Macchars don’t wear sweaters

We’re Talking Bollywood Here! (published in TradeExpress Asia, Manila)

Posted on: June 18, 2007

It’s ironical that I should be writing an introductory piece on a subject I am so critical of. But as they say, adore it or despise it – ya cant’ ignore it, especially if you are in India. That’s Bollywood for you – the veritable Indian film industry – an inseparable part of the paradox that is “india”. This is more than corroborated by huge movie posters splashed on every wall of every city, town and village; on every tuk-tuk, bus and rickshaw; movie songs being belted out in every passing car, restaurant and roadside stall radio. Youngsters grow up idolizing and worshipping Bollywood mega stars, and inadvertently emulating them. Many a gait will have the Sanjay Dutt stoop or the Sunny Deol swagger, many a hairstyle the Anil Kapoor puff or the Akshay Kumar slick, many a talk the Sharukh khan stutter or the Amitabh whisper. Although I may claim to be skeptical now I remember clapping my hands in glee as a kid when Mithun caught a grenade and threw it back at the villain’s cronies, or standing with his exaggerated lead spread, hands on waist, my childish mouth pursed in an expression of mock anger, eyes ablaze, threatening a classmate with dire consequences Amitabhstyle. 

The word “Bollywood” is a juxtaposition of the words “Bombay”, its home base and “Hollywood”. But it would be wrong to consider Bollywood a clone of its western namesake. It has a unique identity completely its own, its own richness, color, absurdities and excesses – read “masala”. 

“Extravaganza” is an apt description for Bollywood movies as the makers certainly spare no effort in creating a gut wrenching, mind dizzying, tear jerking and emotionally sapping experience. Romance, comedy, action, (melo)drama, tragedy, suspense, all come together in a single plot. Another distinctive characteristic of Bollywood movies is that every movie is a musical and every situation is an excuse for a song. Courtship, consummation of love, heart break, anger, protestation – all call for a song – many of which rather than being intimate affairs – are more akin to a lavish Broadway performance – together with the fantastic costumes, colors, and scores of background dancers dancing in tandem. Now, this would completely bewilder an uninitiated viewer. The beloved accepts the lover’s proposal and heavens break loose! Where did all the dancers descend from? How did the scene suddenly shift to hills of Scotland? Why are the lovers dancing with synchronized movements? Is it some kind of ancient consummation ritual? How does all this add to the plot??? Well it doesn’t. Who said Bollywood was about making sense. Its all about untampered unhindered entertainment. 

It would be wrong to say that Bollywood is insulated from outside influences. Many a Hollywood script is lifted scene for scene and unloaded on unsuspecting audiences. But being churned through the Bollywood machine yields a product so dazzling that the original moviemaker would pinch himself and rub his eyes in disbelief. The torrents of tears, the roars of rage and revenge, the single mindedness of the heroes’ quest, the thuds of fists, the unflinching devotion of heroines, the predominance of the “mother” and “motherland”, the cosmically evil villains (touted with leery expressions and stock dialogues like “long live the Satan” or “i am a dog”), the dancing angels who appear out of nowhere, the panoramic colors, the clothes, the hairstyles, the improbabilities, the coincidences, and the invariability of the ultimate triumph of truth. 

Bollywood caters to the particular psychological needs of the Indian audiences. It offers an escape to its primary audiences – the masses. Their escape from the drabness and harshness of everyday life – their taste of glorious love, a venting of their frustrations with every punch of the protagonist, the dazzling colors a relief from the grey shades of real life. That explains the mile long queues outside theatres, the enthusiastic clapping and whistling inside when the hero performs his impossible feats or the heroine shows her ankle. Bollywood is India’s catharsis.

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