Thursday, September 04, 2003

Bollywood Ballyhoo

I have found my quality programming. It's called Bollywood Cinema - films made in India. Well, actually, I don't know that I would call all of it "quality", but it is highly addictive. Its complete lack of reality soothes me as nothing else can at present. I wish I could distill it down to a simple description. Some of the more obvious tendencies:
1) they're LONG - averaging 3+ hours each.
2) no matter what the genre, they seem to all contain song and dance
3) no kissing, but lots of hugs and nuzzling each others' faces in the romantic bits
4) vibrant color - especially the women's saris. I want to go to India just to buy fabric...
5) lots of tear-filled eyes, men and women alike. The men cry as easily and unashamedly as women.
6) the rich are SUPER rich, and the middle-class are rich, and the poor have enough to get by in moderate comfort. I have yet to see any slums

7) locations in various European countries, rarely related to the plot. I think the more unbelievable remote locations must indicate a dream state (I doubt the hero and heroine would fly for an afternoon to trapise about Mykonos in a dizzying array of outfits...)
8) lots of melodrama; lovers torn apart by parental disapproval, mostly.
There are laughable elements - one film has a SUPER rich family living in a French Chateau that I KNOW I've seen in pictures from the French countryside... but they pretend it is in India. Mothers and fathers love their children so much they weep frequently over their joys and sorrows. Sons and daughters may resist arranged marriages, but usually go through with them out of love and respect. If a couple starts dating on their own, they might have to deal with some seriously furious parents. Did I mention no on-the-lips kissing? That's a serious line that I have yet to see crossed - that of respect to one's elders and lack of romantic contact.
My description insults, though, by making so many generalities. I wish I could describe how moving these films can be, even to a Western viewer unaccustomed to such Victorian conventions... so Victorian that Louisa May Alcott would be writing screenplays for the Indian cinema had film existed 125 years ago. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get absorbed, but once you've accepted the conventions of the genre as well as its limitations (humor tends toward the slapstick, plot towards soap opera) it can be wholly absorbing.
I think I've finally figured out why these films fascinate me. Firstly, because of the sheer novelty. There's so much visual beauty in these movies; in locations, the actors, the clothing... you rarely get that in contemporary film, except for Baz Luhrman's work. Secondly, the unashamed emotion. Joy and sorrow are so strong in these movies, and perhaps it's not terribly subtle, but it really affects you.

Thirdly, and most importantly, these films move me because they're like my childhood daydreams. I was a serious daydreamer as a child, usually because I was miserable and disappointed and felt rejected. I had my own mental music videos even before MTV came along, and the similarities to Bollywood's song and dance are strong. Life is so often colorless, ugly, and disappointing, and we get so used to dull routine with so few things that really DELIGHT us... Bollywood actually addresses the human longing for adventure, beauty, love and heartfelt emotion: the key elements of fairy tales.
Plus there's some really cute guys in them who dance really well and don't act remotely gay. Although they need to stop featuring Hrithik Roshan's biceps in an array of sleeveless tops...

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