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Bollywood for Beginners

Mixed Media

When you hear the word “Hollywood,” images of glitz, glamour, and movie stars probably come to mind. What do you picture when you hear the word “Bollywood”? If you envision Indian movies with songs and dances woven into the plot, you’re close. But “Bollywood” doesn’t encompass all of Indian cinema; rather, it is the realm of Hindi-language films produced in the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India.

The comparison to Hollywood is understandable given the huge volume of Bollywood films emerging on the market today. A typical Bollywood plot centers on a handsome young man and beautiful young woman involved in a romantic story punctuated by song and dance numbers that reflect their relationship’s trials.

At Netflix, the online DVD distributor, you can find hundreds of Bollywood films. In last year’s Humko Deewana Kar Gaye (Utv), a young Indian man moves to Calgary, Alberta, and falls in love with another expatriate Indian. To spice up the plot, both lovers have already committed to arranged marriages—to other people. Despite the movie’s Canadian content and the potential conflict between traditional and modern Indian customs, the film merely turns into a strange romance showcasing oddly mixed traditional dances, disco moves, and hip-hop.

The film Veer-Zaara (Yash Raj) features Shah Rukh Khan—a Bollywood star—as an Indian pilot who falls in love with a Pakistani woman. The film offers references to the Pakistani-Indian conflict, stunning scenery of northern India, and some entertaining dance numbers. However, the challenge for new Bollywood viewers is getting accustomed to three hour melodramatic plotlines, mediocre acting, and subtitled viewing.

Is Bollywood just a “B” version of Hollywood? Not quite. The 2001 film Lagaan (Sony) shows the potential for Indian cinema to capture a worldwide audience. Beautifully produced and boasting a talented cast, the movie recounts a conflict over taxes between Indian villagers and British colonists in the 1890s. You can comfortably watch Lagaan with your kids too. For adults, I recommend the films of Mira Nair, particularly Monsoon Wedding (Universal), a Bollywood-style film that mixes a serious tone (note: the film touches on child abuse) with comic romance.  

Bollywood films offer a distinctive set of colors, sights, and dance in a unique genre of film that, admittedly, requires some acclimation but ultimately will give you another view of the world and of cinema.

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The Lowdown

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