So, it goes without saying that I am not exactly a big fan of Bollywood movies.
Firstly, they're all inevitably musicals. I hadn't developed an enjoyment of Western musicals until my senior year of high school, and then I quickly tired of the clichés of musical theatre. I do like some musicals now, but I'm quite picky as to the ones I'll sit through with any measure of enjoyment. Bollywood musicals are even worse than Western ones as far as clichés go. For example, each song must include scene shifts that incorporate the Swiss Alps (although that might presumably be due to the fact that the Alps are less troubled than the similar-looking Kashmir), many outfit changes, and endless posing, culminating with what a friend of mine once dubbed the infamous "affectionate hug:" where a Hollywood film would put a kiss between the leads, Bollywood uses its supposedly-chaster substitute. At least in Fanaa, the movie was set in Kashmir, so the gorgeous setting (if actually the Tatra Mountains, not Kashmir itself) was justified plot-wise.
The hug brings me to my second point: the seemingly arbitrary censorship of sexuality in the films. Fanaa's pivotal love scene involves a lascivious (no other word will do) dance in the rain, followed by a scene where the hero and heroine kiss each other all over the neck and shoulders and then are seen lying in bed together. It's obvious what has happened, especially considering the fact that they essentially agree to no-strings-attached love in the scene before and they agree to marry in the scenes to come (not to mention the kid she has later on, but that's not the point). Aside from the very sexy dancing that occurs in Bollywood films, the costuming is quite sultry as well. Fanaa's heroine is a blind Muslim girl and so is usually quite conservatively attired, but in other movies, skimpy attire is often the rule rather than the exception. Here's the kicker: kisses on the lips are not considered "decent" and so are almost banned from Indian cinema. So, writhing around in revealing little outfits is OK, but not even a brief liplock is allowed (of course, all this is changing)? Mmkay.
Thirdly, in spite of the implicit (if flexible) ban on displays of consensual affection, the thwarted rape scene is a standard of Bollywood cinema. It goes something like this: a girl is nearly raped by the villain and is saved by some male hero bursting in. She usually falls in love with the man who saves her. A woman screaming for help as she is about to be violated by a mustachioed man leering over her nubile form isn't obscene, but a kiss between two happy people in love is?
I'm sorry, I was puking a bit there. Onward, since I think the point is made.
Stereotyping is the fourth reason I dislike Bollywood films. Hollywood does this too, but in the flat fantasy world of Bollywood films, it seems more heavy-handed somehow. Suketu Mehta writes in his article:
Growing up in Bombay with the movies, I had come to understand Muslims as lovable, Christian girls as flirtatious, Sikhs as loyally martial, Parsis as endearingly cracked. The movies trafficked in broad stereotypes, but they were, for the most part, good-natured stereotypes.
As many a sociologist has pointed out, even a "good" stereotype is actually bad. The harm in stereotyping is not so much that it casts a particular ethnic, racial, religious, or other group in bad light, but in that a stereotype is an over-generalization that can be true or untrue depending on the individual. Additionally, the descriptions that Mehta describes are all of minority groups within India; the majority group in India in general is Hindu. Thus, Hindus are cast as the norm whereas minorities have labels thrust upon them, similar to the way in which white heterosexual maleness is the norm in Hollywood against which all difference and deviance is measured. Fanaa, for all its flaws, doesn't seem to do this much. The demureness of the heroine is more attributable to her blindness and sweet nature than to her religion, and, oddly enough, her father is portrayed as a drunk (or at least a drinker) in the latter half of the movie.
Fifthly, the sexism inherent in the Bollywood film industry is unsettling to me. Siliconeer put it very well back in 2001:
Bollywood is nothing if not sexist. Male stars can grow old but can still cavort with adolescent nymphets, but just let a female star get married and tongues are wagging. Some wonderful female stars have managed to buck this double standard with the sheer heft of their talent—Dimple and Rekha, for instance, but the double standard is well and truly alive.
Shahrukh Khan, an actor who's been in the industry as long as I've been alive, still gets cast as the "hero" in recent films, whereas older women in Bollywood (as in over twenty five) are left, as this blogger says, "playing elder sisters or spinster aunts, relegated to the background where younger (but talentless) leads steal the limelight. Roles for women are much better now than they were a decade ago, but sexism and marginalization still exist." It's a reflection of unfortunate reality: women are valued in Desi society mainly for their beauty and youth prior to marriage, since such attractiveness leads to marriage and motherhood (i.e. further propagation of the culture).
Last, but not least, I dislike the sheer predictability of the movies. Their plotlines are as follows, according to this Facebook group:
1. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's rich and I'm poor and our families hate each other."
2. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's Muslim and I'm Hindu and our families hate each other."
3. "I want to hook up with this girl but she's already in love with my best friend."
Pretty accurate, if you ask me.
All the back-up dancers that no one ever sees again (pretend Aishwarya Rai isn't there)
Coming soon: a response to a conservative Muslim's criticism of Fanaa and, by extension, other Bollywood portrayals of Muslims or why Bollywood doesn't suck