First off, let me say that I am not qualified to define what a Bollywood movie is. Perhaps no one is. If you ever run into Priyanka Chopra she would be a much better person to ask than me. However, for the sake of simplicity, my working definition of a Bollywood movie is any movie produced by the Hindi-speaking film industry. That’s it. It’s quite broad, but notice that it does not encompass all of Indian cinema. India is a nation with over two dozen official languages and a film industry for seemingly all of them. With perhaps a few exceptions, I’m going to stick to Hindi because it’s where I started and where I spend the bulk of my time.
Now, me. I’m a twenty-something American with a penchant for being interested in unexpected things. I’m from a small town and didn’t have any personal Indian friends when I got into Bollywood. I’ve since gone to graduate school in a much bigger city and have many friends from various backgrounds, including India. I usually can only discuss these movies with my Indian friends and hanging out on Bollywood gossip sites or podcasts. But my non-Indian friends and family were curious about this new interest, especially when they caught me watching Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge alone in the living room. So what is it that I seem to like so much?
I have found these films interesting for both superficial and not-so-superficial reasons.
I find that the typical Hindi film is much more earnest and romanticized than much of what populates American cinema, even when the movie itself is not necessarily the typical romance-masala type of film (more on that later). I have seen some fairly gritty, realist Bollywood films that still managed to be less cynical (therefore sometimes more honest in my opinion) than Hollywood B-movies.
Then there’s the nearly ubiquitous music. Although not every Bollywood movie has song and dance numbers most do and these are often the most engaging portions of a film and the hype leading up to it. They’re what help connect you to that story and the time in your life that you saw it. Songs from Hindi films have become my go-to on playlists even when the movie does not become an all time favorite.
You can’t put Bollywood movies in a box and different kinds will be discussed here. But I have always loved the girl meets boy, girl and boy struggle, girl and boy live happily ever after story line. And for me no one does that better than Indian cinema. Add in a location and culture that I find endlessly fascinating and a great soundtrack and you have a recipe for addiction. That said, sometimes I love Bollywood because of how bad it can be. Just like English-language film, there are some real stinkers out there. Bollywood loves to go big so when it crashes, it burns. But there’s so much even in that that can teach you about a place and an audience. I should be clear though that it is not my goal or intention on here to bash Bollywood. I’m just one of an audience of over a billion and anything expressed here is my (hopefully well considered) opinion.
Finally, Hindi cinema and Indian cinema in general produces a staggering number of movies every year. No country matches India for the speed of production and sheer quantity of what reaches screens across the world. Bollywood movies are popular across South Asia and even in the Middle East, not to mention the Indian diaspora in Europe and North America. Together, we’ll wade through at least a few of these offerings and learn something about an ancient culture expressing itself through the contemporary mediums of music and film.