by Pooja Kansal – Indiana University
During a November 2009 interview with CNN, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan said that, “Indian cinema needs to move beyond traditional song-and-dance musicals amid increasing international competition in the Mumbai studios’ domestic market.”
The frequent occurrence of the hero and heroine running through meadows while breaking out in song is severely mocked among the Indian-American community, but at the end of the day, we have to admit that we kind of love it.
The musical format of Hindi movies is what makes Bollywood stand out from all other types of films and is the driving force behind India’s music industry. Song-and-dance numbers in Bollywood play an integral role in promoting Indian music, as well as the artists who create it, similar to how radio helps to publicize music in the U.S.
It’s true that Bollywood isn’t exactly seen as a prestigious film industry: It lags behind in special effects, the scenes are melodramatic, and the plots are often wildly unrealistic. But, who ever said that Hindi films need to imitate life perfectly? Isn’t that what documentaries are for?
A good friend of mine once said that people don’t go to the movies to watch their lives; they go there to get away from them. I couldn’t agree with that more. The whole charm of Bollywood films is in their sense of escapism. Bollywood’s exaggerated depiction of romance even inspired the Facebook group “Bollywood gave me unrealistic expectations about love.’ While that may seem like a negative effect, it actually allows audiences to unwind after a trying day and gives them the hope that happy endings can happen.
This isn’t to say that serious storylines aren’t welcome; only that superficial and provocative ones are not lending any artistic value to them. ‘3 Idiots’ seems to be the only recent Hindi film that actually addresses issues relevant to young Indians and Indian-Americans. It moved away from the clichéd romance genre and astutely explored the widespread problem of academic pressure.
But for some reason, Bollywood seems to think that sexing up its products is the way to be seen as a legitimate film industry. Rather than addressing the issues that plague the Indian community, both in India and abroad, Bollywood has chosen to assimilate to global film norms by showcasing scantily clad women and steamy make-out sessions.
The risqué road that Bollywood is currently traveling on counteracts the family bonding aspect of Hindi films. Now, it’s nearly impossible to watch a Hindi movie with your parents without squirming uncomfortably. Long gone are the days when a song would make a potentially sensual moment come to screeching halt.
Come to think of it, maybe the days of hearing Hindi in these films are also long gone. Over the past decade, Hindi films have often been titled with English words, but over the past few years, the actual language spoken in the movies has also shifted to English. The film ‘Kites’ is the latest example of how Bollywood is diluting its own culture in exchange for reaching a more global audience.
If Hindi filmmakers did a little more research, they might be surprised at how much of their audience appreciates traditional Bollywood movies. It would be wise of Bollywood to re-evaluate its goals and how it should reach them, instead of hoping to merge with Hollywood and, as a result, lose its unique identity.