Friday, July 22, 2005

We are like this only

I was having lunch with some colleagues yesterday, and somehow the conversation drifted towards the movies, and then “Bollywood”.

“I’ve seen one or two Bollywood movies”, she said. “They last for at least FOUR hours, with ten songs, some crazy dancing, and no story. I’ve seen this really awful movie called ‘Par-des’. Gawd, it was hilarious!”

“THREE hours”, I said, getting defensive, and gritting my teeth for a fight.

I wanted to say that there is more to “Bollywood” than the three-hour song and dance routine. I wanted to say that “Bollywood” was only about Hindi movies, and that movies were made in over a dozen other languages. I wanted to say that regional heavyweights like Tamil and Telugu cinema made nearly as many movies as Hollywood did. I wanted to say that a healthy alternative cinema (which we call “art films”) existed. I wanted to say that movies made by Bimal Roy, Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal and so many others were comparable to the “best” world cinema had to offer.

Then I wondered why I was getting defensive.

Sure, a lot of the movies really, really suck. But we still watch them. Hell, I watch so many movies; I’m practically supporting the video piracy industry (since Indian grocery stores have only pirated videos). I even saw the Bobby Deol non-starter ”Jurm", which arguably was the worst movie made in Hindi movie history.

I know the sight of Govinda and Karishma would make my colleagues burst out into peals of laughter, but I’ve watched their jhatkas as much as any one else.

I know King Khan is an unbearable ham, and I hate most of his movies (Swades being the exception), but I still end up watching most of them.

I do manage to boycott Salman Khan movies, but I’m not missing much there anyway.

I like the few good movies that come out of the Indian film industry. Those feel like rare gems that one has to search for. The quest for one of those gives me a high.

I like the stupid world of unreality and fantasy that most lousy Indian movies take us to.

I like using the fast forward button on the remote to forward Anu Malik’s songs.

I like Rajinikanth fights, where he can whip up a whirlwind by twirling his feet.

I laugh at the corny and loud “comedy”, sometimes through sheer exasperation.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most of us do exactly this. I don’t need to be defensive.

We are like this only.

30 comments:

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
Certainly, Hindi movies are an acquired taste. I think they can be a lot of fun in a campy sort of way. And some are not bad at all - liked Lagaan.

Some of the Tamil films by Mani Ratnam are pretty good (not so stupid), although the last one I saw was melodramatic nonsense.
I loved the Satyajit Ray films that I saw and old Hindi films from the 1950's were definitely entertaining like C.I.D.

On the other hand, I seen parts of some film that made Plan 9 from Outer Space look intelligent by comparison. They were unwatchable. Pure idiot plots where if the hero wasn't a complete idiot, the plot would have resolved itself immediately and the movie would have no reason to continue.

One thing I thought is that there is definitely a market for Indian movies set in India but made in English to target the English speaking Indians and the "desi" market in the west. Movies that are more intelligent. Such films might cross over to the general western market and easily gross 10 times what they cost to produce. Movies like "Bend it like Beckham" which was made in England but involved Indian actors. But you would need to find actors who could act and not just look good on the screen. SR Khan won't appeal to western audiences.

Vikram A. said...

Hi Sunil,

In my Hindi class at Stanford we watched two really bad movies: Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula and DDLJ. But, like you say, there are a few Bollywood gems which I watch again and again. Swades was very good, Lagaan is top notch, and Dil Chahta Hai is quite nice also.

I think Telugu films are a bit different from Hindi films because they are conistently decent. Nothing is ever that great, but nothing is hidesously bad either. Hindi films, on the other hand, really fluctuate in quality.

And yeah, there's no need to be defensive about Indian films. My American friends always make fun of me for watching them, but hey, I am an addict. Even if I lose some brain cells each time I watch an Indian film, I will continue to watch.

Vikram

gawker said...

i have a russian colleague. we were talking one day and to my surprise, he told me when he was in russia, they used to watch hindi movies all the time. dubbed in russian of course. Very popular in russia it seems, back in the cold war days. my dad was in Indonesia for 5 years. there also, all our hindi movies are avidly watched, also dubbed. we dont realize it but hindi movies are pretty popular and not only in india. we should feel proud.

el_durazno said...

Of course we are like this only . And thank god for that!! 3 hours of a David Dhawan- Govinda combo is time well spent , i say.

laks said...

