Bollywood, a combination of Bombay, currently known as Mumbai, and “Hollywood,” is an integral part of the Indian culture.
The name was coined in the 70s by a gossip journalist. Nevertheless, the industry goes back to 1913, with the movie Raja Harishchandra, by Dadasaheb Phalke— the father of Indian cinema. In 1931, the first Indian sound film was released, and by that time, the industry was producing around 200 films per year!
Now, if you’re European like me, you probably think that Bollywood is filled with outrageously exaggerated action scenes, special effects, and cheesy love stories! And you’re probably right, about 30 years ago!>In fact, I thought the same until I came to India and watched a Bollywood movie. Today they are modern and highly influenced by its American counterpart to adapt to the younger generation and keep up with trends. However, their storyline still carries the profoundness goes well with the European taste.
Films are not only entertaining, but they are also reflective of society— even more accurate with India. During the 1920s and 30s, Bollywood films were among the boldest in terms of love scenes. However, after the independence and the emergence of Hindu nationalists, Bollywood became very conservative.
Let’s take Chennai Express, a famous Bollywood action movie and comedy, and the first Bollywood movie I’ve ever seen. I heard about it through my colleagues and looked it up on Netflix, out of curiosity and a desire to socialize too. However, 10 minutes down the movie, I was laughing as if I was watching Le Dîner de Cons, one of my favourite French comedy. The train scene, when the protagonist meets his beloved, was hilarious! But more than that, the characters were charming and the story, very entertaining. Cliché scenes with both slow and fast motions were still present, but were more subtle and looked almost like a parody. The only negative point for me was the ever-present song numbers, lasting about five minutes each! However, this a very personal opinion and broadly speaking, I genuinely loved the movie. Another aspect to mention though could be the duration of the films in India; nonetheless, I don’t think any of us complained about the length of the Avengers: Endgame!
Films are not only entertaining, but they are also reflective of society— even more accurate with India. During the 1920s and 30s, Bollywood films were among the boldest in terms of love scenes. However, after the independence and the emergence of Hindu nationalists, Bollywood became very conservative. Intimate scenes such as kissing were replaced by metaphors such as the intertwining of dandelions! India had to wait for the late 70s to see the reappearance of romantic scenes in Bollywood movies. Nowadays, these scenes can be compared to those displayed in American movies!
Another example of the evolution of the Bollywood industry is the movie Dostana in 2008, celebrating a same-sex couple. In this case, it reflected a more progressive society. But as the Indian culture shifts toward the western lifestyle, my concern is that Bollywood will become a feeble representation of Hollywood and lose all its unique nature.
Nevertheless, Bollywood remains a must for an expat who tries to understand the Indian culture.