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Bollywood - The History and Key Elements of Bombay Cinema; With an Excursus on Gurinder Chadha's Cross Cultural Film "Bend It Like Beckham"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 21 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introductory words and various general facts about Bollywood

2. Always the same film-formula – the recipe for success “’Star Wars’ couldn’t have been made here: No one gets married.” “’Mission Impossible’? Not without a dance number.”
2.1 Commerce

3. History of Bombay cinema

4. Non-resident Indians
4.1 The satellite and video invasion – Non-resident Indians and their favourite leisure time activity

5. Indian women’s traditional roles in real life and on screen
5.1 Gurinder Chadha – An excursus on women’s roles and Western and Bollywood elements in “Bend it Like Beckham”

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

Cover picture taken from Academy award winner “Lagaan” (www.Lagaan.com)

1. Introductory words and various general facts about Bollywood

“East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet!” (Rudyard Kipling)

It cannot be denied that the division between these opposite cultural poles exists – but, when reflecting on the Bollywood subject, one has to disagree with this famous quotation by Rudyard Kipling as the Indian cinematic world proves that the East and the West can be in unison. The films of this branch are not only influenced by their homeland’s folk tradition, they are equally affected by MTV’s video styles, young fashion and – of course – Hollywood movies. Likewise, it is true that the Indian spirit has recently become perceptible in Western civilization. Nowadays’ music, clothing and film industry – to name just a few – seem to be more and more inspired by South Asian culture; Indian is said to be “the funkiest trend around”[1] (Sardar, page 14-17).

As we shall see, both poles approach one another. Is it any surprise then that especially non-resident Indians, living in the Western hemisphere, are the centre where both cultures meet? Indian-English director and producer Gurinder Chadha portrayed this mixture of Western elements and Bollywood flair successfully in her latest movie Bend it like Beckham (2002). Among other questions, for example those about the history of Bombay cinema, the film industry’s costs and contents of typical Bollywood epics, this paper will also deal – in an excursus – with this particular movie.

Some general pieces of information about this special film industry might, first of all, provide readers with basic facts necessary for this subject. Every day, 11 million cinemagoers visit 13,000 cinemas across India and, what is more, thousands of Indian films are watched day by day by millions of non-resident Indians living abroad – generally, in the UK or the US. Film business is India’s 6th largest industry (inter alia after textile industry, food industry and chemical industry), over 300,000 workers are employed in it. As in every country of the world teens between 12 and 24 are particularly attracted by the film glitz – India makes no exception in this case (Ninian, page 235). An astonishing amount of 800 films is produced in Bombay[2] every year – compared to Hollywood’s 400. Therefore, Bombay’s film production calls itself Bollywood – simply as an ironical sideswipe at the West. Bollywood basically stands for the Hindi film industry located around this 11.5 million people metropolis. Bombay is the second largest city in India and considered by many as the actual capital – this is certainly due to the fact that Bombay’s film branch is by far the most commercial and influencing one, although other regional film companies, most of them in the south, exist (The Economist, Issue 8183, page 57f).

The reason for the success of Bollywood movies remains still obscure. In his essay, named Bollywood, Alex Ninian tries to find reasons for its triumph, namely by suggesting that this rich mix of Indian myth, tradition, religion and history creates an exceptional uniqueness which is incomparable to other countries’ cultures. Furthermore, Ninian illustrates that arts like poetry, music, painting and drama are joined together and that all these provide the Indian film branch with an exclusive and individual character (Ninian, page 236). The controversial author Salman Rushdie found a very precise and creative term that sums up the subject of Indian films perfectly, describing it as: “Epico-Mythico-Tragico-Comico-Super-Sexy-High-Masala-Art” (Salman Rushdi, 1995 in “The Moor’s Last Sigh” quoted in Mishra, page 2).

Another argument we should take into consideration when regarding Bollywood’s triumph is the fact that in a nation, in which 5 per cent or even less of its population are able to read, the only access for the masses to prose and poetry is to watch Bollywood films and to listen to the ornate style dialogues and lyrical songs. Thus, it is no coincidence that some film stars gain more attention from the public than politicians do. Logically, some of them secured this initial advantage by putting their foot in politics and are now running several organizations in India (Dasgupta, page 173-190).

In the following section I will rethink the subject of success more detailed while the key elements of Indian epics will be presented. Furthermore, I will look at the commercial situation.

2. Always the same film-formula – the recipe for success “’Star Wars’ couldn’t have been made here: No one gets married.” “’Mission Impossible’? Not without a dance number.”

In his article “Inside Bollywood”, Lewis M. Simons sums up the typical plot of Indian films, which is nearly always the same, with the following satirical words:[3]

“[…] boy meets, wins, loses and regains girl, during which time they run through vast wardrobes, turn up at locations all over the world, kiss (rarely) but in no other way indulge their passion, serenade each other with no fewer than six songs, and join chorus lines in half a dozen dance numbers. While all this is going on, family crises erupt and are settled, murders are committed and solved, cars are chased and destroyed. Oh, and the good guys win.” (Simons, page 46-55)

Surprisingly, Indians never get tired of watching the same scheme of love triangles and family tragedies again and again. Love, hate, sorrow, disgust, joy, compassion, pity, pride and courage, coupled with a lot of song and dance, coincidences and a rather “black and white” characterization are the fundamental principles of Indian cinema (Simons, page 46-55; Mishra, page 35ff).

