Why they hate Bollywood

I recently debated the future of Bollywood among American desis with a couple of second genners who aren’t fans of the cinema. ‘Asoka’ thinks assimilation will make Bollywood irrelevant in the U.S. desi community, because the movies are poorly-written. I argue improvements in quality, distribution and filtering point to a bright future. The ever-reasoned ‘Birbal’ split the difference. Names have been changed to protect them from the Bollyfans who walk among us.

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‘Asoka’
Bollywood will vanish among desi Americans

“I‘ll bet you $20 it doesn’t change. U.S. desis, especially the new generations, are more assimilated. They (and I’m one of them) will never be into Bollywood. I view Bollywood as an example of the excesses and frivolity of our culture and not something I am interested in preserving for myself or my offspring. I can count the number of friends I have that like Bollywood films on one finger (men and women)… even the girls I know don’t like Bollywood, and I have as many if not more female friends than male friends.

“The U.S. model will never mimic the UK model unless we start forming ethnic ghettos here. If that happens then I think you’ll be right. What it comes down to is that most Bollywood stories suck by western standards. Production value means nothing when the best Bollywood film would be a C-list Western film.

“The reason that smart Bollywood commentary is lacking is because there isn’t much coming out of Bollywood that can be considered smart… The last Hindi film I saw was Mr. and Mrs Iyer, which I thought was decent. The last Bollywood film I saw was in India and Toral from The Apprentice was in it. I’ve seen Devdas and KKKG and thought they were so bad I wanted to rip my eyeballs out. The only Bollywood film I actually liked was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and by American movie standards it was just okay… Yes, if you are [non-desi] it is exotic and quaint…

“I go to [Indian film festivals]… they have some great Hindi language film and Tamil language films. I both enjoy them and would take my kids to see them someday. They are not, however, Bollywood films, which in my view tend to advocate materialism and shallowness, bigotry against other races, and bigotry in their representation of 2nd gen Indians living abroad. For those reasons I would not expose my children to Bollywood films.

“I still think it’s about the ghettos. We will see in 10 years. I think if you [polled] under-26 Sepia Mutiny readers, they [would] overwhelmingly be non-Bollywood watchers.”

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· · · · ·
‘Birbal’
Bollywood will spread, but I’m not a fan

“I‘m not a fan of Bollywood at all. Even Lagaan, which was supposed to be a good film, wasn’t as good as most mediocre western movies I’ve seen, and I like movie musicals and emo…

“I watch movies with subtitles, but I’ve never seen a great Bollywood film. The best was – OK, entertaining, sort of like a mediocre big budget blockbuster in the US. At the best, we’re talking around Pirates of the Caribbean level…

“That said, I think [Asoka] is wrong at judging the audience… [The young] know much about Bollywood. I actually see this increasing, since the younger generation grew up with Zee TV on the satellite, while we did not.

“I went to see Lagaan with two American women, Bollywood is the new Chinese cinema for lots of hip urbanites. They see it as exotic and quaint, still it’s making inroads…”

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Manish
Bollywood will rise

Bollywood’s popularity among U.S. desis will increase. We know this empirically.

Part of why desi Americans don’t watch Bollywood is distribution and filtering. There isn’t any decent theater nearby, so you only get crappy, pirated videotapes. And you have no friends who watch, so you don’t know which one movie every few months is decent.

But the future points to more Bolly in the U.S. In the UK you have broad distribution of Hindi films at mainstream cineplexes, you don’t need to drive an hour. Same in some cities in Canada. Same will happen here, it’s inevitable. Birbal nails it, distribution is way up among younger desis with 4-8 desi satellite channels and movie downloads online. My youngest brother got into Bollywood via the Net and female friends who watch. Lots of desi college girls are very into Bollywood, with posters all over their walls.

It’s really, qualitatively different seeing an official print on a big screen vs. a 3rd-gen pirated copy at home — the colors, the sharpness, the sound. It’s 3x better an experience. A lot of the technical quality flaws are due to the medium in which you’re seeing it.

Yes, there are only a handful of smart, original movies, three to four a year. Going randomly without filtering (like I sometimes do ) is going to waste your time. Those three to four totally rock, though, and those who miss them are missing out in a big way, not just for the movies themselves but also for the cultural landmarks they become. It’s like missing Star Wars when it first came out, or Born on the Fourth of July, or Munich. Bonus: they invariably star attractive desis.

Also, this is a moving target. Someone who timed out on this three years ago would have dismissed the huge upshift in slickness that just happened (slick CGI and cut screens, better acting, adventurousness in screenplays, physically fit actors), just like if you dismissed India three years ago you would’ve missed all the Baristas, highways, ATMs and shopping malls.

Bollywood is the love that dare not speak its name. In the U.S. it’s largely a female phenomenon among second-genners, and the only guys who even realize it’s there are those who hang out with women and their female friends. People don’t talk a lot of Bollywood on SM in part because that’s what Sulekha and friends are for.

Yes, there’s a much higher percentage of poorly-written stories in cinema of a less developed country. You go through consumerism and cheese before you get to restraint and irony. But those 3-4 a year are neither C-list in the U.S. nor A-list. They’re something you can’t get in American cinema. At all. They’re like gelato in Italy or fireworks in London or deep dish pizza in Chicago, they’re in a league of their own. Western films are ridiculously unadventurous with emotion. They’re the Keanu Reeves of global cinema. And I don’t yet know whether Asoka is in the 95% who lack distribution and filtering, or the hardcore 5% who don’t like emo cinema.

Also, they’re all subtitled now, and it’s not a monolithic category any more. Instead of just romance and action, there’s now horror, sci-fi, artier flicks and so on. A new film out, Zinda, is a rip of an edgy Korean movie, Oldboy — instead of cloning big cheesy American flicks they’re fanning out to much more novel stories. This is all recent, last 3-5 years.

Lagaan looked slow and overhyped (I haven’t watched it yet, skimming it didn’t excite me). See Bombay, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Dil Se if you’re a romantic, Rang De Basanti, Yuva or Krantiveer for something more substantive, Raincoat for a character study.

