This time, the culprit is Newsweek magazine with this article called "Bollywood Gets Real" by Jason Overdorf.
The crux of his argument is that Bollywood is ditching the candy-floss mass entertainers for grittier fare and he uses the success of Kaminey and Dev.D to back up his argument. The article is illustrated with a picture of the (white) Kalki Koechlin dolled up as the prostitute Chandra in Dev.D.
First of all, let me list out the highest grossing Bollywood films of 2009 so far and their genres for you, just to give a sense of perspective.
1. Love Aaj Kal - modern romance
2. Wanted - Southie masala remake
3. Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani - straight up Bollywood romance
4. New York - middlebrow thriller
5. Kambakkht Ishq - raunchy masala comedy
6. All the Best - clean masala comedy
7. Blue - action
Not too much indie here.
I'll go through the article but before I do, my interpretation of the Newsweek piece is that Mr. Overdorf feels like finally Bollywood is putting out movies that he understands. And then Mr. Overdorf confuses "accessible to Western audiences" with "good."
Here is Mr. Overdorf on Kaminey:
But for aficionados of the Hindi-language genre, Kaminey is a revolutionary manifesto. It takes classic Bollywood tropes—estranged brothers, a case of mistaken identity, high drama approaching slapstick comedy—and presents them with Hollywood-style realism instead of Bollywood's wink-nudge mix of melodrama and posturing. At the same time, Bhardwaj makes clear that he sees Kaminey as a counterpoint to the terrible films Bollywood has churned out over the past two decades.
And it's clear that he is referring to "aficionados" who have never seen, for example, the excellent Parinda - which did much of the same thing... back in 1989. Or even Johnny Gaddar in 2007.
So, I'm just going to assume that by "aficionado" he means "watched some Benny Lava videos and youtube."
And I would like to know how many of these so-called "terrible" films Mr. Overdorf has actually seen. What are the cultural politics at play when an American writer can dismiss two decades of Bollywood cinema as "terrible" without presenting his credentials to make that call? Has Mr. Overdorf suffered through Hum Aapke Hain... Kaun! I doubt it. What about Aishwarya Rai's remake of Umrao Jaan? Probably not.
Then again, I doubt Mr. Overdorf has seen the good films - Rangeela, which also plays with the conventions of Bollywood narrative, or even something like Main Hoon Na.
And does the industry that churned out not one but TWO Transformers movies plus a movie based on the comic strip "Garfield" really have all that much clout in calling every single Bollywood film from the last twenty years "terrible"?
For years, as competition from satellite television and Hollywood has hardened audiences to the old formulas, Bollywood producers and directors have been striving to create a new idiom that retains the charm of the genre's classics but is fresh enough to pack theaters. With a few exceptions, they've failed.
And what data is he even using to justify this statement. So, every film from the last twenty years has flopped? I'm assuming Mr. Overdorf didn't attend any of the packed screenings of Om Shanti Om at his local Indian movie theatre. And talking about revitalizing old formulas, what do you call the Saif Ali Khan genre? Hum Tum, Love Aaj Kal, etc. etc. have basically changed how romantic comedy is done. There could have been no Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (#3 this year) without Hum Tum.
But now a new crop of young directors, led by Bhardwaj, is reinventing the Bollywood film. Their movies still have songs, but the characters no longer lip-sync, and the dance sequences have a natural, unchoreographed feel. They've scrapped the cheesy multicolored costumes and are more likely to set their films on gritty streets than in glamorous mansions.
Right. I don't even know where to start with this. First of all, there have ALWAYS been movies like this in Bollywood. This isn't some new trend. Kora Kagaz didn't just miraculously time travel back to the 1970s after some Hollywood-inspired savior created it this year.
With the exception of New York, which is a unusual film, the rest of the top films of 2009 feature lip synced songs, garish costumes, and plenty of rich people who live in mansions. And, you know what, people still liked them. While not every film on there is my cup of tea - *cough* Blue - I laughed my head off at Kambakkht Ishq, which utilized tons of things on Mr. Overdorf's "no-no" list and I wasn't the only one.
It's like Mr. Overdorf can't understand that people LIKE lip-synced songs, garish costumes, and elaborate mansions. Who cares if it's "realistic" or not?
The new wave of competent, realistic, story-driven films is already beginning to overshadow the big-budget projects at the box office. This year both Anurag Kashyap's Dev.D and Kaminey outperformed Chandni Chowk to China. In 2008, little, innovative flicks like the terror-plot drama A Wednesday and Rock On!, the story of a Mumbai rock band reuniting for one last gig, earned better returns than more conventional Bollywood fare like the superhero action flick Drona.
Okay, here he is playing with the facts. Both Chandni Chowk to China AND Drona were sold as Hollywood-like. I remember this distinctly. You can't now go and call them conventional, because they weren't. Wanted is a conventional masala film - Drona was not. Drona was hyped as being just like a Hollywood film - check out this promo piece for an example - NOT as a conventional film. And CC2C was said to "bridge the gap" between Holly and Bollywood. Again, NOT conventional. In fact, one of the many complaints against CC2C was that the songs were shortened. SHORTENED.
Everyone is trying to lay claim to the new Bollywood, whether through feebly acted, poorly written films like A. R. Murugadoss's Ghajini or savvy hits like Kaminey. But the challenges remain great. "The headwind we got on Kaminey was incredible," says Screwvala. "It took everything we had to keep it going and market it and get it out there." It's the kind of triumphant ending that makes you want to break into song.
DON'T MESS WITH GHAJINI!!!! Somebody is just looking for a smackdown - Ghajini, the BIGGEST GROSSING BOLLYWOOD FILM of ALL TIME is not good enough for Mr. Overdorf. No. Possibly because it features lip-sync songs.
So, in Mr. Overdorf's world - Ghajini, the biggest grossing Bollywood film of all time, is a joke. And Kaminey, which did very well with the critics and but wasn't really embraced by the Indian public, is the new face of Bollywood.
This just speaks to the disdain that Western cultural critics, like Mr. Overdorf, have towards things that are popular in other countries. Just because Mr. Overdorf doesn't understand the appeal of lip-synced songs and melodramatic acting, they must be worthless. Because Chandni Chowk to China and Drona flopped, they must be "conventional" films.
Mr. Overdorf, I would like to see the research you did for this piece but it looks to me like you didn't do any at all.