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Hooray for Bollywood

[1]2,096 words

May 7, 2003

Sick of Hollywood? Try Bollywood. “Bollywood” is the world’s largest film industry, the Indian film industry, centered in Mumbai (Bombay). My first exposure to Bollywood was over lunch in an Indian Chaat House. A music video compilation was playing on a big-screen TV, and I was totally captivated.

Although the words were all in Hindi, with no subtitles, the messages and emotions were universal and immediately intelligible. The videos fell into two basic categories. One type featured Western style pop music with contemporary clothes and settings. The influences of MTV, American advertising, and American pop culture were strong and obvious. The other type featured more traditional-sounding Indian music, costumes, settings. But both types had a lot in common.

First of all, they featured elaborate, large-ensemble choreography that has not been in vogue in Western films since the 1930s. Second, none of these videos displayed a shred of cynicism, irony, sarcasm, or coarseness, but rather idealism, sincerity, playful humor, and decorousness that have disappeared from Western movies since the early 1960s. Third, all the videos were centered on wholesome, romantic, sentimental boy meets girl, boy pines for girl, boy woos girl, boy marries girl themes. Fourth, many videos featured large, multigenerational families and communicated messages of filial piety and solidarity. How many happy grandmothers have you seen in MTV videos? Fifth, the caste system was in evidence: the lead actors usually are fair-skinned and have European features. Some even have blue and green eyes. The fairer dancers were closer to the cameras, while the darker ones were buried in the back.

I went right out and purchased a couple collections of Bollywood music videos. But it took a long time before I actually sat down to watch a full Bollywood movie. They tend to be long. There is a bewildering array of choices. And, finally, virtually every major Bollywood movie is a musical. But I am an opera snob, and I really hate most Broadway and Hollywood musicals. So I thought I would find a whole Hindi musical boring and ridiculous.

I was delighted to discover that I was completely wrong. Indians take musicals seriously and produce large numbers of them, whereas in the West musicals are few and far between, and like Moulin Rouge and Chicago, they are played ironically. The kind of uninhibited romantic sensibility that makes it seem natural to burst into song and dance has no place in contemporary Western movies, but it flourishes in Bollywood.

I have now seen half a dozen recent Bollywood musicals — admittedly not a basis for very strong generalizations — and I am totally hooked. I wish to recommend two in particular, Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham (roughly: “Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad”) and Devdas (named for the main character). These are good places to start.

Devdas is my first full-length Bollywood movie. It is a truly great movie that I strongly recommend to all my readers.

I am told that Devdas is uncharacteristic because of its portrayal of unresolved family conflict and bleak, tragic ending. But I chose it because it is based on the 1917 Bengali novel of the same name by Saratchanda Chattopadhyaya (1876-1938), and I had already read and enjoyed his novel Srikanta. Chattopadhyaya is a great writer, the inventor of the modern Indian novel. Yet Devdas, like Srikanta, is a profoundly subversive work, attacking Hindu traditions, e.g., patriarchy, arranged marriages, the caste system, by showing how they tear apart two star-crossed lovers, Devdas and Paro. But, like Romeo and Juliet or the novels of Jane Austen, Devdas is a subversive classic, which in today’s culture seems quite conservative.

Devdas takes place primarily in Bengal in the early years of the 20th century. It is set in the palatial mansions of fabulously wealthy Bengali zamindars (land-barons) and in a brothel frequented by aristocrats. The plot is quite simple: Devdas and Paro were childhood sweethearts. When Devdas returns after years of studying in England, they begin an intense courtship, but their match is opposed by Devdas’ parents, especially his stern and cold father, on the grounds that, although Paro is of the same caste and social class, her mother is from a long line of temple dancers, which makes her an unsuitable match (an eminently sensible aristocratic prejudice against show biz types also found in Western Aryan societies). Devdas’ mother nevertheless cruelly leads Paro’s mother to think that a match is in the offing, only to rebuke her in a public and humiliating way. Paro’s mother defends her honor in an absolutely riveting and powerful scene, then vows to marry Paro to an even better family than Devdas’. Devdas knuckles under to his family and cuts his ties with Paro, only coming to his senses after she has been married. He then moves in with a famous courtesan, Chandramukhi — who falls in love with him, even though he spurns her affections — and turns to the bottle. And although both Paro and Chandramukhi try to save Devdas, the ending is unrelentingly tragic. This movie is a two-hanky tear-jerker, and is almost symphonic in its orchestration and development of small events and running themes into emotionally wrenching crescendos.

Devdas has a huge cast of distinguished Indian actors. Devdas is played by Shahrukh Khan, the leading male actor in India. Khan is not all that handsome, though his puppy dog features seem to appeal to teenage girls, but he is a fine actor with genuine charm and who sure-footedly traverses the range from cartoonish humor to heart-breaking tragedy. The green-eyed Brahmin Aishwarya Rai, the 1994 Miss World, plays Paro, Devdas’s childhood sweetheart. Madhuri Dixit, one of India’s most distinguished actresses, plays Chandramuki.

Devdas is one of the most visually opulent movies I have ever seen. The sets are not just palatial, they are outright palaces. The large-scale musical numbers are dazzling, and the costumes and jewelry of the lead actresses are as stunning as the actresses themselves.

[2]Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham (K3G for short) is every bit as good as Devdas, with fantastic musical numbers and a much happier ending. As the box says, “It’s all about loving your parents.” K3G is set in the present day New Delhi, primarily in the palatial mansion of business tycoon Yashovardhan Raichand and his wife Nandini (played by real-life husband and wife Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan).

