Confessions of a Bollywood Fan

- by Patricia Rosemoor

I’ve been a movie junkie ever since I was a kid. Every Friday, Mom would pick me up from school and we’d go to see a double feature. Movies have been a part of my fantasy life every bit as much as novels. So several years ago, when I started reading snippets about Bollywood movies or saw references to them on television, I was engaged, especially since I had an idea for a spec novel that was partly set in India.

Two years ago, Om Shanti Om played at a couple of theaters in Chicago, and a friend and I went to see this three hour spectacular with an intermission–it was like watching the old double feature with Mom. It had everything: drama…romance…music… comedy…murder…reincarnation…revenge. I was hooked. I found a new use for Netflix, which seemed to carry every Bollywood movie ever made.

The thing is, Bollywood movies are very different from American movies, and it’s not simply that they’re often cross-genre and filled with color and music and dance. The protagonists show great respect for their elders. They sacrifice their own wants in deference to those of the people they love. They are honorable and filled with incredible emotion. Men aren’t afraid to cry. All fascinating differences. Watching a couple of Bollywood movies every month increased my interest in the culture. I wanted to know more. I wanted to experience the texture of the country about which I wanted to write.

And so, two months ago, when the opportunity to travel to India came up with author-buddy Rebecca York, I grabbed it and quickly found the country was as different from the US as are Bollywoood movies. Yes, there is a Slumdog Millionaire component to the country. It’s something that I, as a privileged American, had difficulty overlooking. It gave me a whole new perspective on poverty and homelessness.

But despite the difficulties, the overcrowding (17 million people in Delhi), joblessness (36%), and homelessness, the Indian people were polite and smiling and hopeful and sweet, just like they are represented in the Bollywood movies that I’ve been watching. Eighty percent are Hindu, which means they believe in rebirth and in creating one’s own future life by the good or the bad that one does here and now. There are temples everywhere.

And forts and palaces, though some of the latter are now hotels. I know because I stayed in two of these fabulous bits of paradise.

Majarajas may not have political power, but neither are they a thing of the past. Neither are the four castes, though officially caste discrimination is outlawed–several people made sure to inform us they were warrior caste. The roads and fields are filled with color–women in brilliant, beautiful saris.

They’re also filled with animals–cows (sacred), dogs, camels, goats, monkeys, peacocks.

When taking some down time, I would watch television—not the English language channels, but the Hindi. My favorite was the all-Bollywood, all-the-time channel that mostly ran music videos filled with dozens of dancers wearing eye-popping costumes. Indian television reminded me of why I had developed my fascination with India in the first place.

What an incredible experience, one I will always remember and write about. And the next Bollywood movie I watch will transport me back to India, if only for a few hours.

4 comments

  1. Sounds like you had a fascinating trip! I like Bollywood films, too. My favorites are Bride & Prejudice and Bollywood Hero. I love the colorful dancing. It’s a unique style.

  2. Yes, it was a fantastic trip. I did put up some pictures at http://www.rebeccayork.blogspot.com.

    Yes, a tremendous divide between the haves and the have nots there. And all the animals. I felt like the elephants and the camels had to work hard. And I looked at all the cows wandering around city streets and wondered what they were eating.

    People keep asking me if I’d go back. Actually, I’d like to. Too bad it’s so far away.

    Rebecca

  3. My wife and I are very good friends with a couple that were born in India, in fact I worked with both of them. They introduced us to Bollywood by loaning us a DVD. I put it in to watch one night as my wife settled in with the newspaper. I looked over after a few minutes and saw she was hooked.

    For me it’s like watching a flashback to the golden age of Hollywood, the 40s and 50s. Bollywood combines the best of it all. In an age where movie violence is sensationalized in the US, these movies aren’t graphic at all. You can still feel for the characters without watching them get disemboweled by the villain.

    And then there is the music.. Ah, wonderful. Even the dramas, the cop movies have music and songs and dancing.

    Every time our friends went home to visit they would bring us back a few of the current favorites. It was like Christmas.

    Sadly they have moved on to Australia, partly because it is closer to home and family but we still keep in touch through the Internet. We hope to visit India one day with our friends as our guide. Now that would be the best.

    Thanks for a great article.

  4. bollywood movies are nice and cheeky, that is all i have to say `’,