Tastes differ. I cannot watch a "Govinda" film or a "Salman" film for a cumulative interval of 5 minutes.

But Movies like "Swadesh","Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi","Black" were something that I still crave to watch.

There are movies like "Swades" and "Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi" which any of your collegues will appreciate.

We cannot however say that "Govinda" Jhatka(or whatever one gives name for the nauseatic song-and-dance sequences -- no offenence meant to anyone) had no rational origins. Song-and-dance sequences were integral part of old film industry, including Holywood.

It is easy to see why. The primary reason was the movies were considered to be fantasy art during the mid 20th century, and song and dance could be a part of the fantasy.The second reason is more subtle and could be appreciated especially in an Indian context.
Song-and-dance was the only way one could advertize a movie in olden days, when there was no internet, no TV, and more than 70% of india was illiterate. The only mass media popular was radio, which cannot however carry the dialogues of the film, nor the trailer. THe only alternative was songs. People used to go watch films by the songs that they contain. This was a standard in Hollywood.

When the Bollywood industry was formed it had only a few options to advertize, so they decided to put songs. Moreover during that times it was a paradigm that song-and-dance was an artistic fantasy of a film, and therefore a required component of it.

When alternate means of advertizing emerged, Hollywood grew out of fantasy themes like song-and-dance. They grew more into film-making-for-the-sake-of-film-making kind of attitude.

Bollywood, however, remained the same because the Indian Janatha had a paradigm that a film should have songs, especially among the uneducated and illiterate, who are a major chunk of income of such films. Another way to look at how economics rules :-).

The same applies to anyother concept/funda in Bollywood. 3/4 hours in a movie is because people considered going to movie after a tough week just like going to a festival after a tough harvest. The festival/movie should be worth it and it should last long enough to make them forget their hardships. So make it looong.

The fight sequences are there for the same reasons. So are the cheap "mein-thumari-bache-ki-man-banne-wali-hum" kind of incidents.

This can also account for the obvious plagiarisms in the movies. One simply doesn't have the capacity to produce different coneptual movies every other month. That is why when u see one "hit" movie people make 10 such movies until the story becomes so predicatble and boring that one gets the "oh-no-not-again" feeling.

Things are changing however, there are some sensible movie makers out there. They are standing out too, for example the movie "Page-3". Fantastic work of art. So also "Black".

Till now the best song-and-dance-and-fight movie I have ever enjoyed is the film "Sholay".:-)

I would say that again "We are like that only" but i would add this :- "We are slowly changing though"

harini calamur said...

i love govinda:) loved the earlier David Dhawan Govinda Starrers. now a days i absolutely adore the Priyadarshan comedies in hindi - hulchul, hungama, hera pheri - good time pass
mostly i can't handle these "metrosexual" films - films where gloss and style overwhelms story and acting. And mostly i cant tell one actor from the other. the endless line of vapid, vaccant looks - leaves me cold. so i avoid such films.
on a bad day give me a "amar, akbar, anthony" over a "ardh sathya" any day. 3 hours of absolute escapism and absence of logic and 150% entertainment makes it fun.

uma said...

Sunil: Yes!!! :)))

Sunil said...

Michael, like you said, there are some great movies that are enjoyable, song and all, while some of them have really hair-brained plots (Mithun starrers of the 90's would be a prime example)

Vikram.....i'll mostly agree with you but disagree on the Telugu movie part. There have been plenty of good telugu movies, but have you seen any movies of the actor Krishna (he might be a bit before your time, but was doing the young man hero roles even 7-8 years ago, at the ripe young age of 65).

gawker.....correct. This colleague of mine who made the comment was introduced to Hindi movies by her Ukranian husband (who happens to like them). In the far east, Indian movies are very popular, and the capital of the video piracy industry (for indian movies, mainly hindi and Tamil) is Malaysia.

el_durazno, :-)

Laks...absolutely, movies gave people a place to go to escape their mundane lives. We may be slowly changing, but there's place for everyone. I wouldn't want to see an Indian cinema which like hollywood has lost the concept of a musical (there's an interesting discussion going on on Bharadwaj and Samanth's site, Reel two

Harini, i'm not a big fan of the "metrosexual films" myself....too much gloss kills the movie. But there are days when I would want to watch Amar, Akbar, Anthony (and rewind the Anthony Gonzalves song to replay it a thousand times), and there are other days when I will admire every moment of "Ardh Sathya", a superb movie :-)

Uma, yes, absolutely!

