Everyone wants a piece of the Bollywood pie, but no one gets the recipe right. A rare exception to the commodification of Indian culture is FOX’s “New Girl,” a show that deserves more inclusion in the conversation about representation.
We tend to shout it from the rooftops when Hollywood gets something wrong—and sit content when things are right. Cecelia Parekh’s (Hannah Simone) Indianness was never presented as a lesson or a gimmick; it’s one part of a multifaceted person, just as it is in real life. Even her Season two foray into arranged marriages was an accurate depiction of modern Indian dating.
The show’s Season five premiere last week featured a big Bollywood dance number for Cece’s engagement, and it finally got some key things right:
1. The Occasion
What do you do when you want a Bollywood dance but have no place for it in your show? On “Smash,” Karen (Katharine McPhee) has a fever dream in an Indian restaurant. It’s a shamefully forced use of the immensely talented Raza Jaffrey—who only starred in “Bombay Dreams” on Broadway, NBD. And the title, “A Thousand And One Nights” lumps together South Asia and the Middle East, diminishing the differences that make each culture unique.
2. The Conceit
In a Bollywood movie, characters don’t need an excuse to start spontaneously dancing. But when another show adopts the format, there needs to be an explanation.
On Netflix’s “Sense8,” the choreography doesn’t feel appropriate for a wedding sangeet, and when Kala (Tina Desai) and her friends start their own unified routine, it makes no sense.
3. The Choreography
Countless reality shows have brought in the Bollywood element, but it so often lacks the expressiveness and grace that makes Indian dance beautiful. The moves hit hard and fast, more like a workout than an artistic performance.
On “New Girl,” Jess explicitly states that she has hired a professional dance troupe (which is named Ma-Hot Moves Gandhi, but let’s not dwell on that today), so it makes sense for their choreography to be fast-paced and intricate. The dancers smile and sing, making Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Nick (Jake Johnson) look like the abysmal dancers they are, while still not taking away from the scene at large.
So, bravo, “New Girl,” for finally giving us a Bollywood number worth shouting about. It’s not surprising for a show that has always represented Indian culture right, but it’s a wonderful relief—and quality entertainment.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.