Monday, July 13, 2009


About Bollywood. Back in France, non-afficionados don't know much about Indian movies. Any movie coming from India that is not a film d'auteur (Satyajit Ray's movies, very well known amongst film enthusiasts, as well as Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy or Ritwik Ghatak, known for the revolutionary movies they made throughout the 60's and 70's) will be looked upon as a show of grandeur and beautiful colours, ridiculously over-the-top acting and an overall farce with no deep meaning. Therefore most people will watch a Bollywood for the music, dancing, or a good laugh. I started taking interest in Indian Cinema a couple of years back, and it started filling my mind with questions as to why Indian popular movies are the way they are, and what real issues should one read in them. The main questions I was asking myself (and one that I generally ask a lot about all sorts of topics) being: Why?

Why the luxury, the shine, the grandeur and the exagerated acting? Why are emotions stretch to the extreme (see Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas), why do we constantly switch from one genre to another within the same film, from drama to comedy to action and so on? And by the way, why is the film three hours long??

After watching a lot of films, from various periods of the Indian Cinema History (Ranging from the golden age of the 50's and Mehboob Khan's films, to the social cinema of the 70's to the melodramatic cheesiness of the 80's till the great new actors of the 90's (the Khans) and today's films), and trying to have an insight by reading theories on Indian Cinema and various essays, reviews and articles, I found a little explanation of my own. The Indian audiences need their films to be the more detached to their everyday life as possible (I'm talking about the general public here ; I'm pretty confident that the Bachchan-Rai wedding did look something like a wedding scene from a Karan Johar's movie), so they can escape from their everyday reality. I know that the majority of the Indian population live with little earning and in unhealthy and poor conditions. The Big Bollywood Factory therefore offers to everyone's access a good three-hours long portion of dream, with so many twists, turns, and changes of mood that the audience can completely escape the everyday through entertainment. Then the dream is carried on to the streets through music. People who sang to me often half-close their eyes or raise them to the sky.

Arriving in Mumbai, I understood this need to escape reality. After only two days I was already fed up with the pollution, constant city noise and the impressive and massive over-population. I had prepared for it through tons of reading but living the actual thing is a very different experience altogether. It made me understand it fully.

I wish to take note here that, even though the Bollywood Industry is known to be the biggest in the world with some 800 movies released each year, this figure doesn't have a real meaning here. The Indian audience proves to be very discerning when it comes to movies, and only a dozen movies will actually make profit, while the news of a bad movie will be spread so rapidly by sharp Indian criticism and efficient word of mouth that it just won't cover for its cost. For instance the latest Akshay Kumar / Kareena Kapoor movie, Kambakkht Ishq, will probably not make up for its Rs70 crores of production costs (Rs1 crore = 10 million Rupees) simply because it's a disaster and people know it! Despite grossing an impressive Rs19 crores during the opening week, thanks to high expectations and hopes that Akki would be back in shape after his few horrendous last movies (Chandni Chowk To China......), the expectations were simply not met and the theatres were empty the following week! 5 persons shared the cinema with me when I went to see the movie at that time. I wont review the movie here, I'm merely trying to give an exemple of how good judges the Indian audience is about its movies.

In my quest for Bollywood, I went to "Film City", in the Goregaon district, to try and meet some of the people who make it happen, actors, directors, technicians, and hopefully to watch a shooting. Bollywood wasn't there unfortunately, and I ended up having to clap my hands for a boring dance competition program for the telly. Going back downtown in the evening, I met an American girl who had just been approached by a guy looking for extras to act in a movie. Luckily she's not so interested and hand over the card to me. It reads: "Amjad Khan, Bollystar, specialized in Western people". Perfect. I give this Amjad a ring the next morning and he asks me to come the next day for a night shooting. 5pm to 5am. The movie is for television, "Un Hazaro Ke Nam" (roughly translated by "In the name of thousands") by Siddhart Sen Gupta, and is ploted around the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. I can be seen during the wedding scene holding a cocktail glass and chatting up some other extra. The next scene, I'm running back and forth in the crowd after a bomb has exploded. I got paid Rs500 for the night and it was a lot of fun.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. And the research on Indian Cinema, phew! There are, however, a few film directors/actors who make off-the-hook films which you may find interesting:
    Vishal Bharadwaj (of 'Kaminey' fame) has made two adaptations of Shakespeare's tragedies: Omkara (Othello) and Maqbool (Macbeth). You will find some brilliant performances there. Also, check out films made by Anurag Kashyap.