Understanding the Effects of Imperialism on Bollywood and Malayalam films

[Photo Courtesy/Apoorva Verghese]

by Apoorva Verghese

Today’s India is one the fastest growing nations in terms of technology and business. But years of imperialism have undoubtedly left its mark in the form of economic difficulties and deep social divides. Yet one of the most pervasive influences of imperialism remains subtle and shrouded by state boundaries: cinematic culture. Bollywood is known far and wide as the largest film industry in the world, yet is also constantly criticized for its over the top effects and tacky, repetitive plotlines. But as criticism against Bollywood grows, a whole new side of Indian film remains undiscovered.

Malayalam cinema has over the years developed a growing fanbase within its home state of Kerala, but is still relatively irrelevant. Malayalam films are praised for technical and artistic elements; the same qualities Bollywood is so harshly criticized for. Thus, we have to wonder, within one country how can the idea and production of cinema differ so greatly? The answer dates back centuries. India’s bloody battle with imperialism left unintended consequences in the form of its most loved industry: film.

[Read More: Q & A With Writer and Director Minhal Baig on Filmmaking, Culture and Representation]

Along with tangible, destructive effects, imperialism left behind the pervasive new thought that became embedded in the minds of any and all affected by it. Glamour, beauty, and modernity. With these themes in mind, a newly freed India set out to mimic the country that once ruthlessly oppressed it. The effects of western materialism became clear, not only in urban development but also in film. Producers and directors got together to create films that featured people of unattainable beauty and tell stories of unattainable lives.

However, over time this idea has progressed from sweet fairy tales to inane extravagance. Movies now survive on over the top special effects and distracting aesthetics. Actors are chosen based on their looks rather than acting skills. In fact, someone who does not meet Bollywood’s steep cosmetic standards stands little to no chance of making it.

A Bollywood producer’s goal is really only box office success that rival those of big-budget Hollywood movies. And that intention is where the paths of Bollywood and Malayalam cinema diverge. Unlike Bollywood, Malayalam films have consistently focused on creating relatable characters and simple yet captivating storylines. They focus on seemingly insignificant people and often pertain to striking social issues. Actors are chosen not for their looks, but their ability to relate to audiences whoever their character may be. Artists enter the industry not looking to make money, but because they possess true skills. In fact, the Malayalam film industry is not a bankable one, especially when compared to that of Bollywood.

Take a look at the leading stars of Bollywood as opposed to those of Malayalam films. Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan has a net worth of $600 million and has acted in approximately 83 movies. While he continues to act today, critics and fans alike have expressed concern that his time has come to an end. Conversely, Malayali legend Mohanlal has a net worth of $33 million and has acted in about 200 films. Unlike Khan, Mohanlal continues to be praised for his acting today and is revered as one of the greatest Indian actors to date. The biggest difference between the two, however, isn’t their net worth or their experience. Shah Rukh Khan has a six-pack. Mohanlal has a potbelly.

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Bollywood’s need for glamour becomes clear when comparing Bollywood remakes of Malayalam movies. Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam tells the story of Georgekutty, a fourth-grade dropout. He works as a cable businessman and lives in a small home with his wife and 2 kids. The movie develops the story of an average family thrown into a terrible situation in a way that the common man can easily relate to. Perhaps the most skillfully executed part of the film is Mohanlal’s portrayal of Georgekutty. He’s arrogant and domineering, yet intelligent and calculating. He’s undeniably flawed yet incredible. Most importantly, his life is perfectly and utterly average. In the Nishikant Kamat Bollywood remake, the story’s the same but the characters aren’t.

Bollywood superstar Ajay Devgn takes over the protagonist’s role, Vijay Salgaonkar. Like Georgekutty, Vijay is a fourth-grade dropout and runs a cable business. Unlike Georgekutty, Vijay lives in a nice house in fanciful Goa with his supermodel-esque wife and two daughters. He’s kind-hearted, humble, loving, and intelligent. He’s not flawed at all. Simply put he’s ideal, a trait the makers demanded expanding on throughout the film. Bollywood’s inability to show a flawed character, despite being handed a perfect model, is a prime example of their need to portray everything as idealistic and glamorous. Bollywood is rooted in ideas of egoism and materialism. Malayalam film is rooted in substance.

The question remains how can this difference be attributed to imperialism? The answer is simple: Kerala was never truly under British rule. The state of Kerala was created in 1956. Prior to this, the region now known as Kerala was made up of three kingdoms; Malabar, Kochi, and Travancore. During the British Raj, numerous attempts were made to gain control of these kingdoms and were successful but also failed. Imperialists were successfully able to get Malabar under their control, but the kingdoms of Kochi and Travancore were never fully under British rule. Rather they entered into subsidiary alliances that allowed the presence of British officials but avoided total domination.