Not only can regular film-goers predict the happy endings of most Bollywood films, but they also wholeheartedly cry each time the love between the hero and his girl in a “light-coloured sari” (Aftab, page 88) overcomes family intrigues at the end of the story (Kaur, page 201). It must be stressed that, especially in rural communities, Indian girls and boys are still tightly controlled by their parents; even holding hands is often forbidden to them. This might explain why audiences love to see people expressing their feelings on screen (Marquand, page 1).

Taking all these facts into account, the question should be raised again, why these typical contents of Bollywood epics are still a guarantee for the success of the Bollywood machinery although the story is always “recycled” or rather repeated. One answer may be that this is mainly because Bollywood films provide an escape from the severe Indian everyday-life, the harsh reality, into a created film world in which all problems are solved in the end and the characters on screen get rich by a lucky chance. It is little wonder that India’s poor population wants to have a temporary relief from reality and worries and does not want to see an imitation of their life in form of pictures. Since especially the rural populations are desperately poor and often live in strict patriarchal families of old-fashioned, medieval style, they long for positive illusion (Marquand, page 1). According to this, the editor of the film magazine “G”, Bhawana Somaaya, states that,

“When they’ve tried to make realistic pictures about the poor and the middle classes, they get miserable attendance. […] Rural India definitely is not interested in movies about rural India. And the affluent, educated in urban India, are looking […] to New York and London.” (Bhawana Somaaya, quoted in Simons, page 46-55)

To sum up the last paragraph, it can be said that impoverishment causes a certain hunger for cinematic illusions and helps to forget the feeling of resentment if only for a limited time[4].

Whereas many critics underline the aforesaid, namely that Bollywood film plots are not reflecting reality, Ravinder Kaur’s article Viewing the West through Bollywood: a celluloid Occident in the making involves judgements illustrating the contrary. He says that although only a part of India’s reality is presented in Bollywood blockbusters and problems such as droughts and famine in India are mainly left out, the films nonetheless do reflect the life of a representative urban middle class household[5] (Kaur, page 208). Bollywood movies have always centred around the affluent milieu of the upper-caste and middle-class Hindus. Long-established family rituals, such as engagement and marriage ceremonies, Mehndi rituals[6] or the welcome of a newborn child, take place in innumerable scenes. But these scenes are at the same time different from the films of the previous decades – the capitalist influence is becoming more and more obvious. The way the luxury food and drinks are captured by the camera – i.e. slowly gliding over western chocolate bars and soft drinks – is an absolutely new kind of shooting. This kind of camera take clearly reflects India’s “policy of economic liberalization” (Alessandrini, page 324); which causes the effect that people get the impression that the country has still much wealth, although in reality the unemployment rate has been increasing since 1991.

[...]


[1] Examples for Bollywood slowly entering the western world can be easily displayed: Andrew Lloyd Webber successfully produced his new musical Bombay Dreams, Monsoon Wedding was a hit in Western cinemas, the album The very Best of Bollywood Songs recently reached the UK charts, the BBC’s advertising campaign includes colourful trailers with female Indian dancers and Pot Noodle even created a new flavour named Bombay Bad Boy (Sardar, page 14-17; Shamsie, page 26-29)!

[2] At this point it is necessary to point out that Bombay is actually the old fashioned British Empire form of Mumbai. Nowadays, the latter form is the one which is politically correct. In this paper context the name Bombay is used to indicate the connection between Bombay and Bollywood.

[3] Quotation taken from Robert Marquand: “Hooray for Bollywood’s tales of love“ in Christian Science Monitor; 10/20/99, Vol. 91, Issue 227.

[4] Tanuja Chandra, famous director of Bollywood epics, defends its simple and romantic formula - boy meets girl - the following way: “Indians all know they have another hard day tomorrow, so if you want a commercial blockbuster, you have to do a love story, […], people want complete fantasy, a world minus problems. We don’t see anything wrong with that” (Tanuja Chandra, quoted in Marquand, page 1).

[5] In addition, Ravinder Kaur even affirms that “the belief that popular Indian cinema is removed from reality is misplaced” (Kaur, page 208).

[6] Rituals in which women’s legs, arms and fingers are highly decorated with henna-ornaments.

Details

Pages
21
Year
2004
ISBN (eBook)
9783638294515
File size
631 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v27389
Institution / College
Dresden Technical University – Institute for Anglistics
Grade
2,0 (B)
Tags
Bollywood History Elements Bombay Cinema With Excursus Gurinder Chadha Cross Cultural Film Bend Like Beckham Hauptseminar Asian British Culture

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Title: Bollywood - The History and Key Elements of Bombay Cinema; With an Excursus on Gurinder Chadha's Cross Cultural Film "Bend It Like Beckham"