Beth Loves Bollywood Interview: Part Two

Posted on 30th June 2015

Our fabulous Chakra theatre/movie offer is still on folks – with customers getting 20% off their bill if they've been to the Print Room Theatre, the Gate Theatre, or the Gate Picturehouse. Just flash your ticket and you're good to go! Nothing beats a great film, so we've been exploring the wondrous and colourful world of Indian cinema this month. To top it off and finish up, here's the second part of our interview with Bollywood expert Beth Loves Bollywood, enjoy!

Why do you think Indian cinema isn't more popular/mainstream in the UK and the US?

I think it's because people here have heard that the movies tend to be long(er) and, to naive ears, it sound like the kinds of 1930s-50s films we'd call "musicals", which, of course, are not everyone's cup of tea. And, of course, trying any new kind of art requires you to put aside what you think you know and what you expect based on the art that's been a part of your life until that point, and that can be an unwelcome amount of brainwork for people. You probably have some friends who won't go see any film that has subtitles, regardless of where it's from or what it's about. Like so many things that are unfamiliar to us, we lean on certain stereotypes because stereotypes are easy to deal with.

Beth Loves Bollywood

Have you witnessed any particular shifts or trends in Indian cinema over time? (E.g. are the heroes different or remarkably similar to what they have always been? Have there been specific issues picked up on which reflect shifting attitudes in India? Have films – by and large – got obviously more or less serious? Etc.)

The usual statistics say that over 1000 movies are made in India every year, so even if I stick just to Hindi films (between 200 and 300), it's so hard to generalize. For every example I could give of a film that is, say, very feminist, there will be another released that same year that is very regressive in terms of social issues. It's probably safe to say that overall production values have risen notably in the last dozen years or so, so films actually look a bit more like our domestic products in the megaplexes. Special effects look more like what we expect (and please note, I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing – I'm very charmed by special effects in older films that didn't have computer graphics or big budgets for complicated models etc.). And, of course, changing social values mean changes in what stories are told and how they're told. For decades Indian films have shot sequences in foreign locations; now there are more films set, sometimes entirely, outside of India, and films are also written and marketed to appeal to the massive and relatively wealthy non-resident Indian population around the world (very notably in the UK, of course, but also the US, Canada, Australia, UAE, and parts of Africa and Europe).

What are your personal top 5 Bollywood films and why?

  • Parvarish (1977): This often-overlooked masterpiece from India's finest masala director of all time, Manmohan Desai, has everything you could want: brothers on opposite sides of the law, heroines who justify their pickpocketing with communist philosophies, a comic love song about suicide, fake blindness, and a stalactite-coated villain lair with a pit of acid and a permanent installation of go-go dancers behind a translucent red wall...with a communications outpost on a submarine.
  • Aiyyaa (2012): Feminist, subversive, sexy comedy. I'm amazed this film even exists as a full-length Hindi feature (expanded from a Marathi short film by the same director), and it is glorious and mind-blowing. It tanked at the box office and elicits extreme reactions (mostly negative).
  • Sharmeelee (1971): Gorgeous vintage style is the sugar-coating on a complicated lesson on contrasting values (traditional/modern, shy/brash, truthful/dishonest, brave/frightened, community-oriented/self-centred).
  • Main Hoon Na (2004): The ultimate Farah Khan love letter to Bollywood...through the perfect performance by Shahrukh Khan.
  • Kaala Patthar (1979): Legendary director Yash Chopra examines redemption, service, and heroism in the ominous closeness of a coal mining town.

What should people look out for when picking their first Bollywood film to watch? Are there any specific things to know before you launch into the world of Indian cinema?

I'd probably recommend something that fits the person's interests/likes in films generally. If you love musical numbers, go for a film with really great songs and stars who can dance well. If you love chase scenes, choose one of the action-oriented films from recent years. If you like period dramas with big love stories or big battles, you'll find those among Hindi films too.

Can you sum up why people should explore and experience Indian cinema in one sentence?

Try a different take on the human experience, told with spectacle, emotion, and lots of entertainment.

SO there you have it folks. What are YOUR favourite Bollywood films? Are you with Beth on her choices? Have you never seen a Bollywood film before and reading this has piqued your curiosity? Whatever the case, we want to hear it! Get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!

>Beth Watkins is a Bollywood blogger based in Champaign, Illinois. An expert in Bollywood history and lore, as well as contemporary cinema, she has written for, and been featured in, the Wall Street Journal, First Post, The Sunday Guardian, India Abroad, and the Times of India as well as a range of other publications. You can read her blog here


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