Hard core Hindi filmwallahs don’t quite like the word Bollywood. They complain that it is disparaging and dismissive of Hindi cinema’s unique traditions. What’s more, the B has gone out of Bollywood. If the Bombayite is now known as the Mumbaikar, Bollywood should be called Mollywood.
Brand Bollywood: The forthcoming film, London Dreams.
The coinage is actually quite appropriate. We consume more Hollywood than we realize. We either partially or wholly lift plots and dialogue from American movies (they are also known as flicks, after all). Of late, the distance between Mumbai and Los Angeles has shrunk even further. This year alone, we’ve seen Hollywood genres get the Bollywood treatment, such as the coming-of-age drama (Wake Up Sid), the multi-strand caper (Kaminey) and the treasure hunt (Blue). Recent films such as Kyaa Kool Hain Hum, Golmaal, No Entry and Partner have Indianized American slacker comedies and sex farces. Vipul Shah’s London Dreams, which opens on 30 October, even imagines Ajay Devgan and Salman Khan as Bono-esque rockers who pack stadiums in London with screaming fans.
If you want to look like Hollywood, you need to spend in dollars. Anthony D’Souza’s Blue, which released on 16 October, and Sujoy Ghosh’s Aladin, which opens on 30 October, are expensive attempts to import American genres such as the underwater adventure and the fantasy spectacle into Indian cinema. Bigger budgets are now available to complete Mission Hollywood, especially since dubbed versions of Hollywood mega movies such as the Spiderman series and The Fast and the Furious have a huge fan following in India.
Often, the strange hybrids we’ve been seeing are neither here nor there. Suparn Verma’s Acid Factory has characters called Max and Romeo who are straight out of a Friday dressing catalogue and who walk in slow motion most of the time. The attempt to Hollywoodize Bollywood has its moments, such as John Abraham teaching the Brits to play football in Dhan Dhana Dhan Goalor Akshay Kumar being mobbed by white Americans in Kambakkht Ishq. India may not be shining in its own backyard, but it seems to have dazzled the rest of the world, at least according to the men who have decided to subvert the potentially derivative implication of Bollywood and rise up to the challenge of changing the way we make and see movies.
Bollywood connotes a brand. It stands for a complex of song and dance styles, costumes, characters and emotions. If you’re sitting in a café in Ulan Bator or walking down a boulevard in Istanbul and you hear a Hindi film song, you don’t have to struggle too hard to describe that sound. You don’t have to decide whether it’s proto-prog rock or retro jazz punk. You need just one word: Bollywood.
Bollywood helps clueless foreigners bridge the gap between their popular culture and ours—one of Baz Luhrmann’s references for Moulin Rouge, apart from musicals, was the “Bollywood movie”. However, what worked for Luhrmann isn’t working too well for us any more. The overblown melodrama is in no danger of becoming extinct—it has simply moved to television. Younger, globalized audiences who throng multiplexes in cities seem to want something different from the movies. Nobody quite knows exactly what constitutes different. The safest bet under the circumstances is to take some lessons from the planet’s most powerful industry. After all, only Hollywood manages to get audiences from Oslo to Osaka excited about an all-American hero who pulverizes Arabs and Asians into nothingness.
Some film-makers are putting the masala movie and its typical elements (a brave hero, a virtuous heroine, a pitch-black villain, a suffering mother, a mission to reunite a family) under a microscope. Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om and Tarun Mansukhani’s Dostana magnify and send up the formulaic components of the age-old Hindi film. In the old days, we had Nirupa Roy and Rakhee playing the wronged, emotionally overwrought and son-fixated maternal figure, known simply as Ma. Nowadays, we have Kirron Kher, an otherwise nuanced actor, making her career out of playing the mother of all Mas. Whoever thought that the Hindi movie would become a museum piece?
Nandini Ramnath is the film editor of Time Out Mumbai.
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org