Bollywood - A misleading model for contemporary cinema

The rise of Bollywood as an ambassador for Indian culture and expression has brought along with it a gaping failure in appreciating cinema. Everything that Bollywood exposes us to today, is NOT the way we were meant to be exposed to it. Movies are meant to be a source of entertainment, but only in a limited context. The larger aim of mainstream cinema has always been more of a let-know than a let-sell. But today’s multiplex audiences fail to understand exactly that and films have become a sort of a reward that we gift ourselves in return for the “torture” of studying and giving exams in schools.

Let me explain how.

Picture a scene outside a multiplex. You are most likely to listen to fizzing sounds of “Film flop hai” or “Ticket mili kya?” The common man’s perception of cinema is a 3-hour package filled with laughs, comic pursuits, romantic flings and impractical love. He sees movies as a come-and-go show that is meant to be either a source of “time-pass” or a “chill-pill” and nothing else. All that matters is whether the product succeeds in impressing enough people to earn enough. All that matters is a new masala flick releasing week-in, week-out to keep foolhardy people satisfied. And Bollywood gives us exactly that. Even pro-social movies like Taare Zameen Par and Swades are viewed as products by the layman and he takes no positive impressions from it. The same man will line up for a ticket to a stupid, immature Bollywood flick next week, making the entire concept of understanding cinema purely a procedural one. Films have become like bureaucracy. And today, we are too contented to be in the “comfort zone” of watching mindless movies whenever we can.

Of more concern is the fact that Bollywood “stars” are treated like Gods wherever they go, irrespective of their private habits that are not meant to be taken up by growing kids. For example recently on NDTV’s Jai Jawaan, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor made an appearance. Now the mainstream viewer’s interest isn’t in the men guarding the borders but rather in the lovey-dovey couple who entertain the jawaans with their so-called patriotic fervor. Kids are more motivated than ever to be like them, to dress like them, to look good, to follow each and every day of their God-gifted luxurious lives. Eternal dumbness and a make-up box life is what they are beginning to seek, with imprudent determination.

The commercial success of Fair-N-Handsome creams, admiration for Shah Rukh Khan’s six-packs as if it was in the league of PM Singh sealing the nuclear deal and a dogged pursuit of I-will-watch-every-damn-movie-I-can outlook to this life is encouraging ignorance in multitude. The worst part is that exploitation is what will succeed such an attitude of know-less-and-less.

I don’t discount the contribution of Bollywood to uniting India. A few films have gone on to become timeless classics and are etched on the minds of contemporary India and will continue to be forever. But compare these with the unending barrage of the current stream of movies and you have to feel sad. So-called freedom appeasers will argue, and have argued with me in the past, that “Let people watch what they want to. You don’t watch it if you don’t like it”. All I can say is please watch whatever you want to, but keep your brains at the right place when you do judge a movie.

It is an ill-feeling if nothing else. Wake up and appreciate yourself. You, whatever you do for the betterment of the country, are MORE important and special than the puppets of “Indian cinema”.




Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 7:42:00 AM PDT

hey jay...

First of all thanks for reminding me of your blog. I certainly agree with you on this matter. The point is that everything is getting so much commercialized that existence of values and creativity seems to be diminishing. In Indian cinema the actors and actresses have always been bigger than the plot whereas it should be the the opposite way. And the worse part is that this cinema is what people are also demanding. Cant even hope that the situation will improve...


Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 8:39:00 AM PDT

Jay, in addition to all the issues you have correctly pointed out, there is another very important one. That Bollywood (along with the rest of the media) always indulges the middle-classes, and seldom does it challenge them to sit down and think about their country in a serious, rational way.

A good example would be the recent movie, A Wednesday, the movie though well made, did not provoke any serious thought about how complicated the issues of extremism and terrorism are. Rather it seemed to be a vindication and an affirmation of the middle class's thirst for revenge, whether those at the receiving end have been proved guilty or not.

Another manifestation of this misguided 'nationalism' is the rabid nationalist rants that appear in movies like Hello, Namastey London ostensibly due to the provocation of the 'white' people, whose culture and appearance Bollywood otherwise tries to ape all the time!


Monday, October 20, 2008 at 9:07:00 AM PDT

Your points just complete my post. Thank you. You are absolutely spot on about actors and actresses being larger than the plot of the movie.

The point I'd disagree with you is that cinema IS improving. Certain movies like Mumbai Meri Jaan and Taare Zameen Par have been well thought out and beautifully filmed.


Monday, October 20, 2008 at 9:11:00 AM PDT

Nationalist rants, I believe, are a stereotypical misnomer. Nothing else.

I recall an incident. While attending a seminar once, a positive point about India was raised by the speaker.

And one of the people in the crowd looked around and said "Namaste London". This seemingly states that he had got to know the points only after watching the film.

So, in a way, this is both good and bad. The good part is that for all of his ignorance, he did at least remember the stuff. While the bad part is that he needed a masala Bollywood flick to tell him the same.

Whatever Namaste London stood for, it was still downtrodden Bollywood at it's best.


Monday, October 20, 2008 at 9:14:00 AM PDT

Readers would like to take a look at the discussion on the same piece at India's thought terminus - Mutiny.