What's your take on the Evolution of Bollywood?

Allusions to Bollywood philosophies on the front page of the NY Times this morning, courtesy the ongoing South Asian International Film Festival, certainly remind us of some interesting discussion items. We've encountered them before, and have thought about them often. And we've evolved around them, as they have evolved around us. If that mutual evolution is not, by definition, good enough to put movies and films in the category of 'long-lasting relationships' for us buffs, I don't know what is! Hence this effort to garner some feedback, one I hope you choose to respond to.

First, bits from the piece -- A Wave of Indie Angst Hits South Asian Cinema by Rachel Saltz -- that I'm specifically referring to:

Bollywood, until recently the home of fine romances with no kisses, now takes smooching in stride. Did anyone expect the younger generation of South Asian filmmakers to stop there? How could they, growing up not only with Bollywood — itself only a portion of the Indian film business — but also with Hollywood, Hong Kong cinema, indies and all the global culture the Internet can deliver.


You can practically see the growing pains in the competition films, mostly by first- or second-time directors. Often experimental, the selections are also self-conscious and terribly solemn. These films want to poke at corners of reality and humanity that the commercial cinema has traditionally ignored.

Now, questions I have for us all:

1) Based on your consumption of twenty-first century Bollywood and other Hindi cinema (but if you've read what is essentially my 'About Me' post, you know I tend not to make a distinction there anyway), do you believe the statements cited above are valid? Why or why not? Is Bollywood synonymous with escapism?

2) Do you pay attention to ratings assigned to Hindi films by the Central Board of Film Certification (also known as the Censor Board; official website here)? If yes, do you believe their ratings are credible? If no, does your perception of rating credibility vary when comparing India's CBFC and the Motion Picture Association of America?

3) "Bollywood has been undergoing an identity crisis lately, and the growing pains have been evident for too long." True or false? Why or why not? Do you like where it is and where it is headed?

4) Which is your favorite 'bold moment' in Hindi cinema? Please let the definition of 'bold' not be confined to how the media in the east and west are used to defining it for Bollywood. For example, I've always valued that boldness in subtlety with suggestive but classy lyrics has been a long-held trait, almost tradition, in Bollywood cinema. Boldness in theme and dialogue can be equally if not more effective than boldness in visual portrayals. (And please comment in good taste. Not to say you wouldn't, but you know how it goes.) This question is not limited by era, so if it's something that was considered 'bold' at the point in time it was released, it's certainly fair game for discussion.

Please feel free to ask questions of your own, and please respond knowing that my questions are not intented to: A) Be answered within the spectrum of film festivals -- we're talking about all Hindi films here, no matter the production sources and/or distribution channels; and B) Lead to discussions regarding the author -- in other words, what is being written is more relevant than who is writing it. As always, disagreements, while obviously encouraged for the sake of a healthy and constructive dicussion, are expected to be respectful.

Of course, I can't wait to share my answers (and if you've been reading for long enough, you probably know that I stand at an intersection point), but I'd love to hear from you first. So have at it, please!

I'll hope to be back with movie reviews soon. In the mean time, I must note that I recently added the new Apple TV to my home theater, and would very highly recommend it, especially if you're a Netflix subscriber.

Long live cinema.


Anonymous said...

Gosh you think too much.

theBollywoodFan said...

The king of all cliches for you, Anonymous: I think, therefore I am. I hope you think much, too. :)

Filmi Girl said...

I saw this article, too, and it really annoyed me.

Now, onto your points:

1. I don't think Bollywood is at synonymous with escapism except with Westerners who only watch the fluffy romances like Rachel Saltz. Bollywood spins out plenty of junk, sure, but that has never been all there was to Bollywood. Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar, Aamir Khan... these guys were/are making smart films!

2. I pay no attention to the film ratings but then I pay no attention to the MPAA film ratings either. :)

3. I do think Bollywood has been going through an identity crisis but it's more from filmmakers trying to apply some Western-style techniques to Bollywood and the fit is awkward... (See: We Are Family.)

4. One word: Pankh. It's one of the boldest films I've seen...

But most sensual scene is this one from 1973's Blackmail


You don't need nudity and the swallowing of tongues to be sexy.

