Among the many things I’ve been mulling over in this empty head of mine is the difference in HOW we Bollywood fans watch movies. Especially after many conversations with Anita that are basically me saying “I love this/I hate this!” and her saying “I feel the exact opposite!” And yet we both love Bollywood.
I should qualify this by saying that of course things aren’t really so black and white when it comes to matters of taste but I do think there are three general ways to watch Bollywood and these different types of films tend to butt heads every year, giving us our big filmi showdowns like the Khan Heavyweight Battle of 2008: Ghajini v. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. The media plays it up as Khan v. Khan but my theory is that there is something more at play than just a preference for Shahrukh or Aamir. This is Bollywood, remember, and (to misquote Freud) an actor is never just an actor, he’s a HERO.
And I do like films from all three categories - I’m not trying to bash anything here, just explore.
1. Karan Johar-style
This is your Team Shahrukh right here.
To me, the Karan Johar-style of films are the more realistic, romance and family-centered dramas that really came into their own in the mid-1990s but have grown in popularity since then. Think of something like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or Love Aaj Kal. These films share a lot with Western romantic comedies but with a specific North Indian feel and more of a mythic overtone than Western romantic comedies have. The keyword here is Hollywood-realism. Karan Johar has managed to synthesize Hollywood realism with a Bollywood-style of filmmaking and that hybrid style has caught on with the multiplex audiences and people raised on Hollywood movies.
The acting in Karan Johar-style films is a bit more naturalistic than in other Bollywood films; the comedy is less slap-sticky; and there is no dishoom-dishoom. There are no comedy sound-effects and the scope of the films is very narrow - focusing on family only. Larger socio-economic or political questions aren’t brought up but neither are our baser instincts pandered to - there are no items songs here and nobody is slipping on banana peels.
2. International film-style
These are different from the traditional art house or parallel cinema films because they are made to appeal to more of a mass audience. These are films made to the world-wide standard for “good” movies - things like Luck By Chance or 99 are examples. (These are also the films that I think could do very well in American art house theaters.)
And it’s not just a recent trend - something like the original Umrao Jaan would fit into this category, too.
Realistic, dealing with Important Things, and made with a subtle hand - these are the films you can hold up when people say Bollywood only churns out crap because these are the kinds of films those people like.
If you know me, then you know that this is above and beyond my favorite category. Masala-style films are blatantly unrealistic and extremely over-the-top in tone - the kinds of films where a Hero can beat up 50 guys and then magically teleport to an exotic location to shake his pelvis at Mumaith Khan (who will make the camera bounce). While they almost always hinge on a romantic plot line, there is usually some larger issue at play, whether it is corruption in politics, corruption in the military, medical problems, or just the general unfairness of life.
If the plot doesn’t allow for something, don’t worry, the writers will fit it in anyways. Story meanders through side characters and comedy subplots and more often then not the end does not really satisfy the dramatic tension of the beginning.
(But I don’t care since I’m just in it for the ride.)
No Bollywood movie is just one thing or the other but most Bollywood movies are mainly one of the three. Every once in a while you get something like Veer-Zaara, which is a nice combination of Karan Johar and International or Kaminey, which was Masala and International, but those cross-overs don’t come very often.
So, what do you think? Am I on to something? Which of the three is your favorite?
Note from Filmi Girl:
I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.
If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.
xoxo Filmi Girl