Another Lens

Thoughts and Observations in India

Bollywood, an Introduction January 10, 2009

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Ghajini, a poster

Ghajini, the poster

Coming to India, I knew there were a few things that I needed to experience. This list included yoga, sitar, chai, and BOLLYWOOD. The Indian film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), christened Bollywood, grosses second only to Hollywood in the world-wide film industry. The Bollywood style distinguishes itself with song and dance numbers, often used to convey an emotion, a la montages in U.S. cinema. The films are often more light-hearted, much more PG, and tend to be more fantastical in their interpretations of reality (to say the least).

Ghajini was my first foray into Indian cinema. An adaptation of the American film Memento, the film follows Sanjay Singhania (played by Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan) through his romance with Kalpana (Asin), until she foils the criminal attempts of Ghajini, who quickly has her killed for her meddling, and gives Sanjay a head injury that gives him severe short term memory. The rest is about Sanjay’s attempts at revenge given this impediment. I haven’t seen Memento (I gave nothing away, by the way. Everyone knows that plot point before the movie even starts), but have heard that this movie is nothing like it, even excluding the song and dance numbers. I also have very little Bollywood to compare it to, as I have yet to see any other Bollywood films. However, I’ve been told that it’s an extremely Westernized Bollywood film. But I’ll give my impressions nonetheless.

It was amazing. By that I do not mean that it was a good movie (it won’t make you think, it wasn’t artful in any way), but instead that it was sheer entertainment. From the first moments of current-day Sanjay’s morning exercise routine (accompanied by over-the-top Latin opera), to the love-struck song-and-dance numbers (complete with pelvic thrusts), everything was over-the-top and just fun. I should also mention that Khan is apparently some sort of sex God here. The moment his face hit the screen, the people in the theater cheered. This was repeated tenfold when he first took his shirt off. Hilarious. There’s one song in particular that I can’t get out of my head, which will give you a little taste of the movie as a whole. It is meant to convey how crazy the main character, Sanjay, is about Kalpana (again, music to convey emotion).

The movie is being haled in Indian newspapers throughout the country as “the return of Indian cinema,” as though it went somewhere. I find it interesting that “the return” is marked by a “Westernized” Indian movie, but I suppose that’s a thought for another post, after I’ve experienced more of Bollywood. It’s just now out in theaters here, but if you’re in the mood for a movie that won’t make you think, that’s just for fun, I highly recommend it. I had a ton of fun with it. It should be available for your Netflix queue within the year. A few observations: at the beginning of every movie in an Indian movie theater, a scanned image of the stamped approval form from the Indian censorship board (the Central Board of Film Certification) hits the screen. Also, before the movie begins, everyone stands for the Indian national anthem. I don’t have an opinion on either thing (except that censorship is the source of all evil); I just thought it was interesting. Different.