Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Back to Bollywood-business-as-usual.

Almost everyone to whom I mention my recent interest in Indian movies has made a comment of some sort characterizing them as charming/entertaining-but-lightweight.  Fun and silly.  These must be people who have only seen a film or two, or only a few clips, or maybe nothing at all.  And maybe Bollywood is best-known for its light entertainments, the brightly colored costumes and the singing and dancing.

But as a whole, is Indian cinema any sillier than American cinema?  Think about all of the silly and downright stupid American movies: the unbearable romantic comedies, the cheesy horror movies, the smutty, the obvious, the violent.  TV movies, disease-of-the-week movies, everything that goes straight to video, the endless dreadful sequels.  America makes a lot of movies that are not only silly, they're awful.

Most Indian movies, of course, have many faces.  A three-hour movie will have drama, romance, crime, singing, beautiful scenery...they don't call them "masala" (spice mix) for nothing.  Maybe people consider the singing silly; there are certainly American musical movies, but they generally provide some "excuse" for the singing: the characters are musicians, the characters go into a nightclub, etc.  It's not like, let's say, the first musical number in Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap, where the old gangster shows the young gangsters that he's a cool guy and an "original" by singing and dancing.

Now, I haven't yet seen a ton of Indian movies, but I know I've seen some serious ones, some without singing, and some "masala" films dealing with serious themes.  One of the latter is Veer-Zaara, a romance between a Pakistani Muslim woman and an Indian Sikh man. 

By far the best non-singing movie I've seen is Sarkar, which is a "tribute" to The Godfather.  (Some Indian filmmakers actually remake movies, and others bill their movies as tributes to a movie from which they lift heavily.)  I thought this movie was astonishing.  There was plenty borrowed from The Godfather, altered to be a little simpler and more Indian, but what was truly astonishing was the look of the film.  Everything was framed and lit very particularly and carefully, and there was something in the photography (probably some mix of film stock and exposure -- I'm not too knowledgeable about those things) that was very crisp and contrast-y.  It wasn't an American look, and it didn't look remotely like anything else I'd seen in Indian film.  I'm hoping to see more Indian films with that kind of originality.

In the meantime, I'd love to see some American eyes open a bit more.

And to utterly change the mood, here's a very silly picture:

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