Rachel Saltz annoys me so much because she assumes that EVERY Bollywood film is from Yash Raj and stars SRK and Kajol. There is nothing wrong with those films but they aren't the only thing out there.

theBollywoodFan said...

Filmi Girl! Thank you so much for your visit and comments! (And not only because I mostly agree :)

I didn't pay too much attention to the ratings until I saw some five year-olds being brought in by their parents to see Ghajini. Just downright wrong!

You've given me two interesting recommendations that I'll definitely hope to check out this year, in 'We Are Family' and 'Pankh', so thank you for those.

Of course, I completely agree with what is or is not needed to make something or someone appear 'sexy'. What has bothered me for a while about this identity crisis is how many filmmakers seem to mistake vulgar for sexy. But those are subjective too, and it's not like other industries are immune to the trappings.

We agree on the identity crisis as well. Off on a tangent here, but I wonder if the crisis we're talking of might be a reflection of a similar crisis many in the developing country face. There are all sorts of socio-economic studies to back up either side of the argument, but here I go again with my supply-demand bit. :)

That scene from Blackmail is something! Was not aware at all, thanks for sharing. Talk about love in the face of major adversity, what larks! 0:)

We've talked about it often, but is it still a surprise that there's much ignorance regarding the many types of Bollywood films. As you well know, that kind of attitude toward Bollywood is sadly prominent even in India and among Indians elsewhere, it's disappointing.

I was secretly hoping that the Slumdog effect (no matter that I think SM is an average film) would spark more careful introspection into the world of Bollywood, but that doesn't seem to have been the case, at least not to a point where it is sustained. It's almost as if we're back to the 'same old' psyche. Would you agree?

Once again, thank you much. I have a *lot* of catching up to do over at yours.

bollyviewer said...

Nice to see you back after so long, tBF, and with such a thought-provoking post too!

You know how much I love Hindi oldies! I do like new films equally well, though. And based on what I have seen, I wouldn't say that Bollywood only ever made escapist fare. Low budget, experimental films, exploring new frontiers in cinema, were made in Bombay all the time. The only difference between then and now is that these experimental films rarely got publicised and almost never made it beyond the selective film festival circuits - largely because distributors refused to buy them. Now, with the advent of multiplexes, DVDs, and access to a huge NRI market abroad, these films have found new markets that are not at the moment completely controlled by these distributors. Plus, with big studios from abroad trying to break into the Indian market, there are more avenues open for financing and marketing of these films. And that is the only big renaissance that I think Bollywood is undergoing.

I've never paid attention to censor ratings for any film, so I cannot really comment on it.

As far as 'bold' goes, to me bold usually means going against current conventions in a constructive and sensible way - and sex is hardly a new or innovative thing to humankind! So kissing and bedroom scenes do not really impress me with their 'bold'ness. A 1930s heroine refusing to accept her marriage to a man old enough to be her father (V. Shantaram's Duniya Na Maane) - suggesting that women did have a right to fight against injustice of this sort; a portrait of 1850s Awadh showing how we Indians must bear some responsibility for our colonisation (Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Ke Khiladi); a bold look at how India treats her minorities (Mr. And Mrs. Iyer, Firaaq, Garam Hawa) - that's some of my favorite 'bold's, though they're hardly moments - more like entire films and themes!

What is your take on these questions? I would really like to know that!

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you for stopping by Bollyviewer! Glad to be back, and hope to write more movie reviews soon, I've finally gotten back to watching some! Long comment follows... (1/3):

Ditto on greater access to niche films, you're spot on there. Big studios will go where the greatest profit potential is, and India is of course up there now more than ever when it comes to yet-untapped potential in entertainment/tech and countless more segments. So it does and will continue to attract more investment in cinema, which will continue to encourage more experiments in film. I love the idea and the prospects. There's nothing wrong with having multiple streams of movie types (I'm trying to avoid the use of the word 'genres' here, but it might well be applicable). In fact, the more, the better. Greater competition is good for us consumers! :)

I still have an issue with the term 'Bollywood' being used to imply exclusively escapist fare. It holds true amongst many of us Indians, too, who sometimes consider it a derogatory term. For the non-Indians, it's made to be synonymous with 'musicals with happy endings'. There's too much of a generalization there, and it's only being culturally embedded in that fashion more and more. It bugs the heck out of me, FWIW. But then, I appreciate the issue might be with how *I* use the term Bollywood for *all* Hindi cinema -- that might not be appropriate to begin with. :)

theBollywoodFan said...