It’s about subculture formation, not ghettos. SM is a primo, número uno example of this subculture formation. There is a uniquely second-gen angle on Bollywood — snarky mockery of the bad ones (Turbanhead), smart analysis of the good ones. We need not just smarter movies but also smart, American-focused Bollywood commentary. Non-desi reviewers in the NYT, New Yorker and Village Voice miss too much cultural context. In mainstream Indian media, here’s the most thoughtful review of Rang De Basanti I saw, and I disagree with almost everything it says. It calls the nationalism subtle (by American standards it’s in-your-face), thinks the Punjabi is authentic (it’s totally fake, it’s 90% Hindi), and gives away the ending right up front.

Not only will Bollywood rise here, there will also be a Memoirs of a Geisha equivalent. Leaving aside that movie’s stereotyping, I’m talking about a movie with nearly all Indian actors, filmed in English and aimed at the mainstream U.S. market. And, of course, second-gen cinema can only improve.

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Bollywood is changing because Indian society is changing. But if someone locks in ‘anti-Bollywood’ just like our parents locked in ‘anti-Western family culture’ 30 years ago, they risk becoming as anachronistic as the mad scientist in Back to the Future 3:

Doc: No wonder this circuit failed. It says “Made in Japan.”
Marty: What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff is made in Japan.
Doc: Unbelievable!

152 thoughts on “Why they hate Bollywood

  1. If you want to get a predictor of viewership trends in the future, go to any community festival. You’ll see dozens of teens, even some boys, performing dances to songs from Bollywood movies. Are they going to turn 21 and suddenly start hating Bollywood?

    I don’t think this is a predictor at all. Every year in college I danced in multiple Bollywood-film inspired dance performances. I had a great time doing so and still don’t watch Bollywood films. Neither did most of the dancers.

  2. How is Sarkar? I am supposed a get it from netflix soon.Isn’t it the “The Godfather” of Mumbai. Give me star rating out of five (***** = excellent, * = why?)

    I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. The production was quite good, but the story line was nowhere near as riveting as the Godfather, or even The G0dfather part III. I also don’t think Abhishek Bacchhan is all that good or convincing as an actor. Of all the recent action/mobster flicks recently, Company has been my favorite of them so far, and D has been my least.

  3. i have never watched ‘bollywood’ (though my parents would). my sister does watch it (she’s 13 years younger). she knows hindi now, so that helps. i think of bollywoood movies are pure fantasy, i know that in movies people are better looking, but the few movies i’ve been in the room for (though generally doing something else) seem bereft of india as opposed to a sterilized hill station or whatever. and if i want fantasy, i want better production values.

  4. Can someone recommend some good, new Bollywood movie sans prolonged song/dance routine. My wife keeps bugging me to rent some Hindi movies.

    List of recent Hindi movies I might pay $3.49 to rent out,

    1. Raincoat
    2. Company
    3. Parineeta
    4. Page 3
    5. Dil Chahta Hai
    6. Salaam Namaste (yes hackneyed plot. set pieces. blah blah…but Preity Zinta and Saif A. Khan look and sound normal. Which is more than I can say for the rest of their brethren.

    Ok, so DCH is not so new. I can see it again and again. I liked the soundtrack and the tongue-in-cheek humour.

  5. But a true snob doesn’t trust mainstream critics, he decides for himself

    that’s definately me. for both movies and music.

    anyhoo…short and sweet, i’d rather see bollywood movies than most american films. maybe it’s because i’m used to the plots of them, and they just bore the ‘ll out of me, but i like the dance numbers, and such. gimme bollywood anyday. then again – i like a lot of foreign cinema. ;)

  6. for_debauchery_in_ cartoons:

    Some other movies you/your wife might enjoy watching: Khamoshi (not so new) Saathiya Aankhen (new one with Amitabh/Sushmita) Ek Ajnabee Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Ayi (my most favoriteeeee indian movie ever with absolutley the best songs…but might be a bit hard to find) Darmiyaan Lekin (horror) Pinjar

    None of these can be labeled as offbeat cinema, except maybe Darmiyaan. They are all good movies and examples of how mainstream Bollywood can be wonderful. I recommend them to the haters too heh.

  7. Yes, thereÂ’s a much higher percentage of poorly-written stories in cinema of a less developed country. You go through consumerism and cheese before you get to restraint and irony. But those 3-4 a year are neither C-list in the U.S. nor A-list.

    With so many crappy movies (that have non-existant or banal storylines) being churned out its hard to zero in on the good movies. Also some of the subtitles I have seen leave a lot desired especially with the shoddy translation and poor grammar.

    Besides some of the movies that others have suggested(Page 3,DCH,etc), heres are some I think were ok (maybe marginally so): -Satya(I think it was the gangster movie that started it all), [and if you want more gangsta action there's the clone/follow-up/whatever Vaastav which was yet another gangster flick] -Viraasat (a decent movie, at least it has the semblance of a plot, although I was told it was a remake of a Tamil movie) -Kala Pani(a period flick which has the distinction of being multi-lingual: Hindi, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, and German says Wikipedia)

  8. I think Bollywood will rise in the US. Reasons, - With more money, the films are becoming better from technical perspective. - As India gains more prominence in the world, the confidence will reflect. - By confidence I mean, movie makers will start getting real “writers” to write their movies. Movies will be more assertive. - A more assertive movie script does not need to paint all NRI’s as bad and all people from village as “good”. This has already begun, in movies such as “Rang De Basanti” where the european actor is not given a sterotypical role. - Example of a great period movie: “Pinjar” : Based on celebrated Author Amrita Pritam’s novel.

    • Most important reason .. may be .. the human urge of ethnic desis to see people like them in movies… as opposed to movies starring Barbie and Ken. That actually is the reason why Bollywood movies are huge in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Palestine (even Israel) … those are the once I know of.

    • So I would be a “buyer” of bollywood here. (I cant refrain from stock market terms :-) ) Although I dont think Bollywood is going to “break-out” anytime soon. In 5-10 years it will be ready for break out.