Today though, i'll revisit a classic with "Sahib, biwi or ghulam", made by the incomparable Guru Dutt.

Suhail said...

..(Swades being the exception) .."

Exactly, and we know what happened to it - dissed by all reviewers and the junta. Documentary, preachy, artsy.. what not.

I think it is probably the only movie where SRK doesn't play the "lover boy" or "King Khan" image, and didn't overact. Infact, just for that bit Ashutosh Gowariker should be handed down a special award.

Even if you forget the story, and look at sheer escapism(entertainment) value, I think it was one of the good movies to come. Shows village life in all its simplicity, the postman-kabaddi humour, the children and their village schools, and even some of songs are great too. "yeh taara" and "yoon hi chala chal rahi". But then, it hurts me when such movies fail at the box office for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe the tastes are changing.
As Harini says, Priyadarshan has been one of the good things to happen to Hindi cinema. But even there, his last Hulchul was such a dampener after the superb HeraPheri and Hungama, I felt like being cheated.

Amrit said...

Beside, even most western movies suck. Who can claim (if not compared technical-wise) an average American movie is better than an average Indian movie? The cliched American romantic movies make you vomit. Their horror movies are pathetic -- Ramse brothers at least make you laugh.

Amrit
http://www.writingcave.com

Sunil said...

Yeah, Suhail....Hulchul was a disaster, but Hungama and HP were fantastic. Paresh Rawal was such a show stealer in those first two! And Ashutosh Gowariker needs a life time achievement award for making King Khan just Shahrukh. It's an once in a life time achievement anyway :-))

Amrit....there's a lot of trash in western cinema, but just like many of my American friends dismiss "Bollywood", I don't wan't to dismiss Hollywood. There's been good stuff there as well. :-)

GREATBONG said...

Did someone in this comment thread call DDLJ a "real bad" movie? Ho boy....now I am angry.

Swades---agree that SHahrukh is amazingly restrained and that is award worthy. But it's preachy and tries so desperately to be Oscar-worthy that it slips through the "cracks".

Though however I should recommend to all the "Pulp Fiction" of Bollywood---"Gunda".....an AMAZING movie whose first 30 mins is pure celluloid genius......maybe a post on it is in order.

One More Reason said...

I remember going to a Chiranjeevi movie, when I was in Hyd. We went to a shady looking theater. Our seats were at the very front. Each time a song would come on, people would start showering the screen with coins. That was a bizzare exp. I so wish I had my helmet with me.It was fun though :)

btw, as a matter of principle, I boycott all Salman movies

Aditya Bidikar said...

Excellent post. I agree totally. Bollywood may not have brains (in plural or singular), but it knows how to have fun.

Mustang said...

Bollywood movies are for everyone. I usually quote this: Hindi movies are of three distinct kinds, the really good ones, the really bad ones and the rest!

Corollary- A Hindi movie has to be really good or really bad for you to enjoy it.

Gameboys said...

Well, for those who want to get a real taste of good Bollywood 'masala' films, I say look no further than Amitabh starrers of the late '70s and early '80s. Big B is one of the greatest actors that has ever lived - I don't care what the West thinks of him!

There are quite a few decent movies that have been made in recent years - apart from the usual suspects mentioned above, there are Satya, Company, Chandni Bar, Maqbool, Munnabhai MBBS and some of the Priyadarshan comedies Harini mentioned (usually remakes of Tamil/Telugu fare). Some like Paanch have not made it beyond the censor.

Anyway, in my opinion, we don't have film makers with integrity/guts - people willing to go the extra distance to make what they really believe in. It is changing somewhat, I think.

(Apologies to fans) Dhawan-Govinda SUCK!!!

Nanda Kishore

Sunil said...

Arnab...."Gunda"?? Even i haven't seen that movie....i didn't know such movies existed (i.e. a movie I hadn't seen)

One more reason.....Chiranjeevi movies are fantastic experiences. Even more so are Rajinikanth movies. If you haven't seen any....you're leading a deprived life!

Aditya, yes indeed, and isn't life about having some fun?

Ravi......yeah! Sometimes it's so bad, it's really good!

Sunil said...

Nanda Kishore......I'll agree with most of what you said....but Govinda-Dhavan rocks. I'll stand by my statements :-)

Gameboys said...

