Saturday, April 16, 2016

Art Imitating Joy - A Few Thoughts On Bollywood

Man, these guys can dance.
Of all the random things I never thought I would have gotten into, Bollywood certainly ranks up there. Honestly, I never would have watched a Bollywood film had Jared not introduced me to the genre (is that the proper term for it? I have no clue). But now - I'm really glad I agreed to sit down and watch a few.

So, here's what I've learned about Indian films - they are happy. Not in a naive or simple-minded way. The characters have to earn their happiness. They may be presented with an insanely pessimistic circumstances, but as one Bollywood movie (Om Shanti Om) says - if the ending isn't happy, the movie isn't over yet (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the basic idea).

Take the premise of this movie for example, In Bachna Ae Haseeno, this guy named Raj is the biggest douchebag when it comes to women. The movie shows him breaking the hearts of two women who were utterly crushed by his actions. Later, he has a girlfriend who he falls completely in love with, but she breaks his heart and he realizes how much he's hurt other women, so he sets out to beg their forgiveness (in one instance, it's been at least ten years since he's seen one of the women). And, yes, he gets a happy ending - but I'm not going to spoil it for you :) But I will show you one of the musical numbers because - yes, there is plenty of music and dancing in Bollywood. That just adds to the fun of the story (and, damn, can these guys dance).

This scene has Raj trying to convince Mahi - the first woman whose heart he broke - to love her husband because he loves her, but she doesn't believe in love because she got hurt before (this was an arranged marriage). He crashes her cousin's wedding in order to talk to her and a musical number ensues -

That's the fun of Bollywood. You know things are going to turn out okay, but the question is how are they going to turn out okay. Another movie I watched, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, is about a royal family who is all kinds of divided against each other - to the point that one of the brothers wants to kill the other one and the sisters want nothing to do with the rest of the family. Some random dude shows up who looks like one of the princes and when as assassination attempt leaves said prince in a coma, he has to take his place (oh - and did I mention that the random dude has a ridiculous fanboy crush on the woman the prince is engaged to?) You really want Random Dude to get together with the Princess (and I'm awful for forgetting the characters' names) - but you also know that Jerk Prince is going to come out of his coma and... hopefully not get killed by his conniving brother. But if he does live - he's engaged to the Princess. Sooo... how does that one turn out? (It's on Netflix, if you're really curious).

Here's my favorite thing about Bollywood - it's not like India hasn't had more than its share of difficult times in history. But somehow (and someone who's more knowledgeable about India's history and culture could probably explain better than I could), the stories they tell in movies are about hope in the midst of conflict. Whether the characters go through guilt, betrayal, violence, poverty, loneliness, disappointment - somehow, they still come out on top. I mean, I love American movies - don't get me wrong. There are great stories and characters to be found there too. But there's something refreshing about going into a movie that is about humor and happiness, while also not shying away from the realities of life. It's a nice contrast from some Western films, where the more dark and gritty and "realistic," the better they are. To which I say - BLAH!

(Watch - someone will come along and say "That's not really how it goes" and tell me about some dark and seedy underbelly of the Bollywood industry that I had zero clue about. Because the world is nothing if not pessimistic.)

Anyway - this is just me thinking out loud (or on my keyboard, anyway). For now, here's another of my favorite Bollywood musical numbers - from the first Bollywood film I saw, actually (Happy New Year starring Shah Ruhk Khan (guy in the dark blue suit), who's actually pretty good looking) -


  1. It's too bad I threw out my shirtless SRK poster that came with Om Shanti Om - it would have looked great on your wall. :p

    1. Oh, sure. Right next to pictures of our wedding and the temple 🙄

  2. A couple years back I was turned onto Bollywood by a coworker. It hit me over the head like a 2x4 and I figured this was the future of world culture as its production quality met or exceeded that of Hollywood and its typically 3hr runtimes meant that the stories were long enough to be interesting. Add the fact that Bollywood touches on themes of family and tradition and honor unseen in mainstream Hollywood in generations and I was hooked. Yeah, it's a little weird to have a romantic comedy end with a bruised and bleeding SRK or a serious kidnapping by the evil Gabbar Singh punctuated by a dance number, but hey...