    • Lastly, the most important thing that is positive with Bollywood is that, organised corporations are getting into the business. Such as ICICI Bank’s Venture fund arm Bullish on entertainment

  9. Before Bollywood does become popular amongst goras I do hope they get references to Western culture correct… One embarrassingly cringe worthy moment was in Chokher Bali when Aish sang “Old Land’s eye” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne :\

  10. I completely agree with most of the criticisms of Bollywood movies that have been brought up in this thread: the predictable storylines, the casual racism and homophobia, the glorification of wealth and excess, the fact that any time a character makes an important realization, it has to be accompanied by a thunderclap and a series of flashbacks indicating how the important realization was made, etc. Sometimes these sorts of problems/conventions are enough to ruin a movie for me, but other times IÂ’m willing to overlook them if the story, the characters, or even the sheer visual spectacle of the film is enough to captivate me. Here are some of the things that I like about mainstream Bollywood movies:

    1. I can usually watch them with my parents or younger cousins. A movie like Lagaan is not without its flaws, but it reminds me of a certain type of movie (think The Sound of Music), that Hollywood no longer seems very interested in making – a film that has something for children in it, but also portrays adults that behave like adults and deal with adult problems. Hollywood and Bollywood both seem to be targeting their movies to narrower and narrower demographics, which can often be a good thing, but I still think there’s something to be said for old-fashioned mass appeal. Most movies don’t quite pull it off, but I like the fact that Bollywood is still trying (at least for now.) On the other hand, I also like the fact that there are smaller, edgier movies being made these days for specific niches; hopefully one genre doesn’t have to come at the expense of the other.

    2. The idea of self-sacrifice. This is a concept that doesnÂ’t seem to come up much in mainstream Hollywood movies, where itÂ’s usually a given that the correct choice for the main character is to follow his/her dream and go after what he/she wants. In my opinion, Bollwood movies sometimes create a more interesting tension between the choice to go after what you want, and the choice to give up your dreams in order to fulfill some other responsibility.

    3. Emotional openness. ItÂ’s not usually credible, but I think that characters in Bollywood movies often have a certain exuberance and romanticism that can be kind of refreshing.

    4. The go-for-broke, over-the-topness. Main Hoon Na had way too many tedious slo-mo action sequences, but I thought it did a nice job of being completely over-the-top, while also making fun of itself for being completely over-the-top. I like movies that have that sort of sensibility.

    5. The outfits.

    I donÂ’t have any kind of data to back this up, but I get the feeling that younger desis might be more into Bollywood than people my age (26) and up. I didnÂ’t start watching Bollywood movies until college, when my high-school-aged cousin started bringing them for us to watch. SheÂ’s 21 now and she and her friends all seem to be into them; theyÂ’ve grown up reading online forums and downloading Bollywood music and movies, stuff that I couldnÂ’t do back in the Dark Ages. For people like my parents that live in the boondocks, itÂ’s definitely easier to get access to Bollywood movies now than when I was a kid.

    What did people think of Bunty aur Babli? Some of the humor was a little hackneyed, and none of the scams made that much sense to me, but I really enjoyed it.

  11. Bollywood has a much bigger audience than Hollywood. The audience however is very different and with high variance. A movie is made for “all” audiences – regardless of economic/religious/national borders, unlike targeted western ones.

    For most part movies are sub-standard in script (I heard directors dont have any), direction and content. It industry does have some very good actors (not many good actresses), only if they were utilized to the fullest. This, however, doesnt apply to some comedy movies – which may not be suitable for non-Hindi speaking audiences. Something like Munnabhai MBBS, AAA, Angoor are the best ever Hindi movies.

    I think we will see more seggration and directed content – Indian upper class/diaspora and local.

    But as Abhi has already said, “they dont relfect what India is”.

  12. Homeboy Asoka sounds mad psuedo-intellectual, and also very ignorant to the fact that Indian dudes love gawking at hot, scantily clad brown biddies.

  13. Escapist romantic movies work for the general masses, whether it is Hollywood or Anywood. It may be a Meg Ryan movie or a Yash Chopra movie… they have different cultural contexts but both are melodramatic and unreal. Same is the case with a lot of mainstream cinema in any language or country. There are rotten and middling movies as well as the occasional heart-tuggers in every cinema… albeit with their own cultural idiosyncrasies.

    IMHO (being a first genner) desi film makers in the 90s realized that diaspora brings in big bucks … and so began the pattern of romantic, ‘family’ films with pyar, parampara and the whole kitschy nine yards. Unfortunately, the 2nd gen is exposed to bollywood through their parents who love to see Indian ‘culture’ through bolly-eyes as they pine for a land and values that don’t really exist among the urban Indian desiland anymore. The 2nd gen dutifully goes to the first few bollywood productions, does not identify with anything and vows never to go back… unless it is the ISA dance recital where he/she dances to the latest bollywood jhatka without even knowing Hindi…

    Indian cinema has lots of good entertainers without being overtly loud… and then there is a new wave of parallel cinema which come up with half a decent movie from time to time. You just have to search for them. After all what is the ratio of an Eternal Sunshine to a Maid in Manhattan in Hollywood too? Oh and try some artsy Marathi movies.

  14. One word: escapism.

    The parallels between Bollywood crap and Hollywood crap are fairly obvious. No one ever went broke making movies that catered to the lowest common denominator. I don’t know of anyone who goes to see a movie because it has “good self-sacrifice,” ads. But if you want to escape the drudgery of the gaon for a few hours, then watching conservatively-dressed-yet-practically-nude women (or men) dance for a while might help, especially if there’s no strip club (or good-looking man) nearby.

    True story: my friend needed to get the lock to his apartment in Arlington changed. We go down to the front desk where a middle-aged Mexican lady is sitting, ignoring us and watching TV. My buddy tries in vain to get her full attention for a while. Then he peers over the desk to see what she’s watching. Aha! “Kuch Kuch Hota Hain.” He starts talking to her about Sharukh Khan, and she immediately brightens up and becomes helpful. His lock got changed the same day. She told us she was a huge Bollywood fan, and so were most of her friends and family.

    Go figure.

    Er, I’m not sure what the moral is here.

  15. I think various people watch movies for various reasons. Primarily being entertainment. One of my complains with Bollywood is the length of the movies. I am a movie buff and watch a lot of movies, which as Manish said, sometimes burns you. But I think that goes equally with Hollywood movies. I watched ‘Pink Panther’ today. Although nice but didnt quite like it. Was like I could have done without it.

