Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Smash: "A Thousand and One Nights" (Alternate title "I thought all brown people were the same.")

Will Darcy: I'm a hopeless dancer, but this looks like you just screw in a light bulb with one hand and pat the dog with the other.

Lalita Bakshi: You know what? I suggest you find yourself a simple, traditional girl to teach you to dance like the natives.

Bride and Prejudice, 2004

In case you (like me) don't follow American pop culture, then you (like me) probably missed out on the television show Smash, which (according to wikipedia) is a musical about the production of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe.

This is the Smash take on the Bollywood song picturization style. If I understand correctly, is part of a dream sequence initiated at (where else) an Indian restaurant.

At first glance, the theme of the song seems to be the wedding dance from Bride and Prejudice crossed with imagery from A Thousand and One Nights.

[One of the characters rubbing a magic lamp... you know, like in BOLLYWOOD.]

At second glance, that appears to be exactly what they've done here and I'm not even sure how much more I even need to say about this except that "A Thousand and One Nights" reveals the creator's massive ignorance of what a Bollywood picturization actually is.

Bollywood song picturizations are not just weddings and boys teasing girls. They range from Veena Malik doing sexy ethnic camp in a light bulb bra to Hrithik Roshan in the backseat of a car, just barely lipsyncing. They can be fantasy, reality, or something in between. They can be fast, slow, romantic, friendly, angry, familial, nostalgic, inspirational, sexy, cute, ugly, boring, tired, and/or non-existent.

A quick youtube search can reveal all that and more.

Using the Bride and Prejudice wedding song as a template is lazy but at least Gurrinder Chadha was drawing on real Bollywood songs. The wedding dance where boys tease girls and girls tease boys under a giant chandelier while relatives look down from around tbe massive staircase exist in spades in the 1990s movies that she was drawing her inspiration from.

Which brings me to the real disturbing part of this song.

[What Smash thinks Bollywood musclemen look like.]

[What an actual Bollywood muscleman looks like - note the modern setting and complete absence of lamps, fans, genies, or Arabian nights.]

Really, the most ignorant part of this whole song is the conflation of BOLLYWOOD with campy Orientalist imagery ripped directly from Disney's Aladdin. The choreography mixes the Bride and Prejudice wedding dance with belly-dancing - an Arabic, not Indian dance style, the costuming on the women seems more appropriate for a production of Kismet than the sets of any recent Bollywood film I've seen (and where are their dupattas?!), and the only time I've seen lamps used in a Bollywood song* was in Devdas - and no genie popped out.

Most Americans don't know what Bollywood is but that is no excuse for this crap. So, here 
is my advice to the Smash songsters if they want to do another Bollywood song:

1. Ditch the Arabic imagery. It makes you look ignorant.

2. Don't try for camp imagery because if you don't know what it is you're mocking, you just look ignorant.

3. Pick a specific genre of Bollywood song and work with it. There are a lot to chose from and it can be overwhelming, so try to stick with something identifiable. Do you want to do Hero introduction songs or running the Swiss Alps songs or wet sari songs or wedding songs or club songs or (my personal favorite) item songs? Pick ONE style.

If you can't do these things, don't try to do Bollywood.


* Not counting the Bollywood version of Aladin, obviously.


OG said...

haha FG, did not think you would do a post about it.......

When I saw it initially, I did not think much of it except that the heroine looked scary.....her eyes..... especially.

Readind your post made me notice things I ought to have noticed when I saw it first! ROFL!

Jess said...

Costumes were lame and glitter-less. No one looked like they were having fun (esp. that main guy). The dance moves seemed disconnected from the song. They were explicitly eating at a South Indian restaurant...which makes all of this even more silly.

The annoying part to me is that this is many people's only exposure to something vaguely Bollywood/Indian and it sucks.

2025f29c-8e91-11e1-9d3d-000bcdca4d7a said...

I don't know much about Bollywood, but even I noticed there was something wrong with an Indian song called "A Thousand and One Nights." Although, I thought the song was kind of catchy (I know, I hate myself for it). It actually kind of reminded me of the Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol...I digress

Very good post, they deserve every word of it.

Miss Yujin said...

I thought all that ignorant crap might be a reference to how clueless/obnoxious Rebecca Duval ("Do you have anything without peanuts?") is. But that might be wishful thinking.

Dhak-Dhak Girl said...

This makes The Guild's "Game On" - look quite good. There's even a cheesy South Indian hero-film style fight scene, complete with the sound editing.

