Sunday, March 7, 2010

My latest guilty pleasure - Bollywood!

As film fans, we all have our guilty pleasures. While I certainly have more than my own fair share (as evidenced by the plethora of professional wrestling films I have been half-heartedly reviewing these past couple months), my newest guilty pleasure has perhaps become Bollywood films.

A thank you to the lovely Emily of  for listening to my ramblings this evening about these movies and telling me I should just write about them!

Now I don't mean to belittle the Hindi film industry. It certainly seems to be flourishing currently, and there are certainly quality films that are released. But for most people I talk to, it's a genre of film they have avoided intentionally or not, or one they do not really care for.

Let's be honest, the acting is not always spectacular. There is often broad humor, and many of the films are melodramatic to the nth degree (but I do enjoy me some pro-wrestling and Mexican soaps!), tossing plot element after plot element into films with runtimes that make a majority of American viewers run away screaming. In comparison to Hollywood films for the most part, Bollywood directors definitely take their time telling a story. A three hour comedy is not unusual for this genre... stories that will be told here in half the time.

And the singing/dancing.

Ahhh the singing and dancing.

Performed musical numbers in film is often a divisive element, at least with people I know. It most often seems to be a love it or hate it thing. Say the word 'musical' and many people will run away as well. And most Bollywood films certainly can be considered musicals.

Well, for me, many of these elements that may sway many American viewers has completely drawn me in. The Bollywood genre is something I didn't really discover and delve into until last year when I started working at an Indian-owned independent movie theater that shows Hindi films every week.

My Bollywood gateway films in the past were older, B- and C-grade Bollywood action and horror films. Commando, Disco Dancer, Adventures of Tarzan, Mahakaal, Purani Haveli.... Obviously I am already attracted to sub-par acting, directing, etc. as evidenced here with the films I have largely chosen to review these past few months, and these types of films delivered the goods, and added totally random music into the mix!

But moving to the theater last year made access to newer films obviously much easier, so I started checking out some of those as well. And let's not forget picking up random DVDs of classics in the genre that I still have not gotten around to watching for the most part.

What I have discovered in a lot of these movies lately are stories just told in a different manner than me as an American film-goer is accustomed to. Bollywood films are usually very colorful, and often have some sort of positive message involved. Believe in yourself, religious faith, being close to your family. The romances (that appear in virtually every film and often deal with either arranged marriage and/or class/caste differences), are far more innocent than American films... characters will most often fall in love and want to marry before the subject of sex even is mentioned anywhere, and there is usually no kissing on the mouth. An extended embrace (probably at some point in the pouring rain of a deserted street) will suffice here. I love the look of many of these newer films in particular. The messages can be a bit heavy-handed, but you learn that it comes with the territory.

As with much world-cinema, there are elements that often appear regionally that will certainly be familiar and welcome by that culture but may feel out of place in another. Perhaps these positive messages in films reflect an older style of filmmaking, or one that has not yet reached what the American or Japanese film industry has adapted to for instance. I'm not sure. For me personally, though, it does let me escape to a time maybe when everything didn't have to be heavy or violent or dense to be entertaining. And even if the violence is present, there's going to be something there to lighten things up.

It's not what I want in every film, obviously, but it's an element I enjoy here.

And there are little things I have found I enjoy about different movies that I cannot find elsewhere. The music is obviously one. The Indian style of music in particular is one that I have really grown to like. I really prefer the older style of Bollywood film music as opposed to the newer pop sounding tracks that are often released now. And I have found that I like smaller stories involving people in small villages or places in the Indian countryside. But with the style of slower filmmaking that lookks grand and colorful, the characters feel large and you really get to know them.

It seems that going to the movies for many Indian families, here and abroad, is still an experience. There's friends and families that meet in the lobby... people chat during intermission... a two and a half hour movie turns into a 3+ hour movie outing. And unless the movie just sucks, you will see people leaving happy.

Sure there are faults here just as with Hollywood movies. I mean, the most popular films often seem to not be the best ones, while quality looking films unfortunately seem to get overlooked. And a sad trend I see in many new higher budget Bollywood releases is more American looking films, complete with the conventions that made 80s and 90s mainstream American cinema often be so bland... focus on fast cars, hot actors, money, etc.

But if I have a choice between watching an American rom-com or a Hindi one, I know which way I am going. At least for now anyway.

Well, I thought I would review some Bollywood flicks here on the blog for a definite change of pace. I'm not going to call it a full-blown theme like I usually do, I'll review a few and see how it goes.

Hope you enjoy!

Aamir Khan with a bottle of J&B will certainly make the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema smile!

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