(2/3): The only time I pay attention to censor ratings is when I'm concerned with the extent of violence and gore in a film before seeing it in theaters. I'd much rather watch those on DVD with access to a FFWD button in that case. This applies particularly because I do like war movies.

I do believe there is an identity crisis out there. I think cinema is a micromosm of the society it's primarily for, and it's not that India and Indians aren't faced with living at the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures more than ever. Cinema trying to combine the elements can lead to some interesting and awkward results. (When done right, it can be a beautiful thing.) Then again, that movie products of the west are inherently better is an attitude that probably factors in too much for the filmmakers, who are just trying to please their audience to maximize revenue. So audiences are not void of accountability!

Completely agree on 'boldness'. We often find what we seek, and it's not like the various forms of boldness (not merely sexual...yes, that's as old as humankind, and my take there is simply that making love is so much better than doing the inverse! 0:) have not been in display in Hindi films over the decades. I'm definitely all for all portrayals, there ought not to be roadblocks in the way of filmmakers wanting to make any kind of film. (well, most kinds...I'm not too fond of films that explicitly promote hatred toward any specific group, there are enough politicians for that! :D) The problem is when the censor board loses its independence and caters to the filmmakers demands of assigning specific ratings. That's in shambles, but then, so is most of the courts system there. At the end, audiences are as accountable for what they consume. (I like the example of the fast food lobby -- if Big Macs lead to obesity, should McDonald's be at fault or the person eating one with fries daily?)

theBollywoodFan said...

(3/3): Absolutely *love* the examples of boldness you refer to -- there are a couple I have yet to see from that list, and that needs to change. I'd have a hard time picking one instance of boldness, but there's one scene in particular that I'm thinking of that has long-impacted me, from what we'd think would be one of the least likely sources (movie and actor) of outstanding bold moments. I'll hope to write about it and the movie in my next post. I also like some of the stuff Tabu's done, boldness in 'Astitva', for example, where there's independence of thought that stems from wanting to do the right thing, not just for the sake of being different.

Do you agree/disagree on anything in particular? I'm worried I might sound a little too conceptual in my opinions, so feel free to call me out if that is the case! Perhaps it's just up to us Bollywood fans and bloggers, and to a greater extent, film scholars whose academic research lends them more credibility, to demand more thoughtful, professional film journalism in the mass media. :)

Shell said...

What!? You are going to make me think? Well, I fear I may not be as intellectual as oig, but here's my take:

With the majority of my viewing repertoire from the last 10 years, I'm not sure how the industry has evolved in terms of it's sexual explictness, which seems to be the one factor that Rachel Saltz attributes to the evolution of Hindi cinema. I remember hearing that kissing in "Bollywood" films was not heard of and the first time I saw it I remember thinking "Oh my gosh, they're kissing". And then it happened in another film and another, etc. Then I saw clips from movies like Maya Memsaab and Kama Sutra and realized that that particular quotient has been around for some time. So for a so-called cinematic journalist to say that the new generation of film makers are pushing boundries now is ill informed.

I do believe that Bollywood does provide us with escapism, but no more so than any other film industry out there. Isn't that what film is all about? Every country offers movies that are filled with the improbable, whether revolving around romance, fantasy, drama - none of these movies are like my every day life. Even the more "realistic" films like perhaps Wake Up, Sid, provide me with escapism of some sort, because that's what it's suppose to do, just as Hollywood does with stuff like Inception or Avatar.

As for film ratings, I don't pay much heed. For me a movie is either rated as "I want to watch" or "I don't want to watch". My kids are too young to want to watch anything other than animation, with the exception of the latest live action Scooby-Doo, so there's not much need to focus on ratings.

