Thursday, July 22, 2010

How do you watch Bollywood?

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.

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.

3. Masala-style

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?


honeycombveils said...

I find it hard to predict if I would like a movie based on category alone... In general I care less for the Masala movies, and if you would've asked me a few short months ago I wouldn't have believed it myself, but who'd thunk it that my favorite movie of late is the disastrous, deliciously hilarious "Yaadein"?
Go figure.

Gauri said...

Hi Filmi Girl.. Lovely Post. Would like to add one more category (my least favorite), a type of movie that AV Club snidely referred to as the "middlebrow" once. These are the Oscar-baits in the Hollywood style of film making and -lately-the Aamir Khan movies in Bollywood, which are supposed to make a viewer think he has seen something special or feel intelligent, but are really only surface deep.
Give me unironic masala over the self indulgent middlebrow any day..

Anita said...

LOL! I love how we have become each other's opposite-o-meters. ;)

I am totally Team Shahrukh, though I do love me my Luck By Chance!! I don't think my family and I have ever been ones for masala films. I would almost call Team Shahrukh/Karan Johar the NRI movies, which is probably why I tend to go for them, as do many of my friends. :)

redsarah said...

Oh no, I think I'm middlebrow lol. Thought overnight about what I love in a film and decided my 5 requirements are;
1. A hero I lust after, obviously (and a heroine who to some extent deserves him).
2. A full emotional workout - I want to laugh, cry, fear, the lot.
3. Lush interiors or stunning interiors (or both) and at least one scene where everyone wears gorgeous clothes - if I want grime I can just go stand in the gutter, thanks.
4. At least 1 song that I can't get out of my head. Even if that's Zooby Dooby.
5. And this is the difficult one - a plot that works . So if you raise something serious, resolve it. And no characters suddenly acting completely against character. Because I can happily suspend disbelief through endless pratfalls and dishooming but not in the teeth of a lazy scriptwriter's gaping plot hole.

Is this all too much to ask?

eliza bennet said...

Looking at this I realised that I'm eclectic in my Bollywood tastes too. I actually love all the films given as examples in the post.

There are few films I genuinely dislike and these are films such as Drona (bad film making, indepent from country, genre, actor etc. simply bad filmmaking) or Kambakkkt Ishq, lazy film making. Also I tend to dislike films with unnecessary busy cinematography - such as Dev D, despite that fact the filmmaking is neither bad nor lazy, just not preferance.

P.S: I guess "Ms.Briganzaaaaa" does not count as a comedy sound effect :)

redsarah said...

Ooops, that was meant to be "stunning exteriors". I'm not some crazed cushion fetishist, honestly!

Anishok said...

LOL at eliza bennet's comment on "Ms. Briganza" :D KJo is guilty of the occasional comic sound effect ("She wants your money" in KHNH also comes to mind).
I love KJo-style movies and artsy stuff like LBC, but sometimes I just want to pop in Koyla and enjoy the crazy :) I'd say I'm open to anything if it's done with conviction and is emotionally touching.

Kaitlyn said...

What Ani said.

I would never have watched a movie like Jodha-Akbar, Asoka, or Mangal Pandey before Bollywood - but now I'm watching movies from all genres and LOVING IT.

Though Ghajini vs. RNBDJ? I enjoyed both but only want to rewatch the latter... for right now. That may change.

Who says taste is set in stone?

Janeheiress said...

I love these categories, but just curious, where would you put Lagaan? I think it has elements of all three. I suppose it is more of an exception to the rule.

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
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