Bollywood- flavour of the decade

Monday, 21 August 2006

Isn’t it amusing how Bollywood and things Indian have become the flavour of the decade in the West? It probably started with the movie ‘Monsoon Wedding’. Though there were other Indian themed films that preceded it (‘Hollywood Bollywood’ and ‘Missisippi Masala’ and ‘Bhaji on the Beach’ come to mind), I think those were largely to do with the expatriate or immigrant Indian in their adopted homeland (desis). ‘Monsoon Wedding’, though, was set in India with a very Indian story (well, North Indian, anyway), captured the imagination of Aussies and stoked this fascination with things Indian. Understandably, many Aussies now think that ALL Indian weddings are done with the extravagance and colour of the one in MW. And that can lead to disappointments when, as in one case I know, they land up at a traditional tambram wedding.

Also happening was the the inclusion of bhangra riffs into the music of Madonna and other popular songs. Suddenly the rhythms of bhangra and very Punjabi songs were everywhere.

Soon enough, pucca Hindi films were being screened and watched. Movies like Lagaan and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (aka ‘Braveheart Will take the Bride’ on the World Movies cable channel!). In Sydney Hindi movies screen at theatres all the time, most in Hindi with English subtitles. These cater largely to the India migrant and student community but a small but growing number of Aussies will make the effort to get out of their comfort zone to go see one.

Last weekend, on the box office best-seller list, at No. 7 was Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna! In fact friends of mine went to see the film at a multiplex where two cinemas were showing it and the sessions were sold out. I don’t think that has happened here before. Mind you it’s mainly Indians actually watching the films, but awareness of them has mushroomed among the janta.

And then there’s the chai phenomenon- never has so much chai been marketed to so many Aussies! You can get ‘Chai Tea’ in the supermarkets and ‘Chai Latte’ in suburban coffee shops. Even Lipton now has various flavoured teas on sale. Mostly, chai means masala tea. Which again is funny, because apart from Bombay or Gujarat, masala tea is hardly a ‘staple’ in India. So continues the re-interpretation of India…

Finally, it’s now to Bollywood dance! There is at least one studio in Sydney that teaches Bollywood dance and now I hear of this one in Melbourne in this programme from Radio National (pod-cast available). And of course, there was the cringe-inducing Bollywood star populated number at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Is that the key image that India want to be remembered with now?

Oddly enough, when I was growing up in India, we’d hate to go watch Hindi movies as they were so tacky, with formulaic themes and dripping with overwrought emotion. And that’s not to mention the songs which, if they were any good, I preferred to listen to on their own rather than in the context of the film. But now everybody loves Hindi movies and perhaps that’s a good thing. I like my wife’s insight- to watch them on DVD so the bad bits can be fast-forwarded. She wouldn’t go to a theatre to see a Hindi movie, at least not yet.

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