What Bollywood Taught me About Sensuality and Spirituality


by Jasleena Grewal

I used to be embarrassed to share my love for Bollywood from fear of being labeled as “too Indian” by both my desi and non-desi friends. But as I’ve grown older and more confident, I flaunt my Bollywood pride without any shame. Bollywood taught me more about my sensuality, spirituality and self more than any western film has, and this is how.

I love Bollywood because it shares my eye for all that is sparkly, loud, dramatic, and deeply poetic. I will never know if art imitates life or vice versa. But, because of Bollywood, I do not feel shame when I gravitate towards the brightest, blingiest outfit in the mall, amidst friends who’d prefer a muted look instead.

At ten years old, when I saw Vyjayanthimala’s sweet face in her 1960’s film, “Amrapali,” I knew I’d wear a cat-eye the second I was allowed to buy makeup. I look to Bollywood to see faces and bodies that not only look like mine but validate the way I see beauty in the world.

Bollywood’s colors and dancing are visual expressions of the celebratory foundations of my culture. The colors and dances laugh in cynicism’s face and embrace life joyously, and that is why I do, too. Cinematic production preserves the rich cultures that South Asians practice around the world. The reds are more than reds, they are symbols and foreshadowers of themes like partnership and transition. Royal blues are more than what adorns kings and queens, they can also be religious and spiritual signifiers. When I’m watching a Bollywood film, I can follow the plot by the colors as well as I can with the dialogue.

Because of Bollywood, I learned more about my sensuality than any American film could have taught me. I didn’t miss out on my sexuality just because a Bollywood couple failed to kiss on the lips or lay in bed naked. Instead, I came to understand the subtleties of love and sexuality at a young age. With every dance number, at every gyrating body and suggestive outfit, I came to feast on love not only with my eyes but my mind and heart. My ideas of romance are rooted in what I grew up witnessing in the movies: a tug on a sari, the closing of a bangle clasp, a stolen glance, the complicated dynamics of running into your crush at your place of worship.

In Bollywood films, I see my convictions. Shahid Kapoor in “Haider,” even with the gun in his hand and approaching his enemy from behind, was left hesitant and chose not to kill him upon witnessing him in prayer. His restraint went beyond simple principle, symbolizing the deeper moral and spiritual understandings of Islam. These subtleties and poeticisms, I feel, are lost, clumsy, or two-dimensional in American cinema.

The spiritual and cultural intelligence in Bollywood films makes me feel understood in my complexities and cozy in my passions. The lyricism and unrelenting commitment to beauty and complexity I witnessed reflect in my own life as I have come to understand it.

Jasleena GrewalJasleena Grewal is from Seattle, WA. Her beautiful Pacific Northwest home has taught her to see stars in cars, little amoebas in raindrop reflections against the quivering dashboard. Aside from what her parents have to say (about anything), she only lets the sky rule her moods.



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

Editor by profession, writer by passion, and a mother 24/7, Nida is a member of Brown Girl Lifestyle's editing team … Read more ›