There was a point where I thought that certain directors or producers were trying too hard to be "hollywood" with their films (Fashion for example seemed so unlike the Bollywood that I'd experienced up to that point), and I can certainly see elements popping up in film that remind me of the productions here. I rememeber posing the question not too long ago if Indian cinema was trying to parallel American film, and I think that, in some respects they are. I think more and more, filmmakers are focusing their efforts on making films that target the NRI audience, if only for the revenue that it can bring in. After all, at the end of the day movie making is a business. The best way to do this is to try and bridge the gap between western ideology and Indian values. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't, but no matter where Indian cinema is headed there will always be the producers and directors who want to make the Dabangg's and those that want to make the We Are Family's.

Can't think of any "bold" moments off the top of my head, though the suicide in 3 Idiots and the film's take on the educational institution come to mind. Boldness through film is subjective anyhow. I thought it was bold for filmmakers to keep casting Deepika Padukone in romantic comedies, but that's just me!

Great thought provoking post! Hope I didn't ramble on too much!!!

dunkdaft said...

Well, to me - cinema itself is synonymous with escapism. Why we have created it? For entertainment. To escape from daily boring monotonus life, escape for few hours in a different world that the books were creating way before cinema was invented. So I don't think Bollywood alone is escapist. Look further at other language cinema - movies that are most remembered - are themself escapist. Fictions, fairytales, Lovestories, sci-fi - everything. So I don't categorize when a movie is "Parellel" or "hat ke" or "arthouse". Its just the storyline and the scale of production, that makes the difference between the regular song-dance entertainer and a serious storyteller. Oh and if we go into the past - don't we see the b/w musicals that were made in Europe or US? Bollywood has just stuck the good old formula as well as making some great 'real' cinema.

And if we take [as filmigirl pointed out]case of junk movies of Bollywood - again, which industry does not have its share? But yes, only thing I am worried about present day Bollywood that they are turning towards 'being hollywood like' just because of the need of international market, and that is not done. Candy floss cinema with high production values are nice, but they are not going to stay in audience's mind for so long. Also Experiments should be in a way that one can't forget they are watching a Bollywood movie ! On the other side - happy I am tht some parts of industry has gone back to the masala - knowing that's the best we enjoy. And with brilliant new breed like Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Prasoon Joshi and many more - we aren't lacking of creativity.

Talking about censor ratings - one hardly take notice of that in India and that annoys me many times. Sample - me and a friend went for DevD and a family with teen girl, left the hall in first hour itself. You know why. May be this happens because makers rarely publicize the movie with its ratings. Like they do for International movies. Yes, credibility is also not that much - as action movies can get U certificate as it does not have much skin show. And with just three certificates [U,A,U/A] that is not enough at all.

'Bold' - while I go through the movies I grew up with - Mahesh Bhatt tops the list in terms of 'visually' bold cinema even in 90's - in a sober way 'Phir teri kahani Yaad aayi' had the first kiss I had ever seen. :) But as you and Bollyviewer said - being bold is just not about sexuality. And in that way the word 'bold' reminds me of Priety Zinta. Her debut in Dil Se.. was a bold one. You can't expect that a woman can ask her 'to be fiance' if he's a virgin ! I think that was a start when female characters has been treated something else other than mere a love interest for male lead.

Ah, quite a long comment here. Would like to know ur take on my take :)

gina said...


Just stopped by to read and saw this interesting post.

I do not think all of Bollywood is escapism though there are some movies which are. I loved watching Hrishikesh Mukherjee's movies and the ones with Farooq Shaikh in them...also movies like Jaano Bhi Do yaaron! Movies with Deepti Naval etc...though hardly remember names now. There is this old movie Bawarchi in which Rajesh Khanna stars...Anand...so many which are not escapist...Mr and Mrs Iyer too is a firm favorite and so is Sarfarosh.

As for bold...I like Arth starring Shabana and her potrayal which was so different from the stereotypical woman and Tabu in Astitva too..well you also have Zeenath in Satyam
shivam Sundaram...as an example for explicitly bold in the sensuous sense...even though her role was one of a village girl with a scarred face...then Mumtaz was bold too in her own way...so bold is not recent...then there is Phoolan Devi...you cannot get bolder than that!!