    So now coming to question. I believe bollywood might be able to hold in US but I don’t really see it growing unless they can reflect: 1) As Abhi said, the REAL India (Oh btw, do we know what is the real India?) 2) We can connect to them as a generation not lived in India and not following/knowing about all the stuff shown.

  16. Most people have already mentioned some films I would recommend (Dil Chahta Hai, Sarkar, Viraasat etc), but here’s another movie which is both old and new:

    The colourised version of Mughal-e-Azam.

    The original black & white version was already one of my favourite Indian films of all time, but the “new” version is also excellent. Sometimes the colourisation looks artificial, in other scenes it looks absolutely superb. Outstanding film all-round: story, picturisation, acting, costumes, colour, songs, dialogue, etc etc.

    the casual racism

    Some of the worst examples I’ve seen recently have been in Khushi and Out of Control. In Khushi, there is a segment in one of the songs where both Kareena Kapoor and Fardeen Khan are “blacked up” — complete with afro wigs — and are doing cliched “yo, yo” moves in front of some real-life black extras. Out of Control also had a segment where the lead actor, who drives a cab, had to quickly “black up” so that his passengers — his father and “other” wife (long story) — don’t realise who he is. Not only did he go overboard in the fake-black-slang dialogue, but — even worse — when his passengers noticed that he’d forgotten to darken his hands too, they thought he had some kind of “disgusting disease” (yes, it’s called vitiligo, fools) and threw the cab fare at him at the end as though he had leprosy.

    In both these cases I blame the producers, directors and scriptwriters rather than the actors themselves, but they’re still pertinent examples of the unthinking racism within many Bollywood films. Either the film-makers don’t have a clue about how offensive this is towards the “targets”, or they just don’t care as long as the audience agrees with whatever stereotypical/racism image they’re trying to promote.

  17. PS: Another relatively new film I’ve seen twice recently is Phir Milenge. It stars Shilpa Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan, and Salman Khan. Shilpa & Salman are in unusually restrained, mature mode and the whole movie deals with HIV/AIDS. It appears to be based on Philadelphia (the Tom Hanks/Denzel Washington film) to some extent, but it is quite realistic in both the acting and the sensitive way it handles the issue. The “realistic” style reminded me partially of Dil Chahta Hai, albeit without the comedy angle this time of course (apart from Abhishek who provides some laughs).

  18. Just in reference to a few waay back up top; Manish, my gf is 1st gen and I’m halfway between. However I agree with you that there is a gender skew, but in the case of my girlfriend and some others I know it’s not towards romance per se, just that she likes Indian movies in general more than me. She points me in the direction of as many indie/arthouse/serious/whatver they’re called these days films as pukka Bollywood fare.

    I didn’t think the Warrior was ‘very bad’, but it was a bit boring. Had some beautiful imagery, but too slow. You could say the same about 2001 to be fair.

    I do feel a lot of people here are talking about Bollywood and Indian cinema as if they were one amorphous blob. As I said above, the average Bollywood film is still shit, but it’s very different to just a few years ago. Don’t judge too hastily, re-investigate some, but choose carefully and ask someone whose opinion you trust. Indian cinema outside Bollywood is also on the up, as well multiplex films (i.e. Bollywood, but for a new, younger, cosmopolitan market). As said very succinctly above – most of these films are not GREAT but there are plenty of films that are worth a few squids to see.

    A truly amazing Indian film comes along rarely and I can name a handful in the last ten years. I still hate Bollywood, but I don’t hate Indian films.

  19. Just before I rush off – Jai I completely disagree. I thought Phir Milenge was utter cack. A noble aim is not enough to make a film, otherwise Amnesty International would rule the box office. Films need to be complete packages. It was a cheap knock-off of a great movie, but it took out the very thing that made Philadelphia a landmark.

  20. Bong Breaker,

    but it took out the very thing that made Philadelphia a landmark.

    Without revealing too many plot-spoilers to those who haven’t seen Phir Milenge yet, which aspect are you referring to here ?

    The main character being gay, or the ending of the story ?

  21. I’m referring to Tom Hanks being a heterosexual Shilpa Shetty. I have a deep seated, violent hatred of films that rip others off – especially when they copy whole scenes. OK this isn’t Zinda, but quite a bit was lifted, including large chunks scene-for-scene.

    Hanks had AIDS, Shetty only had HIV – so the visual impact was negated. India needs films like this – to try to get people thinking about AIDS and I applaud its sentiments, but I wouldn’t advise a Westerner to watch it, whether brown or white.

    However, had they made the main character gay, I suspect cinemas would’ve been burnt down etc etc. India’s not really ready for a straight Philadelphia copy, no pun intended. As for the ending Jai, well that was predictable enough for a Bollywood version, but whilst demonstrating those with HIV face a tough situation in India, I’m not sure it sent the right message about HIV progressing to AIDS. And did they even mention condoms in the film?

  22. but it took out the very thing that made Philadelphia a landmark.

    BB

    Totally beg to differ on this. If you refer to the gay aspect as the landmark issue, well, that’s ok in the Western context. For India, a movie discussing AIDS and a single woman in a serious manner is the landmark.

    And in any case, you also have ‘My Brother Nikhil’, as a discussion of Gay issues and AIDS.

    Anyway, it’s been an interesting discussion so far. I can’t add much, coz I am a 1-gen. However, I used to rarely watch Bollywood in India. Rediscovered it after coming to the US and watching DCH in a bout of homesickness. I will reiterate my opinions though: I don’t think we should expect Bollywood to adhere completely to Western cinematic conventions and culture. It’s quite fine if it remains a genre mainly focused on its Indian and other markets. I am sure that given the current trend, there will always be a few good movies that are also palatable to Americans, but that should not be the goal.

    Also, it might be worthwhile to get Americans (a whole lot I know, at least) to get over the strange notion of “musical = cheesy and unwatchable”?

    I also have always been annoyed with the casually racist attitude towards blacks and (East) Asians. Some of it is true racism, and some (like the blackface) emerges from ignorance about what might be offensive. In India, it is quite ok to make harmless fun of people based on stereotypes like accents etc, but we sometimes need to realize that people outside India may not take it that way. Hopefully the Asian racism will disappear as more and more people from NorthEastern India get into the mainstream movies (Udita Goswami, for instance, who’s half Arunachal Pradeshi). With blacks, it is definitely more difficult as it is tied in with the whole Indian fair-skin complex :-(

  23. however, had they made the main character gay, I suspect cinemas would’ve been burnt down etc etc

    Dude, you obviously have not seen ‘My Brother Nikhil’. It wasn’t a huge hit or anything, but nobody was burning down anything.