Thelondongirl said...

er.....i thought that show was cancelled! if it isnt why not?

allanjay said...

Wow, the depths of your shallowness amaze me. This was not intended to be an authentic Bollywood number – after all, it takes place in the daydreaming mind of a young American woman from Iowa, sitting in an Indian restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s a parody – just like the parody a few weeks ago of modern performance art (“Touch Me”). Give the show’s creators – and Raza Jaffrey – some credit. And try to look beyond your own narrow perspective.

Oh, by the way, the number was filmed in a well-known New York synagogue – another thing certain to inflame your provincial cultural nationalism.

Filmi Girl said...

@allenjay Really, whoa! MY provincial cultural nationalism? Dude, I'm a white American.

Also, IF this was supposed to be a "parody" it fails because it has no idea what it's parodying unless it was supposed to be parodying what ignorant Americans think Bollywood is, in which case it STILL fails because 99% of the response that I read of this took it as being a "Bollywood" number.

And Raza Jaffrey ain't got nothing on your average Bollywood backdancer. Fact.

allanjay said...

Provincialism knows no ethnic or racial boundaries. In your effort to protect purity, you’re closing your mind to all sorts of potentially enriching possibilities. You’re letting your own views of what is “appropriate” and “authentic” stand in the way of a clear-headed assessment of intention and effect.

Of course it’s a “Bollywood number,” in the same way that “If I Were a Rich Man” in Fiddler on the Roof is a “klezmer number” – that is, not at all. And yet that show did more for klezmer music than all the purist klezmer-loving music critics in the world combined. And, if you haven’t noticed, the reaction to the Bollywood number on Smash has been overwhelmingly positive. And I’ll bet that many of the 50 or so million people that see the episode will be moved to actually find out more about the real Bollywood – that is, if they aren’t scared off by your vitriole.

Of course Raza Jaffrey is no Bollywood backdancer, he’s a West End musical theater actor. Fact. Again, take things for what they are, not for what you wish they were, or think they should be.

You are letting the best be the enemy of the good – or, perhaps, letting purity be the enemy of admiring imitation.

Filmi Girl said...

@allanjay Dude, there is a difference between wanting to protect "purity" (something Bollywood itself has NEVER aspired to) and pointing out ignorance/quasi-racism.

You must have missed the point about the conflation of ARABIAN NIGHTS and BOLLYWOOD - two completely separate things from two different parts of the world with two different cultures.

Pointing that out is vitriolic?

And I must have missed the song they were "admiring" with their "imitation" because that number from Smash looked NOTHING like any Bollywood song I've ever seen. Ever.

(Raza Jaffrey may be a West End actor but he's no Bollywood dancer. That's all I was pointing out. You can just drop an actor of South Asian ethnicity into a role and call it "Bollywood." That is called racism, my friend.)

You obviously are determined to defend this piece of shit song and I don't feel like bickering with a brick wall, so please refrain from doing so further on my blog.

Anarchivist said...

Don't want to sound bickery, especially since I have no interest in ever watching "Smash," but my impression was that the whole thing was supposed to be an homage to the Andrew Lloyd Weber "Bombay Dreams," which starred Raza Jaffrey. Thus I would expect this to be a lighthearted take on what Broadway's version of a Bollywood musical number would be, and I wouldn't expect it to be authentic as such. Of course, I have no real interest in seeing "Bombay Dreams" either, so I can't vouch for its authenticity or lack thereof. But as for Raza Jaffrey being "Bollywood" or not, well, he's worked with Farah Khan, Dalip Tahil, and A. R. Rahman, and I haven't, so I guess I'm in no position to judge.

Filmi Girl said...

@anarchivist Your input is always welcome! I don't mind pushback one bit - provided it's thoughtful. ;)

If this was Broadway's crappy take on Bollywood, like Dreamgirls was Broadway's crappy take on Motown - I would roll my eyes and maybe bitched a little bit (I am me after all!! LOL!) but I can accept that Broadway has its own style. And lord knows Bollywood appropriates and Bollywoodizes things often enough. ("Pretty Woman", anyone?)

The two things that bothered me about this particular number were the ridiculous and quasi-racist Arabian Nights imagery and the way that Smash pushed the song (and critics/audiences received it) as "Bollywood."

Does that make sense? Take away the Arabian Nights imagery and the everybody calling this song "Bollywood" and I have no problem with it as an homage to "Bombay Dreams."

The problem is that's not what they did.

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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