Sunday, November 25, 2007

why Bollywood does suck

Last weekend, I watched a Bollywood movie (this one is called Fanaa) for the first time in four years or so. The last movie I'd seen before that was Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, during the summer in which I spent a month in London with relatives. Not only did I fall asleep three quarters of the way through it, I only saw the part of it I did because I was resting in the room in which the other girls were watching television. The last movie I'd seen before that was probably sometime during early childhood.

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.

BS Factor:
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


aceware said...

I agree with several of your points regarding the films of Bollywood. Looking at it from a westerner’s point of view they are often tedious, redundant, and the story line unchanging. I remember when I was taking film studies, my friends and I would look at the creative techniques used by the director and script writers, and although the plot is never changing, you have to admit that there is an absolute charm in these films. Although I laugh occasionally when it is inappropriate in these Bollywood productions, like throughout the dance sequences, I would have to disagree with you that they are actually quit entertaining. In fact for me, the dance sequences are usually the highlight in a Bollywood production. P.S. Your right, Bollywood needs new male leads.

Heina said...

Whether or not a movie is entertaining is relative. Of course people find Bollywood entertaining, hence its success and popularity. Just because something is entertaining doesn't eliminate its flaws, especially when those flaws are perpetuating stereotypes and degrading women.

Anonymous said...

Bollywood does have many flaws. They were showing on TV the other day how Salman Khan is payed 25 crores for a certain film, while a female actress is usally paid 3 crores at most. What's worse than the movies are those serials in Zee tv and Zony tv, etc.
The protagonist women are always seen wearing traditional clothing, following traditions, refering to their husbands using "Aap" while the husbands call them "tum"
The wives will die for husbands who apparently don't give two pennies about their welfare.
And the antigonist women will be western influenced, go out party, etc.
Indian media really does need a wake up call

Ridha said...

the movies are just plain boring, the only reason why some people like them is because they havnt seen anything better or they dont understand the plot of other more serious engilish films, i watched a hindi film and my god it was 4 hrs of nonsense, it dragged on longer than it should have, the acting was corny and ubelievable,the plot is never original always the same boring predictable love story, it was actually painfull to watch i was just woundering what do people see in this?? i guess some people just like the singing and the lil outfits could have sworn thier just trying to sell clothing

sjallali said...

See! what these movies are doing is nothing but fooling the naive ppl to day dream and i think that is the main reason why mostly south east asians are so clueless about certain realities and sensitivities about real life. Getting rich overnight, becoming a PLAYER among girls in no time, playing dumb and genius at the same time, breaking gravity rules in stunts that look like crap ( even worst than some kung fu movies from 80's) and list goes on and on. Simply.... all those flaws just don't cut it for me. I watched the most loved movies by my desi friends "Devdas" and i slept through half of it because it was so corny and fake. I just don't see Bollywood movies a good source of entertainment PERIOD.

Anonymous said...

Bollywood may sometimes seem cliche in some aspects or redundant to some, however it is their culture, tradition, and undying love that they are able to portray. For example Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998 w/ Kajol and Shahrukh Khan)was the first movie I saw and it made me believe in the word love. Not the word that is tossed around freely and candidly by most people nowadays, but made me believe that soul mates are real and despite the circumstances, that you guys will find your way back to one another. Bollywood movies don't suck (well the one's nowadays may be an exception) they show what you can never find in American cinema: culture, tradition, and values.

Neil Jhonson said...

The eternally lovely Aishwarya Rai Bachchan beats off hot competition to make it to No 2. Priyanka Chopra is at 3 while Deepika and Kareena follow at 4 and 5 respectively.

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Anonymous said...

All bollywood movies suck fucking shit. Put the complicated equipment away you emotionless talentless sweaty drones. I say this as an indian ashamed by what these three hour marathons of McEmotion, McDrama and McAction have done to paint all us indians as fucking insane clown dancing psychos aching to get married.