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Our Love-Hate Relationship With, um...Bollywood

February 2008
Our Love-Hate Relationship With, um...Bollywood

If Hollywood can be a topic of political warfare in the U.S. (thanks to many Conservatives demonizing it as a “liberal” entity that is corrupting the moral fiber of this country), then Bollywood often is an instrument of class snobbishness in Indian society. There is a segment of the upwardly mobile middle class that tends to define its elitism by how much it has distanced itself from the “lowbrow” world of Bollywood.

This is both inevitable and sad. Inevitable because up to a large extent it is this film industry itself that is to blame for its lack of respectability. While snobbishness may be a dysfunctional reaction to it, constructive criticism is unavoidable. Discriminative film fans can’t but have a beef with Bollywood, even if they are “insiders” who beg for more of what this industry does best—tell stories with a heart and lightness that is often missing in Hollywood movies. The beef, of course, would be the sheer number of duds that a fan must sift through to stumble upon the rare gems. Duds that are no more than psychedelic celluloid waste.

Many have expressed their dismay with the name “Bollywood” itself that the industry allowed, if not actually embraced—so that it is now irrevocably entrenched upon itself. How can an entity with such a God-awful moniker be taken seriously? For those outsiders who have no prior recognition of this industry, the name is more likely to evoke smirks rather than respect. If, in spite of this, Bollywood has managed to have some presence in global cinema, it is primarily because of its huge commercial potential.

This is a sad situation. Because behind the mangled moniker and the boatload of duds, and, yes, the Hollywood-wannabes, there is a quality that its better movies offer that is hard to come by in films elsewhere. Bollywood flicks may not be known for their creative range or professional rigor, yet there is a subtle but distinct thread in these films that nourishes the soul and rejuvenates the mind more than the best of films around the world.

In this issue, Maria Giovanna, a New York-based journalist and self-confessed “filmiholic” talks about her love of Bollywood in our cover story (“My Filmi Love Affair”). She does a commendable job of unraveling the elusive merits of these films when she writes about their emphasis on “social mores such as selflessness, devotion to family, and the romantic-but-chaste expression of love.” In a seemingly dog-eat-dog world, it is this background of utopia and idealism that is perhaps the most charming and subtly powerful quality that irresistibly draws fans who are not slaves to a one-dimensional intellectualism.

And then there is the musical aspect of it. It may well be the biggest draw of these movies. How often have fans of this genre fallen head-over-heels for a song from a movie they may not care for, or may even detest? In many cases the soulful lyrics, the exotic locales, and the stirring music are a potent combination that easily finds a place in our hearts.

The list of criticisms against Bollywood may be long and valid, and so we hate it. Yet, it has a few (very few) aces up its sleeve that make it irresistible. And so we love it!

- Parthiv N. Parekh

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