Same old, Same Old, or Necessary Escape?
It was a rainy Sunday afternoon, with the rest of the day stretching lazily ahead. My boyfriend turns to me and says, “Let’s get a movie.” I agree, but this accord is short-lived; he wants to watch a Bollywood film, and I want to rent an American movie. “You always do this,” he says to me, “what have you got against Bollywood?”
I’ve decided to give his question some serious scrutiny; what do I have against Bollywood? It’s certainly not the song and dance; I have been known to choreograph an antakshari or two for cultural events. And okay, I’ll admit it; in the privacy of your own home, it’s fun to prance about and pretend you’re in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge with 50 back-up dancers.
The repetitiveness of the story line (boy meets girl, girl/boy is too rich / poor / unattractive / overeducated / undereducated / wrong caste / religion / parents are in the wrong kind of business/comes from a broken family, but finally, after the penultimate scene when the girl’s father/boy’s mother gets over their grudge, the couple lives happily ever after) does get a little old, but Bollywood mixes it up enough that the monotony of plot lines is still not, I suspect, a large enough vex. In fact, sometimes the tedium of the narrative is welcome; there are times when you don’t want to be surprised, or to discern the twist in the plot, and all you really want is predictability.
But these are superficial reasons for my aversion to Bollywood. If I give it serious thought, though, I think what disturbs me most is that Bollywood movies do not reflect mainstream South Asian culture; there is, I am sure, a percentage of the population that do live out the hyperbolized lifestyles portrayed by Priyanka Chopra and Vivek Oberoi, but not enough for Bollywood films to mirror the everyday lives of South Asians. Compounded by the prevalence of Bollywood films—there is a new one out almost every other month—such entertainment is a staple of South Asian leisure and “time pass.” What frustrates me, is that audiences repeatedly return to watch films that do not represent what their lives are truly like; for example, when is the last time you saw a young South Asian non-married couple walking hand-in-hand down the streets of Delhi, without the girl looking furtively around for fear a family member may spot her? While I recognize the Indian dating scene has moved speedily along in the last decade, it is still not Bollywood makes it out to be. Moreover, where is this superfluous affection that is demonstrated right, left, and center? In Bollywood movies, fantasy scenes are not clearly demarcated from reality, and at times, it is difficult to understand if the loving dance sequence that just took place was real or not. If there is one thing that South Asians ought to take away from Bollywood, is that public displays of affection should be accepted, and, are even healthy. I think many South Asians would benefit from seeing their parents or elders share a kiss, even holding hands. Mind you, affection to children, between siblings and family members, from my experience, has always been demonstrated, both on and off-screen. Why is it that affection between lovers—even married ones—is where the line is drawn?
On the other hand, I understand that there is a certain allure in escaping to a world filled with dacoits, dancing villagers, gorgeous women, and where good always trumps evil—sure, everyone wants that sometimes. I am even ready to admit that perhaps the Indian movie industry is pumping out movies about everyday South Asian life, but they are simply not popular. This would mean that South Asians, in fact, are attracted to the fantasy world offered by Bollywood; after slaving away at the office, or running after children all day, dealing with in-laws, the laundry-wallah and the driver, its not a surprise. But to see the same story over and over again, the only change being Shah Rukh for Abhishek, and Aishwariya for Rani; doesn’t it get old? Isn’t there more to be said for a film that describes the middle-class family, and portrays middle-class problems? How is it possible to connect with a film that you cannot relate to?
For now, I can still tolerate the occasional Bollywood movie; I would be lying to say that watching a scantily-dressed John Abraham does not provide some sort of entertainment value. But to be a regular “Bollywood slut” as my boyfriend refers to himself? Sorry honey, I don’t think so.