Economist Tyler Cowen goes Bollycrazy on a visit to Delhi:
If you don’t already know Indian movies you should… Don’t think that Lagaan (or Satyajit Ray, for that matter) is the real thing, or that Blockbuster will do you any good. Cut to the songs. The use of color, cinematography, and orchestration of scenes will blow your mind. Allow yourself to be mesmerized. Compare them to your dreams at night, not to other movies you know, and pretend it is the only air-conditioned place in town.
I would go much, much further. There are only a couple of quality Bollywood films out every year, you’ll kiss a lot of frogs along the way. But the good ones handle emotion in a way far superior to that of the best of American cinema. Hollywood movies are rife with scenes which ought to be laden with emotion, but the filmmakers invariably affect a detached tone. And it’s not purposely understated, stoic or ironic detachment; it’s incompetent writing, it’s wooden and absurd.
You’ll often see a mother sending her son off to war or certain death with a stiff ‘you must go now,’ cut, end of scene. There’s a fine line between avoiding schmaltz and copping out on emotion altogether. Mainstream American films often feel hollow, $100M in effects with atrocious writing, the blowdried-fake-tan-colored-contacts version of worship in the darkened temple of cinema. And so even fairly cerebral films with any emotional content at all (Sideways, Eternal Sunshine) seem like blazing, Oscar-worthy paragons of passion.
Is this just cultural? Probably, for the films explicitly pitched as Oscar bait; it reflects a culture with lower emotionality than desi culture. With mainstream films, in contrast, a major part of the problem is market consolidation. When you’re chasing high revenues, you inject high investment; when you’ve committed a lot of money, you target the broadest market; for the largest market, you talk only to the reptilian sub-brain with boobs and bombs. Finely-modulated emotions are too risky an investment.
Sorry, guys. I’ve already seen Bollywood.