Some more recommendations for Michael Higgins et al (sincerely)...do watch movies made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Gulzar, Basu Chatterjee et al - to name a few: Chupke Chupke, Anand, Namak Haraam, Angoor, Golmaal, Khatta Meetha etc. Just look up IMDB. Some of the most delightful comedies made in India. There are also several outstanding comedies in Telugu, but that will be too long a bridge to cross!

Gameboys said...

For those who want to check out the Worst of Bollywood, I have a few more recommendations - Cheetah, Shapath, Jallad, Jurmana, Yamraaj etc etc...no prizes for guessing what connects these ;)

Nanda Kishore

laks said...

hi gameboys.. most of the priyadarshan movies are first made in malayalam.
There are more classics in malayalam movie industry than in any other fim industry in india.

bloggist963 said...

It’s not only you. I'm of African descent and love all kinds of movies. I watch Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, Nollywood, Hollywood, Sudance, Chinese, Japanese and many more. Something about Indian movies is different, though. I think you have to have a little extra something in you to appreciate them.
Yeah, my American and even African friends laugh at me but I can't describe the feeling I get after watching an engrossing movie. I love Sunil’s comment about movies being about escapism. I think good “art house” movies are great but I hope film makers continue to make movies that transport you to lands that you only dream of and try to share some of the quirky stuff they have in their heads. I absolutely love the song and dance sequences in Bollywood movies. I’ll also endure sitting through horrible movies just to watch my favorite artistes. For example, nothing Amitabh Bachchan does is bad to me. I’ve been in love with him since I was a kid, stood by him during the “flopping” years and our love affair continues till today….:-)

Sunil said...

gameboy, your recommendations are all excellent.

Laks......Malayalam movies indeed are sometimes wonderful, and I've been fascinated by Adoor Gopalakrishnan for years, and Mohan Lal and Mamootty are fine performers.....but "There are more classics in malayalam movie industry than in any other fim industry in india." is an excessively chauvinistic statement.

How familiar are you with Marathi or Bengali or Assamese or any other regional cinema?

Bloggist963.......wonderful words, and I share most of your sentiments.

PK said...

Sunil, dont be apologetic. We have Hollywood movie channels on cabal and 80% of their movies sucks. Thats ratio for Indian Movies as well.Besides movies made by people from different culture,values,lifestyles and social life are difficult to appriciate.Its like cultural shock and adjustment you go through when you settle in another country.

Anonymous said...

Hi there:

Didn’t know you had a blog :)

Speaking of Indian movies, there are so many different genres that there’s enough to satisfy everyone’s taste. It’s tough to pick a movie to watch, though. Personally, I find that while sometimes I like to watch a well made, introspective movie, at other times, I need to unwind with a Govinda movie...or a "Tillu Mullu/Golmaal"!

Recently, in Dallas, they played both "Chandramukhi" and "Mumbai Express" at the same time. It’s been so long since we had movies of both Rajini and Kamal out at the same time, we naturally were very excited. Didn’t know which one to see first! Went in a big group and boy, was it worth it! The dallas tam crowd thronged the theatres. There was so much excitement and the ambience was such that for a brief period I felt I was back in Chennai outside Sathyam theatre. It didn’t feel like the US at all and it was fab! Inside, when the movie started and the credits started appearing, the crowd went wild....whistles, sounds of "talaiva"…..you’ve been in Chennai, you know how it is :) And when rajini made his first appearance and twirled his leg and created a small whirlwind...there was total chaos in the theatre :) Also, another classic shot was when in that "kokku para para" song, all the kites went up to form "Superstar". What’s a rajini movie without stuff like this? :) Was such a fun weekend! Have to admit though, all this would appeal ONLY to people like us..born and brought up in India. To folks out here, would seem absurd.

Keep the blog going :) Am having fun reading both yours and Battu’s!

Aparna

Sunil said...

pk.....it indeed is culture shock....but once you're used to it, you begin to love it.

Aparna.....glad you discovered my blog :-). I read Battu's regularly, and he'll remain the star writer in the family. I like to balance deep introspective movies with crazy bollywood madness every now and then. Chandramukhi was vintage Rajini.......the kite bit in the title was awesome!

Anonymous said...

Star writer ka pata nahi....u write pretty well too :) But am not going to take sides between my bro and BIL, so keep it going....total timepass for me no matter which of you write :)

Good stuff!

Aparna

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