India hadn’t broken from English rule yet (as they did in 1947). When they did, and when Pakistan and India underwent Partition, splitting into two groups, Indian films vowed never to be associated with Western ways -- hence, no more loose women!

9. I’ve probably done little to inspire your interest. But let’s say it comes up in a weird conversation with a friend of yours and your friend wonders -- where could I find this strange phenomenon? Netflix has tons of Bollywood films for rent (including DDLJ).

10. Bollywood films are in Hindi, so that means you have to read subtitles. And they’re 3 1/2 hours long, with an intermission. But you get used to both. You might even pick up a few new words, like "Shukriyaa," which is "Thank you," as in "Shukriyaa" for reading my blog. =)

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