    I must accuse you of being somewhat stereotypical here.

    Also, I think for a society in transformation, change has to come gradually, step-by-step. If they just remade ‘Philadelphia’ with all its ‘landmarks’ I think the AIDS/HIV message would have been lost.

    Again, this is what I mean when I say that an Indian movie needs to be evaluated with a different measure than Hollywood, with some local sociocultural context, rather than sitting on a Western high horse.

  24. IMO, why many 2-gen’ers hate (maybe too strong a word) Bollywood is because their parents watch too much of that stuff. Desi parents stick to watching safe, mainstream Hollywood movies with their children (Star Wars, Spiderman etc) while they are young. While the kids get older, the parents stop “growing” with their children, with the result that their kids have moved to more mature Holywood stuff (like Sliding Doors, Piano etc) while the parents regress by installing a dish and watch non-stop mindless Bollywood movies and Saas-Bahu serials. This divergence draws the kids to the parents TV set just out of curiosity, and they recoil in horror at the mindless muck their parents enjoy. This not only causes a hatred of Hollywood, but at a subliminal level a degrading view of their parents’ tastes.

    Will Bollywood ever catch on with 2nd genners or 3rd genners? Art is a reflection of society, and Bollywood is not very successful in portraying reality. If the standards of living in India rise dramatically in the coming decades(a strong possibility in metros) and Bollywood makes movies that reflect the metro culture, then those movies will become successful in 2/3 gen’ers.

    M. Nam

  25. Hmmmm …. Hollywood produced Philadelphia, a good movie. One of Bollywood’s higher quality movies is Phir Milenge, a watered down copy of Philadelphia. Again, what does it say about an industry if its better films are rip offs of better Hollywood movies? It says that despite the crap in Hollywood, Hollywood is still producing more than enough good movies ….

    However, I used However, I used to rarely watch Bollywood in India. Rediscovered it after coming to the US and watching DCH in a bout of homesickness.

    Ah – would you watch it for reasons other than nostalgia?

    Also, it might be worthwhile to get Americans (a whole lot I know, at least) to get over the strange notion of “musical = cheesy and unwatchable”?

    I don’t think Americans feel that way at all. Moulin Rouge was quite popular with film buffs, for example. The problem with Bollywood is that the musical aspect swamps everything else. The movie has little plot to justify the music videos, at the same time most of the male stars can neither sing nor dance well ….

  26. Since no one has done a quantitative study of first and second gen Bollywood movie watching patterns, this debate is largely speculation and anecdotal evidence.

    So let me add some more: At the desi multiplex in north New Jersey, you see tons of second gen people, but then, it’s north Jersey (and someone will surely say the word “ghetto” now, forgetting that half of the audience shows up in BMWs). In more suburban places (like the Doylestown multiplex north of Philly, where just one theater out of 14 is “Indian Movie”), you get not only 2nd gen desis but also a fair number of curious Americans in the audience. But my experiences at Naz 8 in Fremont, CA were largely 1st gen desis.

    At the Regal theater North Brunswick, NJ, the audience for bollywood skews really young — ages 12-15 — and the vast majority I observed on a couple of trips to see movies there seemed like second gens (though there’s no way to be sure with the kids today). Quite a number of younger second gens in Jersey speak Hindi and like Bollywood movies.

    Which reminds me: why do we lean so hard on the cultural divide between 1st gen and 2nd gen desis?

    B L U to the double F MASTER step to me, it’ll be a disASTER when I’m in Italy I got piASTERs you can call me a Parsi, coz I worship ZoroASTER

    (lyrics slightly modified; to be performed with an aggressive “I must defend Bollywood!” b-boy posture, equal parts Beastie Boys and Abhishek Bachchan)

  27. This not only causes a hatred of Hollywood…

    should have read

    This not only causes a hatred of Bollywood

    M. nam

  28. I think your opinion of Indian movies depends entirely on your length and depth of exposure to it. We’ve touched on a lot of the key issues here. I’ll just add that if you watch these movies long enough you learn to appreciate the good aspects, and still get irritated by the bad ones. Good aspects — romanticism, sheer entertainment value, comedy, settings and scenarios, etc etc. The bad stuff — already covered.

    But on the issue of your length of exposure — if you’ve been watching Indian movies since childhood, like I have, you take more than just a snarky view of the costumes and bad hair and outlandish escapism. Yes, all that is there. But behind all that you can really see some important issues projected on the screen through a populist medium. Take “Deewar” with Amitabh Bachhcan and Shashi Kapoor — this movie works on so many different levels that it is truly genius. “Dil Chahta Hai” — an breakthrough film if ever there was one; too bad Farhan Akhtar hans’t been able to live up to the success of this film. “Masoom” — the first Indian film to seriously address issues of marital infidelity. There are so many other examples.

    If anything, Indian movies give me a glimpse into the Indian psyche at a given point in time. It might not be a very pretty or enlightening sight, but at times, it can be very revealing.

    And we haven’t done justice to the parallel cinema of the 1950s-1970s (Govind Nihalani, Shyam Benegal, Satyajit Ray, Girish Karnad, etc.), the neo-commercial-parallel movies from the 1990s until today (Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Page 3 etc.), nor the middle-class oriented light comedies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterji, Sai Paranjpe, etc. There’s so much more you’ll find in Indian movies if you take the time to look.

  29. technophobicgeek, I totally forgot about My Brother Nikhil. I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment, but thanks for reminding me – perhaps I’ll check it out.

    However we’re in complete agreement on the other things you say:

    might be worthwhile to get Americans..to get over the strange notion of “musical = cheesy and unwatchable”?

    Absolutely. As I said above – Indian movies are different and long may that continue. Singin’ in the Rain is one of my favourite oldies and that’s essentially classic Bollywood.

    Again, this is what I mean when I say that an Indian movie needs to be evaluated with a different measure than Hollywood, with some local sociocultural context, rather than sitting on a Western high horse.