Because of this, ideas of western superiority or Indian inferiority were never established in the area of Kerala. Malayalis never succumbed to ideas of glamour and modernity, but rather followed their own ideas that eventually lead them to become one of the most developed states in India. Kerala has become a champion of human rights in India. They progressed forward because unlike neighboring states, Kerala didn’t work to completely replicate the West. Instead they worked to integrate developing ideas of human rights with their own pre-existing community. They weren’t bogged down by the appeal of Western beauty, but were motivated by social acts to better the community. A motivation that shines through in their film industry.

Apoorva Verghese is a high school junior from Houston, Texas. She was born in England, and has lived across the United States, fostering a lifelong interest in travel and multicultural perspectives. She loves reading and Netflix, and hopes to study medicine in the future.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra

The Romantics

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.


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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.

By Nida Hasan

Managing Editor at Brown Girl Magazine, Nida has worked and written for several publications in a journalism career spanning almost … Read more ›

‘Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani’: A Perfect K Jo Showcase Celebrating the Filmmaker’s 25 Years in Cinema

Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani

It’s always a flamboyant affair of colour, emotions and grandeur when Karan Johar directs a film, and his latest blockbuster “Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani” is as K Jo as it gets. After recently being recognised at the British House of Parliament for 25 years as a filmmaker, Johar is back to doing what he does best — bringing together families and star-crossed lovers, but this time with a modern touch. He makes a decent attempt at showcasing progressive ideals and feminist issues while taking us on this family-friendly ride.

“Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani” is a larger-than-life film revolving around the love story of a boisterous Rocky (Ranveer Singh) from a wealthy Delhi family, and Rani (Alia Bhatt), a sharp journalist from a progressive Bengali household. And of course, despite belonging to completely different backgrounds and lives, our protagonists, in true Bollywood fashion, fall hopelessly in love through a string of slow-motion gazes, warm embraces and some truly breath-taking song sequences in Kashmir’s snowy mountains. They are then forced to face their opposing families which brings along the family drama in the second half of the film.

The plot is not the film’s strongest point — there’s no real surprise about what’s going to happen next, and yet the film doesn’t fail to keep audiences engaged and pack an emotional punch. This is down to its strong acting, witty dialogues and K Jo’s classic, beautiful cinematography.

K Jo

Ranveer Singh sinks into the skin of his character with ease – not only does he make the hall burst into laughter with the help of perfectly-timed gags but he pulls off those dreamy gazes ,expected in K Jo’s heroes, to evoke that typical, fuzzy-feeling kind of Bollywood romance. Alia Bhatt’s intelligent and undefeated character is no less a pleasure to watch on screen — not only does she look breath-taking in every shot but her feminist dialogues earn claps and cheers from the audience as she brings a progressive touch to this family drama.

[Read Related: ‘The Romantics’: Revisiting the Legacy and Grandeur of Yash Chopra With Filmmaker Smriti Mundhra]

Albeit, while Bhatt’s dialogues do their best to steer this film to the reformist drama it hopes to be, some of Singh’s gags and monologues on cancel culture bring out bumps in the road. The film could have done better to reinforce its points on feminism and racism without using the groups it tries to support as the butt of jokes.

There is also a case to be made about how long these Punjabi and Bengali stereotypes can go on with often gawkish displays of Ranveer’s ‘dilwala-from-Delhi’ character among the overly-polished English from Rani’s Bengali family. But it is with the expertise of the supporting cast, that the film is able to get away with it. Jaya Bachchan in particular is as classy as ever on screen; the stern Dadi Ji holds her ground between the two lovers, while Dada Ji Dharmendra,  and Thakuma Shabana Azmi, tug at our heartstrings showing that love truly is for all ages.

K Jo Rocky aur Rani

Saving the best to last, it is the film’s cinematography that makes the strongest case for audiences to flock to the cinema. The soul-stirring songs steal the show with their extravagant sets and powerful dance performances that treat the audiences to the much-awaited cinematic experience of a K Jo film. While audiences may already be familiar with the viral songs, “What Jhumka?” and “Tum Kya Mile“, it was the family-defying fight for love in “Dhindhora Baje Re” that really gave me goosebumps.

Overall, the film does exactly what it says on the tin and is a family entertainer with something for everyone. It will make you laugh, cry, and cringe at times, but nothing leaves you feeling as romantic as some old school Bollywood with a mix of new school humour, in true K Jo form.

Stills Courtesy of Media Global House



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By Anushka Suharu

Anushka Suharu is a British Indian journalist, with a Masters in Interactive Journalism (City, University of London) and a BA … Read more ›

Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi on ‘Ghoomer’

“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.

“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.

[Read Related: 5 Tidbits About Bollywood Royalty Abhishek Bachchan For His 41st Birthday!]

Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.

And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.

Take a look!

The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global. 

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›