Beth Goes to Bollywood!

If you are a student of Bollywood, you will have already found the blog Beth Loves Bollywood, which documents one superfan’s encyclopedic knowledge of the largest film industry in the world. There, Beth Watkins takes apart Bollywood (and other Indian) films with an academic zest that has enamored filmi fans everywhere. At the end of June, she joined thousands of superfans in Torotono, where she attended the International Film Academy Awards.

In her blog, Ms. Watkins fuses an academic’s eye for research with the infectious zeal of a “First Day First Show” devotee, as Indian fans who make it their aim to catch a movie’s very initial run are known. What she’s trying to do, she says, is provide the sort analysis and social commentary that she feels is largely missing from the current writing surrounding Bollywood. “I’m having fun with it, though,” she said.

Unlike many Bollywood bloggers, Ms. Watkins steers clear of feuding stars, and pesky baby bump rumors and announcements. “I’m not into gossip. I don’t care whether Aishwarya Rai gained a kilo or not,” she said. Her entries range from entertaining dissections of vintage Filmfare magazine spreads that she excavated from the depths of her university library, to witty reviews laced with an inventive lexicon. [Link.]

After living vicariously through Beth on Twitter as she navigated the IFAA world, I reached out to her about her love of all things filmi.

Best part of IFAA. Worst part? Best part was meeting some blog and Twitter friends in person, some of whom I’ve known online for years. Worst part was the behavior of other fans–mobbing the stars, asking completely inane questions, literally shoving to get closer to the red carpet, etc.

So did you finally get to see Rahul Khanna at IFAA? I know you’re a huge fan of his… Tragically no. I think he was busy with actual celebrities–as well as being in the fashion show, GQMF that he is.

Shah Rukh Khan won for My Name is Khan, Dabangg won best film and Anushka Sherma won for Band Baaja Baarat Which IFAA awards did you disagree with? It’s hard for me to accept that people think MNIK is award-worthy in any way, but if it had to win one, best actor was the way to go. I don’t have any sense of how accurate SRK’s portrayal was, but it was at least very consistent and empathetic. When I first heard about MNIK, it made me full-body cringe–I mean, Karan Johar! making a feature film! starring SRK! as a man with Asperger’s!–but it turned out that the things I feared were the least of its problems.

It also got best story, which makes me throw up in my mouth a little. And I actually snorted out loud when Karan Johar got best director and said in his acceptance speech that making that film had taught him restraint. Only in his world is MNIK restrained.

Which IFAA awards did you agree with? The awards I thought were most deserved were male debut (Ranvir Singh in Band Baaja Baaraat) and music (Dabangg). And I was thrilled that people I love got the awards for being legends: Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra! I was in the same room as Sharmila and Dharmendra! SQUEEEE!

I’ve always been curious, do you ever get flack from Hindi-speaking Bollywood fans who question your filmi credentials? I’ve been called the most insulting things in my life because of writing about Hindi films. Over the years, a few people have either implied or flat-out stated that I don’t have a right to comment on Indian cinema because I’m not Indian. As someone who works in a world cultures museum, that’s an utterly foreign concept to me. Earlier this year, some anonymous blogger called me a dumb slut in a post titled something like “another white b*tch who pretends to like Bollywood.” Fortunately by now I’ve mostly learned to laugh things like that off.

Bollywood 101. What five movies should the Bollywood n00b watch? A generalized North American starter kit might be: Bunty aur Babli, Dil Se, Paheli, new Don (or original, if they are not scared away by vintage), and Maqbool or Omkara. Those last ones might bend a person’s definition of “Bollywood” a little bit, but that’s all part of my master plan. All of those films are relatively accessible to people unfamiliar with Indian cinema because of the stories, but they also all provide some significant flavors through setting, music, language, contextualizing of the basic story, etc. I’d also add the gorgeous Tamil film Kandoukondain Kandoukondain.

Frankly, I get completely confused by all these Bollywood families. Kapoor this. Bachchan that. HOW DO YOU KEEP IT ALL STRAIGHT? Charts? Excel spreadsheets? I have a database of all the movies I’ve watched and an ever-growing file of screen shots of actors. Geek out! While watching films, I also do a lot of pause/lunge for imdb/screencap/check against file of images of character actors/etc.

Up and coming actors/actresses you’re really excited about… I did think Ranvir Singh was excellent in Band Baaja Baaraat and look forward to his next project, Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl, to see what else he can do.

I’m a child of the ’80s. What ’70s Bollywood flicks should I be watching? Oooooh! I did a post last year on my favorite ’70s films and, looking that over, I think I’d still recommend them. See this: BethLovesBolly.pdf!

Shashi Kapoor vs. Shahrukh Khan in a bouffant comb-off. Who would win? Oooh. Shashi, I think, because his hair is naturally wavy and and he’d be really suave and sophisticated, whereas SRK would probably end up looking a bit like the Fonz. This is assuming we can involve time-travel to get them both at their follicular grandest, so something like 1978 Shashi vs. Main Hoon Na-era SRK?

How/why/when this Shashi love? The short answer goes something like this: have you seen Shashi Kapoor in his prime?