    Once again, I agree. I do not view myself as sitting on a Western high horse, I genuinely think that I have far more of an insight into Indian cinema than the average Western critic/viewer. Perhaps my critique of Phir Milenge was unfair and you may be right that had it been reproduced direct the message would’ve been lost, but I think that my hatred for copies may have clouded my judgement. Though I hardly think I was that far off with my accusations of films featuring gay characters being controversial in India.

    MoorNam, SLIDING DOORS is your example of more mature Hollywood?! Haha!

  30. Forget 2nd generation, many first generation people hate Indian movies also.

    What I am real intereted in is – What kind of movies will future desis in USA make?Will they stay at the present standards of accent/FOB jokes or can they make a real movie?

  31. Amardeep (and others!)

    In the big multiplexes (Leicester Square theatres have screened Bollyflicks for a few years now) the clientele are overwhelmingly irritating rudeboys and rudegirls. Ugh, it’s not at all pleasant going to the cinema with them around. I’ve also attended small single-screen desi cinemas where the atmosphere is decidely Indian, with people shouting at the screen, bringing in picnics, a proper interval and a stink of B.O.

    I think we’ve overlooked one thing. Whether or not Bollywood depicts a ‘true India’ (whatever that is), it is often the most accessible exposure to India a second/third gen person can get. Fo this reason, I think Bollywood will continue to be popular with future NRIs/PIOs/DESIACRONYMs as long as people want to ‘connect with their roots’ without having to buy a plane ticket. Perhaps if I HAD been brought up watching Bollywood, I would speak better Hindi.

    timepass – I think a lot of us haven’t mentioned Ray et al (and I almost always do) because we’re specifically talking about Bollywood, not the wider Indian cinema.

    Amardeep, bboy STANCE not posture!

  32. Kush Tandon …equivalent – Crouching Tiger… – maybe in 5-10 years

    I hope Bollywood (Amitabh detests Indian cinema being called Bollywood) never turns out something as lightweight as Crouching Tiger. If I want martial arts I’d rather watch Jackie Chan and if I want sentiment there’s plenty of good Chinese cinema. And Kush an intro top 10 list that doesn’t include Raj Kapoor’s early works?

  33. Birbal. I think I absolutely watch Bollywood for reasons other than nostalgia. What I meant was that I watched DCH during a bout of homesickness and was absolutely blown by the quality, given my expectations of Bollywood at that time. I probably watch maybe 6-7 Bollywood movies a year i.e only the best ones. I like my share of melodrama, but I can’t take the K3G types of movies.

    A couple more very recent movies which definitely turned out to be very good IMO: Kalyug, Apaharan. I saw them in India this Dec, so I’ve no idea if they were ever released in the US.

    BB, I agree that a mainstream gay movie aka brokeback mountain would not work in India, but it would be difficult to judge coz of all the politics involved. As someone pointed out before, filmmakers have been on occasion known to court the saffron elements to generate publicity for a movie.

  34. Hello:

    Your view about Bollywood is interesting.

    I discovered movies from Bollywood about 2 yrs ago in New York and bought a few of them.

    I found them very interesting and memorable. I wish I can say the same thing about Hollywood movies which I have started to abhor because they are nutty, filled with violence, gore, rape, murder and all types of depravity. I have had enough.

    I don’t even watch the network news anymore because the only thing they report are negative news about murder, rape, burglary, homicides, police brutality, accidents, deaths and others.

    The only people they give publicity are criminals, psychos and wackos. When you watch the news once, it is enough. Unless you are depraved or a psycho and need the daily filth they call news like food.

    What about all the good and great things that happen all over America?

    What about all the good people that make America a great nation? They are ignored. Nobody bothers about them. They are not news.

    So, to me Bollywood is very entertaining, refreshing and appealing.

    I have watched some of them more than four times and each time I do, I feel happy!

    Compare that to Hollywood. You see it once, and that is it.

    Who wants to be entertained with movies that have similar plots and filled with criminality, murder, gore, depravity, profanity and lunacy?

    So, Bollywood movies is a welcome alternative.

    The only issue is that Bollywood is not doing much advertising to attract viewers from US.

    Ikey Benney http://www.maychic.com/maysearch

  35. Shiva, “And Kush an intro top 10 list that doesn’t include Raj Kapoor’s early works?”

    In Comment #. 27, Number 8 is “One of the earlier Raj Kapoor-Nargis movies”

    While writing the comment, I could not decide which one to include – Awaara or Barsaat

    Raj Kapoor role in Indian cinema (the reason I use Bollywood is to signify Bombay/ Mumbai centric part of the industry) is very important.

    Also, that is why I did not include Satyajit Ray.

  36. Ikey Benney, generalising about Hollywood is just as wack as generalising about Bollywood, bro.

    Plenty of Hollywood movies involve no “criminality, murder, gore, depravity, profanity and lunacy” and many Bollywood films feature all of them. It ain’t cut and dry. What you’ve described is escapism. I live in London with a comfortable life, I don’t need to see people cavorting in the mountains, I want a good story.

    Compare that to Hollywood. You see it once, and that is it.

    I’ve seen Back to the Future I-III, Indiana Jones RotLA-TLC, Star Wars IV-VI, Ghostbusters, The Matrix, The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption about 1000 times in total.

  37. Bong Breaker, Techno etc,

    Re: Heterosexual Shilpa Shetty in Phir Milenge vs gay Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

    I was going to mention My Brother Nikhil but a couple of you have beaten me to it. However, having the lead character in Philadelphia as a straight woman did make a very good point, which perhaps Bong Breaker may have missed — it was the difference in people’s reaction to her HIV status (the assumptions/accusations of promiscuity and the fact that she subsequently loses her job because of her perceived “lack of morals”) compared to how Abhishek’s open promiscuity in the film resulted in him receiving comparatively little social condemnation and ostracisation. I think that this was an extremely relevant point about the double-standards in some quarters of desi society regarding female vs. male sexual behaviour (actual and perceived).

    the standards of living in India rise dramatically in the coming decades(a strong possibility in metros) and Bollywood makes movies that reflect the metro culture, then those movies will become successful in 2/3 gen’ers.