Yashovardhan is an immensely impressive patriarch. He deeply loves his wife and two sons, Rahul (Shahrukh Khan) and Rohan (played by tall, athletic, green-eyed heart-throb Hrithik Roshan). He deeply respects his mother and deceased father and the traditions of his family. He governs both his business and his family according to these traditions, and he is an absolute ruler in his household. (Bachchan is a towering, bearded man with a deep voice, whose eyes appear to be dark blue or green in one scene.)

The film falls into two parts that take place about ten years apart. In the first part, set in New Delhi, Yashovardhan decides to arrange a marriage between Rahul and the daughter of a close family friend without even consulting his son. But he discovers that Rahul has fallen in love with Anjali (played by amber-eyed beauty Kajol), the gorgeous but klutzy and gauche daughter of the family nanny. Yashovardhan feels humiliated in front of his friend and desired daughter-in-law and betrayed by his son. And, to add insult to injury, Anjali is not an appropriate match. The two lovers stick together, however, and elope to London. Yashovardhan disowns Rahul, and the family is broken in two. This is especially traumatic given how close Hindu families traditionally are. Yashovardhan’s elderly mother laments that she will be unable to face God until her family is brought back together.

In part two, set primarily in London, the second son, Rohan, now all grown up, vows to bring the family back together. The London sequences are sometimes rather disturbing. They are heavy on Western consumerism and tackiness, particularly the character of “Poo,” Anjali’s now grown-up little sister, who is played by Kareena Kapoor. Kapoor has a nice figure (fleshy in all the ways that promise fecundity), but is not really pretty. Her face is too wide, her lips too big, and her nose too long. (Indians will forgive a lot in a woman with emerald green eyes.) She is made positively grotesque with her trashy Western clothes and makeup. I think that these scenes are generally satirical, sometimes clumsily so, trying to portray Western popular culture as shallow, trashy, and un-Indian, but sometimes I am not so sure. There is clearly a great deal of Indian nationalism in this movie, and a lot of hostility to the English. (English people should see this movie. It might encourage them to make the Indians “Quit Britain.”) Well, Rohan uses a bit of trickery, helped by an opportune tragedy, and succeeds in reuniting the family, with a three-hanky tear-jerker ending (and a Big Fat Hindu Wedding under the closing credits).

I am thoroughly impressed by the healthy and tasteful treatment of sex and romance in these films. There are some very sexy, very romantic scenes. There are hints of the sado-masochistic aspects of normal heterosexual intercourse. But there is nothing the least bit crude and pornographic. Even the brothel scenes in Devdas are quite decorous. Indians still realize that the erotic involves concealing as well as revealing the physical aspect of sex. Eroticism is sex (nature) with something added on: the products of the imagination. So when, in Devdas, Shahrukh Khan removes a thorn from Paro’s foot or gives her a scar by striking her with a heavy pearl necklace, or, in K3G, when he slides bracelets over Anjali’s hands, asking again and again, “Am I hurting you yet?,” the effect is far more erotic than the clinical nudity and mechanical humping so routine in even the best Hollywood films today.

Another impressive feature of Bollywood films, even very modern ones, is their treatment of religion. Hindu myth, Hindu piety, and Hindu festivals are everywhere, and they are treated with a dignity that is seldom seen in contemporary Western films. These are not films about religion. There is nothing preachy or didactic about them. These are films about life, and in India Hinduism is an important part of life. What the audience holds sacred is not mocked.

Bollywood films take some getting used to. It can be wearying to read subtitles for more than three hours — especially when you don’t want to take your eyes off the screen. As in all foreign films, there are culture-specific references that leave one puzzled — although, frankly, there are more of these in the average half-hour British comedy than in a three-hour Bollywood film. And nothing much hinges, for instance, on knowing precisely what is meant by unscrewing a woman’s nose ring. That it is a euphemism for sex is clear enough.

Since all of our tastes have been corrupted by Western popular culture, a lot of things in these films (besides people’s penchants for bursting into song and dance) will seem “corny”: sweeping melodramatic gestures, comic relief, asides to the audience, dramatic soliloquies, inspired, often beautiful, poetic language, and impossibly witty, rapid-fire repartee. In short, all the hackneyed devices used by bunglers from Sophocles to Shakespeare.

Why does Bollywood portray sincere emotions, wholesome, marriage-oriented heterosexual romance, traditional family values, sane racial distinctions, and dignified religious piety, while Hollywood does not? Because, for all of its Western borrowings, Bollywood is a genuinely national cinema. Bollywood seems to respect and uphold Indian values. But Hollywood is in the hands of a foreign and hostile nation, the Jews, who are using it to mock, undermine, and ultimately destroy White American society.

Bollywood films may look radically foreign. But, in substance, they embody the values of a healthy Aryan society. Hollywood films, by contrast, may have a more familiar look. But the values they push are profoundly alien and pure poison.

I pride myself on my ability with words, but I really cannot do these films justice. You must simply see them to appreciate how much we have lost by allowing Jews to control our popular culture.

(By the way: I am glad to import Indian movies, visit India, and host Indian visitors. But I do not want to import any Indian immigrants, thank you. There are more than a billion Indians with a whole subcontinent to themselves, quite enough room for them to propagate their own cultures and branches of the Caucasian race. Their presence in the homelands of Western Aryans is unwelcome because it makes it all the harder for us to propagate our own genes and cultures.)