I don’t think it’s purely coincidence that I got Shashitized in the wake of a horrible breakup that involved a complete shutdown of communication on the guy’s end. Not to be too arm-chair psychological about it, but I do think that part of me was looking for someplace to channel some suddenly unrequited love. First I got hit by that luscious curly hair, then the eyelashes, and then The Voice – and then I finally realized that he can really act.

He’s consistently a confident, versatile, and generous actor. And all of this while also struggling to keep the Kapoor family theater alive! His range as an actor is incredible–he was doing international productions back in the 60s, including working with Merchant/Ivory and even Haley Mills! And his contributions as a producer are also invaluable. Just off the top of my head, his career includes films as diverse as Dharmputra, Shakespeare-Wallah, The Householder, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Sharmeelee, Chori Mera Kaam, Kaalaa Patthar, Junoon, Kalyug, In Custody, and Side Streets. That’s amazing!

Can you please, please bring back Ugly, Ugly, Bollywood Fugly? Definitely! Someone suggested that we turn it into a Tumblr so we don’t have to feel pressured to write much and can just post the outrageous screencaps.

If you could change one thing about Bollywood- what would it be and why? I think many mass entertainers sell the audience short. There’s absolutely no reason a film can’t have ideas or questions or messages and be very appealing and rollicking good fun other than the creative talent isn’t trying to do so. Manmohan Desai did this in the 70s very effectively and audiences loved his work.

19 thoughts on “Beth Goes to Bollywood!

  1. Great interview Phillygrrl! I’ve been reading Beth’s blog for years–she was my inspiration for finally starting one of my own. I was nervous about being a non-desi writing about Indian films, but blogs like Beth’s gave me that last little push I needed to put that worry out of my mind.

    And yes, pleeeeease bring back UUBF! 🙂

  2. Phillygrrl,

    If you like to watch south indian movies, Manichithratazhu is a fantabulos malayalam movie.

  3. Thanks Melissa, I’ve been reading it for quite some time as well. And yes! UUBF in Tumblr form would be great!

  4. the tamizh version is even funnier – ‘chandramakhi’ w/vaigai puzhal & b-2the-a-2the-b-2the-a star- the sooper star!

  5. “Another woman who blogs about Bollywood and whose blog is a treasure trove for Bollywood fans is Memsaab.”

    Does sepiamutiny plan on changing its name to “albusScrutiny”

  6. Since I am not a big fan of Bollywood, and i love irreverent takes on its cheesy cinema, I enjoy this blog from Dangermuff called Bollybob. This is an entertaining review of Teesri Manzil

  7. One thing I noticed about a lot of Indian blogs dedicated to movie reviews is their lack of humor in reviewing the movie. South Indian Telugu ones are among the worst. It’s a bunch of fanboys who drool over the heros and heroines. Some of the praise for the heroes looks is so shamelessly over the top, you wonder if they wouldnt mind getting banged by the heroes. It makes the discourse on imdb seem NPRish by comparison.

  8. I actually appreciate her blog, even though I’ve only visited once or twice. For one, it’s not loaded with crap adware and godknowswhatelse like most Indian filmi blogs (hell, even others that are quite good like Miss Malini put me off because of the gratuitous excess that mobs the screen). She doesn’t get caught up in the BS of celebrity worship, which is a serious relief; and she offers a decent layman’s perspective on b’wood.

    And I, too, am superexcited about the new Don. I loved the “first” one w/PC. She rocked Roma like no one’s business.

  9. I know Miss Malini is not a filmi blog, just putting it out there as an Indian blog example. I love her work, though.

  10. I’ve been a fan of Beth Loves Bollywood for years, and I share her love for Shashi Kapoor. He’s dreamy.

  11. Despite all the IT outsourcing to India, Indan websites are among the worst garbage I have ever seen when you consider design, and not just content.

  12. wow there is a post we can actually comment on? :p

    really good interview phillygrrl. i do have great love for SRK. MNIK was ok, but loved him in K3G, spesh the scene where Big B kicks him and Kajol out, emotional, cheesy, but it gets me every time. by far though Anjaam is the best.

    can’t wait till they realise the lord of the rings technology and finally make the epic mahabharata. now that would be class.

    also Akshay Kumar is the MAN!

  13. I think a Mahabharata would be a great thing to film as a trilogy. Just be discrete with the CGI as Bollywood filmmakers are not capable of getting top quality work done by foreign CGI firms(yes, I saw Robot). So why waste money on fake looking CGI shots. Maybe film two versions with the same sets. One with a South Indian cast to be filmed in Telugu and Tamil(South Indian aesthetics , language and tone are just flat out different for these kind of stories plus their stars historically have given mythological based movies more importance than their Hindi counterparts). The other with a mixed cast for the Hindi version. Save money on sets and battle scenes to be used by both versions.

    Maybe start with Ramayana first as it is a simpler tale to tell. Mahabharata would require a lot of storytelling sophistication I quite frankly dont think Bollywood is capable of at this point.

    Oh, rudie, funny reference to the comments. Razib set a new record by closing a diary even before it started. Sepia seems to be losing its mojo lately. If I wanted to just read Razib’s closed diaries, I could go over to his other sites which are pretty decent.