    Apart from Dil Chahta Hai which we’ve already discussed, I guess other “hip and stylish” modern examples of this would be Bluffmaster, Dus etc. I quite like movies like that if I feel like an alternative to the more serious Bollywood fare — it’s the Hindi version of slick (and yes, admittedly macho-but-fun) blockbusters like Beverley Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, and so on.

    Sometimes the storyline of such innovative (by Indian standards anyway) films doesn’t always match up to the style — eg. Karam, Shabd – but they’re entertaining to watch from an artistic perspective, and you have to give them bonus points for taking a different route to the usual Karan Johar genre.

    An excellent film I can recommend is Ek Hasina Thi – stars Urmila, Saif Ali Khan (as you’ve never seen him before — he plays a completely ruthless b*stard type, and is surprisingly good in the image-breaking role). My Wife’s Murder is also good — quite unpredictable.

    Both of the above are by Ram Gopal Varma, who — incidentally — is also apparently going to make a sequel to Sarkar.

  38. Ek Haseena Thi sucked hard. It started off promising, like so so many Bollyfilms, but went rapidly downhill. See also: Masti. There I was thinking wow, a cool comedy with some risqué jokes and then BAM it’s the frikking police special anti-adultery unit. A good opening 45 minutes ruined. Ek Haseena Thi was at least slightly original, but it was just so stupid. Haven’t seen the others you mention Jai, other than DCH & Sarkar. But I’ve gone off RGV bigtime.

    Remember that girl group called Ek Haseena Thi? One of them was hott. That is all.

  39. The problem I have with a “Bollywood: hot or not” type of discussion such as this, is the presupposition that Mumbai-centric, populist, purely commercial industry defines what Indian cinema is all about. The bigger issue facing the Indian movie biz is one of balancing art and commerce, which is an issue that any country’s film industry deals with.

    The problem with Indian movies today is that there is insufficient support for independent, alternative productions, themes, stories etc. Compare indie films in the US to India — the US has a much more established infrastructure for nurturing and supporting home-grown talent, and not all of them have to depend on Hollywood for their financing and distribution. Look at Steven Soderbergh for instance, he’s a classic example of someone who came from nowhere in the indie film scene and is now a major player in the American movie business — he has managed to crossover to mainstream Hollywood productions, maintain his artistic vision and sensibility, and do well at the box office. How often do you see this among Indian directors who have a different approach or story to tell? The Indian directors and actors whose work I really enjoy often don’t depend on Bollywood as their prime source of income — there’s TV, theater, etc.

    I wonder how many amazing movies never get made in India because directors are unable to find financing or distribution for their creations. If there were more more infrastructure — from film schools to financial sources to distribution networks — I think a healthy alternative to mainstream Bollywood would thrive and do very well with Indian audiences. As the middle class grows, I do think their sensibilities will evolve over time, and the average filmgoer will seek out movies that are more challenging, provocative and relevant than your usual Bollywood fare.

  40. Ikey Benney makes a good point & this is supported by a 2004 article I saw in the Times of India which made the interesting point that, for the first time, more people globally watched bollywood movies than those that did Hollywood. Sheer numbers apart, h’wood was still ahead in moolah terms, although indian entertainment in general is growing at a 30% clip. My own trajectory is a case in point. I came to north america over 30 yrs ago as a teen, went through this phase where everything indian was uncool & bad – bollywood being at the top the list – & more recently discovering hollywood has become pedestrian, predictable & boring. Today, i find myself more motivated to rent out b’wood movies.

    Btw, most 2nd gen teens I know watch BOTH b’wood & h’wood with equal interest.

  41. To all the “second genners” I say the following:

    To put Hollywood on the pedestal as an ouctome of comparisson between it and Bollywood is not fair to do. The reasons are discussed below with decreasing priority.

    ON AUDIENCE: Bollywood, served as THE ENTERTAINER in South Asia prior to the cable channel boom of post-1993 era. Rightfully so Bollywood serves as news(with many military-type films crunched during skirmishes with Pakistan), entertainment(comic relief, almost always present), fantasy(helicopters landing in private backyards with Yash Johar’s fantasies…), and reassurance(family drama present in all Indian families). Whereas Hollywood, following the orders of the rest of corporate America, discriminates its audience, Bollywood assimilates its audience which leads to the “masala” movie, if you will. Bollywood in many ways is THE INFLUENCE on pop culture and cultural norms in India; although Hollywood does the same the affects are less pronounced. This is something which, you, “second genners” will never understand. Instead of constantly comparing you should try to take the film for what its worth. I could compare Scary Movie with Padosan and claim Scary Movie to be a vile film, whereas, you, “second genners”, might call it the greatest movie of all time. Both films, despite remaining the genre of comedy , are entirely different.

    ON ORIGINALITY: Hollywood lacks originality sometimes just as Bollywood does. Star Wars was based off of Akira Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress”. Tarentino’s “Reservoir Dogs” was a copy of a Hong Kong film which was later copied into the Bollywood film “Kantee.” Therefore, it is unfair to say one film standard lacks originality while the other does not. Frankly the pop-culture cinema of Hollywood and Bollywood are both same shit different day. There are numerous Bollywood Cinema which are regurtiations of the same idea – ie. EVERY SINGLE BEN STILLER MOVIE HAS HIS CHARACTER FIGHTING WITH AN ANIMAL FOR COMIC RELIEF, VINCE VAUGH PLAYS THE SAME “MR. ASSHOLE-KNOW-IT-ALL” CHARACTER IN ALL HIS FILM,……With Bollywood numerous films have the same love triangle, but more recently people humping each other on the big-screen is the latest “copy-it” trend. To all that I say “same shit different day.”

    ON LANGUAGE: Read an article I worte called “VEER ZARA: Death of Hindi Cinmea…” on my Blog. You’ll see the link on the right hand side. The article discusses the evolution of language, among other things, in which has led to the present day Indian Cinema. Veer Zara: Death of Hindi Cinema…

    TO MANISH ON LANGUAGE: “Punjabi is 100% fake…” There’s no such thing. There are numerous Punjabis who grow up outside Punjabi and have to speak Hindi, which due to the proximity of Hindi & Punjabi, ends up with Hindi with a Punjabi accent and Punjabi with a Hindi accent. Furthermore, if there is any reason that the film relies on a heavily Hindi vocubalary rather than Punjabi is because (1) the characters are in Delhi (2) a Hindi vocubalry(which could just as well be claimed Urdu vocbulary or better yet Hindustani vocubalry) audience will reach people from Bombay northwards up to Kabul, Afghanistan without any serious lack of story. “Hindustani(Hindi+Urdu) is a much better medium for an audience so diverse” as thought by producers in Bollywood. The “100% fake” which you refer to, essentially, has no affect on characterization as people who speak Hindi & Punjabi do in fact exist. Also Manish, if you have time you should check out the link above ON LANGUAGE – would be curious to see what u think.

