Germany has produced F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fatih Akin—and the Shah Rukh Khan fan.
Japan has contributed to world cinema with Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Takeshi Kitano—and the Rajinikanth admirer.
There were reports in the Indian media that online tickets for the Berlin premiere of Khan’s latest movie, My Name is Khan (MNIK), vanished within 5 seconds, which is less time than it takes to sell out a U2 concert in America. Similar levels of hysteria were reported by the Indian press in Japan, where Rajinikanth’s Muthu was released in 1995. The reason given for Muthu’s 200-day run in cinemas in Japan was Rajinikanth’s martial arts-influenced stunts and crowd-pleasing gimmicks, which include lighting a cigarette with a gun and slitting a villain’s throat with an unusually sharp handkerchief. There haven’t been any convincing analyses of Khan’s popularity in Germany yet.
Clean fun: Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in My Name is Khan
Most critics would give an arm and a leg to be sent on a junket to the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival, which was held in the German capital between 11 and 21 February. This year, the festival played host to nine Indian films, including Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie, Umesh Kulkarni’s Vihir—and MNIK. Naysayers in the Indian press can carp all they want. The world sees the truth from which some of us back home are shielding our eyes.
The non-political, non-threatening, singing-and-dancing love-struck Hindi movie star is the perfect answer to the angst-ridden American hero and the pretentious French leading man. Just like some women are post-feminists and some artists are postmodern, our stars are post-real. They don’t try to blow up expensive civic infrastructure, invade other countries or spend half their adult life fixated on such useless pursuits as sex or drugs. They don’t waste time in salons and bars engaging in meaningless conversations about art and politics. Bollywood’s women are the epitome of grace, femininity and responsibility, traits that most women in advanced societies have long forgotten in their determination to achieve equality in the workplace and the home. All that these beautiful Indian people want to do is to fall in love and raise a family. They luxuriate in the pleasures that life has to offer, such as gorgeous clothes and jewellery, palatial houses, roomy cars and holidays in exotic destinations.
Sometimes, the obstacles to eternal romance are minor: a stubborn patriarch, an interfering ex-flame. Of late, the business of romance has become even more difficult because of such monumental tragedies as 9/11. However, as The Beatles pointed out many years ago, all you need is love. Is it a coincidence that Britain’s lovable mop-tops spent time in India at the feet of a guru?
It is for such elemental wisdom that India is renowned the world over. And it is Bollywood, in its role as India’s pre-eminent cultural ambassador, which spreads this message across the globe.
Popular Hindi cinema is the last bastion of wide-eyed innocence and pure romance. Critics can trash big-budget Hindi movies with all kinds of mean-spirited adjectives, such as juvenile, melodramatic and illogical. But that’s missing the point. The global Bollywood product is just like a toy that has been certified as safe for use. The Bollywood film provides the kind of pleasure that only children may know. What a loss it would be if Bollywood film-makers and stars allowed inconvenient truths to invade the movies. Between festival programmers and foreign fans, an entire generation of film goers will be bereft of the pleasures of simple thinking and high living.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org