Friday, July 9, 2010

FAQ: Bollywood (Part One)

1. How did you end up in Bollywood?

I fell in love with Indian cinema in 1986 as a young woman backpacking alone around India and Pakistan. I rode trains and buses and often ran out of reading material mid-journey.  In smaller towns, the only English-language reading material were movie magazines like FilmFare, Stardust, and CineBlitz (and occasionally, a newsmagazine). I bought and read every one I could get my hands on, and knew all the stars and film plots before I saw my first Bwood film, which was Karma, starring Sri Devi,  Naseeruddin Shah, Dilip Kumar, Anil Kapoor, Poonam Dhillon, and Jackie Shroff.

 I stayed with Bollywood all these years for the stories and characters, for the way the movies depict social and political changes, and for the sheer joy of the music and choreography. No other cinema does unbridled joy like Indian cinema. Take a look at this, filmed on the train to Ooty:

Not to sound too lofty, but I believe one of the reasons a diverse country like India survives and thrives is because of the way its cinema plays out society’s conflicts on-screen. It's been interesting to watch over the years as Indian film took on the British overlords as well as indigenous villains, and promoted progress in everything from women’s rights to communal harmony.

Someone told me years ago, “every Indian film is a ‘social,’ meaning a film that deals with social issues. It’s almost true, just as it's almost true that every Indian film is a musical. Even the most saccharine candy-colored froth might be promoting progress with a ground breaking woman character or a sly, subversive joke or song.

2. You said you did a visualization exercise about working in Hindi cinema, and then got a call out of the blue about a Bollywood job. What is this visualization exercise?

My friend Paulette told me about this. You make a slideshow of photographs and/or artwork representing your dreams and desires, and put it to a song you find inspirational. You watch it every morning when you get up, and every night before you go to bed, and whenever else you feel like it. :) It is rather eerie that so unlikely a dream as Bollywood could come true, without really trying, but I did this same exercise for the lottery and it didn’t work, so don’t bet the house on it.

It was also about ‘who you know.’ While backpacking in India 2006-2007, I had sent a small Indian film sampler to a bunch of friends in the west, four films: Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Dhoom 2 and Dor. A few months later, one of the friends got called about a job with a new premium movie channel doing world cinema, including a Bollywood blockbuster every week. I was hired to find the films, negotiate the deals, and produce video to support, “Bollywood Saturday Night.”

3. Bollywood sounds so glamorous!

Yeah? Most of my job involved negotiating for the Canadian rights and poring over lots of long, fatally boring contracts. Indian film rights are kind of a mess. The situation is being remedied now but the wild west nature of the business pre-1990s still makes it a nightmare of tangled threads. This kind of business/legal area is not my forte at all so I had to learn on the job. But I also got to go out with my cool TV crew around Mumbai, interviewing stars and filming the city. I went to some premieres and parties as a guest, and I went to others as part of the mad media scrum, so I saw them from both sides of the fence. Sometimes, it was a lot like this. Plus: I got to live in Mumbai and.... free movies.

4. Why do you call it Bollywood? That’s a western construct. It is the ‘Hindi cinema.'

You’re right, but when I say Hindi cinema in the west people don’t understand. I then have to explain, “Bollywood.” Everyone knows that brand name. I use 'Hindi cinema,’ too but that doesn’t seem to stick with the Gora folk. It is easier to change the image of the brand than its name in the world’s imagination, I think.

(I chose to take a very broad view of 'Bollywood,' when buying films so I could slip in some 'parallel' films, like Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, Dor, etc. A 'parallel' film is a non-formula film, aka an arthouse movie, though that makes the movies sound less accessible and entertaining than they are. The lines between Bollywood and Parallel are blurring every day. Bollywood refers to one cinema industry in India, there are also industries in the Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, and Bhojpuri tongues and so on.)

5. Sorry, I don’t get Bollywood. What’s with all the dancing around trees instead of kissing?

When was the last time you saw an Indian film? I can’t recall a dancing around trees number in years. You are more likely to see something like this:

(That's Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai.)

Or this:

(That's Saif Ali Khan -- he's a prince in real life.)

Or this:

(That's Bobby Deol and the effervescent Preity Zinta.)

Also, there’s kissing now.

6. Where can I go to learn more?

Start with Bollywhat. It has the best Bollywood 101 stuff I've found. After that primer, cruise through the links to the left.


The Name FAQ.