In fact old movies..with heroines as tribal girls had them wearing skimpy clothes LOL!! Sharmila Tagore was bold too..wore a bikini for a calender shoot etc..

I hardly look at censor ratings except to check if there is too much violence...which I cannot take...In my opinion some movies with explicit moves and pelvic thrusts and vulgarity get U certification as opposed to some which are given A certificate just cos some vulgar word was used etc...

There seems to be some identity crisis nowadays though with ppl like Karan trying to woo NRI audience and getting all confused...I guess we are all confused somewhere along the line about our identities and that shows..I find some of the present day movies so confused and trying to "be" something and failing to be clear in what they want to potray.

Just jotted down a few thoughts that came to me randomly. It made interesting reading as always.

Amy said...

Oh Bollywood Fan, how can it be that I have only just found your fantastic blog and you haven't had anything to say in almost two months?!? How can you leave this nouveau-Hindi Film Fanatic out in the cold?...enough blubbering. I can't intelligently answer your questions because, although I had seen Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding in years past, it has only been in the last few months that I have really become a fan. And it isn't because I saw SlumDogMillionaire and mistook it for Indian cinema. Haven't even seen it. After watching MNIK this week, I took the time to watch the DVD extras incl. what was titled "Changing the face of Bollywood" wherein Karan Johar gives his own answer to your question #3. He spoke with what sounded oddly like contempt for the very brand of movie he's generally known for, movies which I happened to enjoy a lot and that have brought him success. There is enough variety in the Hindi film industry as it is without actually trying to go art house pretentious (not that I saw Khan in that light, in fact I really liked it). I find using Hollywood movies to judge the value of any other film industry pretty smarmy and pointless. It's like trying to compare two different world cuisines and claiming one is superior to the other. We all come to the table, or theater, with our prejudices and cultural experiences. So to call Bollywood movies mindless escapism is sadly centric thinking. But I also agree w/your readers too who say that what movies aren't a form of escapism in one way or another.

And I have to thank Filmi Girl for the link to the scene in Blackmail. Proves movies can be sexually charged without all the details. You are absolutely right, vulgar is not sexy.

Until you post again I'll continue to watch on...but please come back soon!

theBollywoodFan said...

Shell! First of all, my deepest apologies for this extremely late reply. Do forgive.

Ref: The sexual explicitness, it's really the lack of completeness of the information presented, I think. It'd be nice if there were a clearer distinction made, then, between the commercial versus the experimental or even arthouse.

Regarding the escapism, absolutely! On a related note, some of us were discussing the need for a talking animal in an upcoming Hollywood movie (which may or may not be made), for which some of us are unofficial "fan consultants" (hint: it's a superhero flick), and even statistically viable polls showed a split because of escapism. The catch? This superhero and animal might live on another planet! How's *that* for being in denial over escapism? 0:)

Great point about the Dabanggs and We are Familys, completely agree there.

And LOL at the Deepika comment, it's well received by *this* Deeps fan ;) Bold, indeed, no matter how we look at it!

Truly appreciate you stopping by, thank you so much! And again, thanks for bearing with my delayed response.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hey Darshit! Cinema for entertainment, you say! It's difficult to argue against that being the primary purpose, I think most would agree there. Interesting thought about not classifying films into specific genres, too often we box ourselves into those silos.

See, balance is always good, and there is enough room for different types of films to succeed. Definitely agree on the talent. (But try saying that to the Indian cricketing board, LOL.)

Sometimes I feel Bollywood is a lot more vulnerable than others to trends -- Aamir makes a successful film on a special-needs child, so others try it. Same can be said about other styles, SRK's included. The mere last name Khan included. The Angry Young Man era included. So many more. While that's acceptable and often just good marketing (if it sells, why change?), it still takes its toll on what the producers/directors/actors might otherwise have made.

I don't like how we handle movie ratings, it's seemingly always been like that. Everyone is guilty of that, I think, even Aamir and how he handled Ghajini. Perhaps it's just culturally acceptable when it comes to violence, do you think? And Dev.D's marketing campaign or even simply the website, for example, might be enough to make one realize what its content is like. I guess at some point we the consumers ought to do minimal research -- even if it's watching the trailer -- before going into the theater.

