“Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, “Kuch Hota Hai”, “Dilwale,” “Dil Se”, “Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham”, “Devdas” and “Mujhse Dosti Karoge”. Some of you might be wondering what I am talking about, right? I am speaking about Bollywood, the Hindi-language sector of the Indian moviemaking industry that began in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1930s and developed into an enormous film empire. At the turn of the 21st century, according to Mihir Bose, author of “Bollywood: A History”, Bollywood was producing as many as 1,000 feature films annually in all of India’s major languages (Tamil, Punjabi, Bengali, among others) and in a variety of cities. International audiences began to develop among South Asians in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Standard features of Bollywood films continued to be formulaic story lines, expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charged melodrama, and larger-than-life heroes that inspire people. But do we, the ones living on this side of the world, really know about this industry?
To make it more clear, I will give you guys a little starter of what I like to call the “Shava Shava” of every movie: the songs and dance routines; and if you don’t understand the Shava Shava reference, you have to see “Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham”. Go. I’ll wait. Anyway, songs are what makes and breaks the movie; they determine if it is going to be a big hit or a complete failure. Songs from Bollywood movies are pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip-synching the words to the song on screen, often while dancing. While most artists, especially today, are excellent dancers, few are also singers.
The dancing parts in Bollywood films, especially in older movies, is primarily modeled on classical dance styles (dances of historic northern Indian courtesans). In modern ones, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (just like the ones on MTV music videos or in Broadway musicals). Even with those distinctions, it is usual to see Western pop music and classical dance numbers side by side in the same movie. The hero or heroine, which is the way they call the protagonists, will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers at the back while doing the scene. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature unrealistically instantaneous shifts of location, changes of costume between verses of a song, among other ways to engage the public in what appears like another love scene. Fun fact, if the protagonists dance and sing a duet, it would be staged in natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings. We refer to this setting as a "picturization."
Another thing that makes these movies unique is the way the approach realism. But no, realism for Bollywood is not what realism for us means. Bollywood realism is a term coined to describe the exaggerated action scenes often found in their films. This term, which is obviously sarcastic, is the cheeky way to highlight movie scenes where the male protagonist amazingly defies the law of physics and saves the day.
Lastly, and what I believe is one of the most interesting facts of them all, is how we are inspired by them. In the 2000s, Bollywood began influencing musical films in the Western world. Baz Luhrmann stated that his musical film “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) was directly inspired by Bollywood musicals. The film incorporated an Indian play based on the Sanskrit drama “Mṛcchakatika” and an Hindi-style dance sequence with music from the film China Gate. Bollywood also has inspired many filmmakers and artists globally like the Black Eyed Peas whose song “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” was inspired by two Bollywood songs.
If you still don't know if this kind of movies are your thing, just try. Bollywood films are meant to be light hearted with mostly happy endings and preach positive messages like family values and individualism — not to mention some great music. Bollywood has a lot of cultural significance in India. For many people, movies are a way of knowing the latest fashion trends and the lingo currently used by the population. Hindi films also provide a glimpse of India to it viewers around the globe with its unique way of seeing life. If you ever watch Netflix, get into the international movies window and search for the titles in the first paragraph and I assure you, you won't regret it.