    TO MANISH ON NATIONALISM: The nationlism has to do with society’s views with respect to Bollywood and Hollywood. Just because American’s are not as nationlistic as South Asians is no ground for comparison of Bollywood and Hollywood.

    TO MANISH ON MEMOIRS OF GEISHA: Thats a shit movie. A Japanese film with Chinese actors! Not only a disgrace to the Japanese by saying you can’t act but also a diluted film lacking in any authenticity. So by using that example you mean to say we should make an Indian film with Arab actors filmed entirely in English for the US audience.

    In terms of the decreasing popularity of Indian films with “second genners”, for most of Bollywood is a non-issue. In fact the only people its an issue with are the “second genners” who will eventually turn to Bollywood as means for preservation of their culture, that is if they choose to preserve their culture. However, this problem of “picking their culture” with the “second genners” is a far greater problem than that touched by the presence of Bollywood in their lives.

    Vikash Singh

  42. Can anyone please tell me quickly what was ground-breaking about Dil Chahtha Hai? I watched the movie two times and still I got nothing out of it (besides the scene where Amir shakes his head at himself for losing touch with his old friends). I sincerely want to know what people find good about this film because I thought it was boring and glossy. Someone please explain, I’d appreciate it thanks!

  43. Wow…

    Okay, my husband is a second gen american boy and he didn’t care for too many indian flicks before. He found it tiring to sit through three hours of song and dance and a happy ending. I came along and showed him movies that I considered exceptional. My list includes DCH, Dev,Choker Bali, Chandni Bar, Astitva, Virasat, Nayak, Silsila, Abhimaan and others. We now enjoy movies together and even go out of our way to spend ten bucks each to go check some good ones out on the big screen. I have family that has second gen kids here that like these movies and all the glam outfits etc that go with them. Some actually wait in lines for hard hitting movies that helped them question their own bearings. Baaghban was completely cheesy but I heard enough kids saying that it really helped them realize that parents are just not people who bring into this world and feed you etc till you’re ready to move on. They actually are people too. To me, if a movie brings on a thought process like this, it’s a god thing.

    There are the usual ‘masala’ offerings of course but I feel that the general trend is towards making more socially and intellectually sound flicks. Just reading that John Abraham acted in ‘Water’ gave me hope. This is a good thing because there is variety and there is a choice. The Hindi film industry offers something for every kind of viewer. Keeping this in mind, I definitely don’t think that it’s dying.

  44. This is for Ena with prior apologies for cross-posting. One is from colette (who loved dil chahta hai) to noel (who didn’t). Another is from a guy in Germany. Pretty Subjective stuff.

    colette: Noel, I was reading your blog entry about bollywood pics and I was wondering why you didn’t like Dil Chahta Hai. I’m no bollywood expert but I thought it was great. It had all the stuff that makes a bollywood musical well so Bollywood, fabulous locations (the city shots looked like they may have really been in Bombay) beautiful people in beautiful clothing, over the top dance numbers, broken and then mended hearts, a cad, a good guy, a fast girl, a good girl. What set this one apart for me was the story was interesting and engaging without the dancing and pop music.

    Noel: It’s the beautiful stuff–St. Elmo’s Fire with a lot of pretty Indian youths instead of white bread. The stories were old even when St. Elmo’s came out (young man in love with older woman; boy loves girl who is promised to another; so on and so forth). Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor and Bimal Roy, they made films about everything from the poor to the filthy rich, they told them well, and they told em with real style.

    Also admit I have a dislike for movies that weep over pretty people and their so-called problems; need something a little more complex to keep me from walking out. Depiction of the middle to upper class in movies is a special challenge, one not to be taken lightly; I’d say the only ones really capable (off the top of my head) were Renoir, Visconti, Bunuel, Kapoor, Dutt, and maybe at a far lower level Ang Lee.

    Here is the take from the guy in germany:

    I stumbled over this film on late night TV and immediately ordered the DVD. It’s a corker! Fresh, invigorating, romantic, bizarre even! They don’t make films like this in the West – and more’s the pity but hence the freshness. The three lead actors are gorgeous – so it hardly matters that they must be the oldest students in town. The cinematography is beautiful – especially in the Australian sequences. The song and dance routines are as welcome as they are surprising. As with all Hindi films, it is pure melodrama of course. The ability to suspend one’s disbelief is a necessity. But that aside, it has all the attributes of a good old fashioned Hollywood romance. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl… etc., times three. The core theme of friendship is a delight – as are the subtle homo-erotic overtones of Akash and Sid’s relationship. Intended or not, I wouldn’t have minded if they’d ended up together – but this is Bollywood remember!

    All in all, fantastic fun which I plan to watch again and again. Highly recommended!

  45. Being a American born child of Indian immigrants, I can relate to what Asoka is talking about. I definitely watch more Hollywood movies than I do Bollywood ones. This is mainly due to the fact that Hollywood movies are overall much better than Bollywood movies. They have actors who can act well, and aren’t just in a movie because they are beautiful and have family connections to movie directors or producers; they are well written and much more stimulating than many Bollywood movies. Granted, there are a few Bollywood movies that I have enjoyed and thought were well written, but to my disappointment I have heard that they weren’t recieved well in India. It used to be the case with me that I would watch Bollywood movies in order to connect better with my culture. But now that I’m a little bit older and can fully understand what I am watching, I realize how ridiculous this idea was. Not only are Bollywood movies the farthest thing from reality, but they continue to support materialism and prejudice. When the majority of the population of India is considered to be in poverty and I can almost guarantee you that no one is as fair or as beautiful as Aishwarya Rai is, I think that the glamour and hype of Bollywood will eventually die out, at least abroad.