We agree on boldness, then. An example here...when 'Dil Se' released, I was in high school. And of course the talk was all about, who *is* that girl in 'Jiya Jale'? ;)

Sorry for my late reply here, buddy. And as always, thanks for your visit and comment!

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Gina: Thank you much for commenting! I'm very sorry for my super-late reply here.

All valid points, great examples from movies too, thanks! I loved Bawarchi starring Rajesh Khanna! Glad you mentioned Tabu, she's a favorite. :) Would you believe I haven't yet seen Satyam Shivam starring Zeenat Aman, I've clearly missed out on one of the bolder movies, eh?

Interesting comment about violence and censor ratings. It'd be nice if they made it more than just fodder for news headlines. And I guess Karan would be the poster-child of filmmakers who target the NRI population as much as another.

Your comments made for very interesting reading too, thank you again!

theBollywoodFan said...

Amy! Hello there! Welcome to the blog, and welcome to Bollywood fandom! I'm back (I think, LOL) and hope to blog more often now. Thanks for your kind words. :)

Appreciate you sharing your path to fandom. Thanks also for the heads-up on Karan Johar's segment in the MNIK (you're using acronyms already!) DVD. Karan is an interesting fellow, to say the least. He's obviously shaped and contributed much to the industry over the past 15 years or so, and it's good to see him at least try something different (relative to his own works, of course) recently, with varying results, as one would expect.

Couldn't agree more with this:

"I find using Hollywood movies to judge the value of any other film industry pretty smarmy and pointless. It's like trying to compare two different world cuisines and claiming one is superior to the other. We all come to the table, or theater, with our prejudices and cultural experiences. So to call Bollywood movies mindless escapism is sadly centric thinking."

Great, do visit again, new post is up at this link.


Shell said...

And LOL at the Deepika comment, it's well received by *this* Deeps fan ;) Bold, indeed, no matter how we look at it!

tee hee! I really liked her in OSO, but she's failed to impress me since. However, I still think she is gorgeous all the time!

theBollywoodFan said...

Perhaps she needs to do another film opposite Shah Rukh? She was fab is OSO, definitely her best.

I missed Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se last month -- a period film by Ashutosh Gowariker is enough to want to see it, let alone one starring Deepika!

Dolce and Namak said...

I keep meaning to reply to this post and never seem to find the right words: I must have opened it at least 10 times, sorry for messing up your stats :P

See, for me, because I'm a fairly recent Bollywood watcher, it's all about the 21st century. And as such, I find it to be a bonanza of boldness! So many different films on so many different topics, I love it! I don't think there is one film or one scene that makes me think "wow, that's bold" (even though Pankh is definitely worth a watch, so I am seconding that recco! I also thought Big B was pretty darn ballsy to play Auro. But I digress...), to me it's more about appreciating how many different directions Bollywood has gone into in these 10 years. The fact that if asked I can recommend a few well-done movies in almost every existing genre pretty much says it all for me. I'm all for diversity, the more stuff they try, the happier I will be. Some will work, some will not, but it's fun to see the efforts. having said that, "different" topics are nothing new, they're just more mainstream now, that's the only difference.

In regards to escapism, I'm with dunkdaft above: all cinema is escapism and that's not a bad thing. Sure there's the never ending debate between whether art is meant to entertain or to educate, but neither goal prevents most films from being a work of fiction, and thus a world that does not have to mirror our own. Aren't most books escapism, and are we not supposed to lose ourselves in them regardless of the topic? That said, there are scenarios that ring true to us as viewers and then scenarios that are just out there, so the amount of "reality" or, I'm gonna invent another word here, "realness" that goes into each film is certainly something that can be debated as well, and also something that depends on the viewer ultimately. I've shaken my head in front of many a character in a Bollywood film, to then be told by a desi friend that people like that are all over the place and it is not uncommon for them to do whatever I was shaking my head at. So to go back to the article: escapism and surreal for Westerners? Perhaps. But would someone in India laugh their head off at the realness of a film like Office Space like we do? Hard to tell...

And as you can see I managed to fill up a lot of space without actually answering your questions, but at least now I won't haunt this post anymore :D