Bollywood love or hate
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Bollywood, the all-pervasive entertainment industry of India, invokes either love or hate. But love more than hate is the common sentiment for these expats in UAE.

Bollywood sells that impossible dream and I buy that willingly

By Manjusha Radhakrishnan, Assistant Editor - Features

Bollywood fine balance
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

There’s something incredibly gratifying about grown men and women running around trees, but there’s so much more to Bollywood than that endearing stereotype.

Bollywood’s an emotion.

It’s a sentiment that I can never put in a box as it continues to surprise me at every given turn. I have covered the vibrant and vivacious Bollywood beat for over 15 years and the sheen and the magic has not worn off.

The world of Hindi cinema – prolific and powerful – is a potent juggernaut that doesn’t shy away from being brilliantly bombastic and soul-stirringly spectacular.

A well-made, even cheesy, Bollywood film is like that comforting tub of ice cream that I dig into after a nasty fight with my better-half or a terrible day at work. When I watch the glossy road-trip film ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ filled with a raft of impossibly handsome and gorgeous actors, I am transported to a world where fairies, unicorns, and magic ponies can thrive.

And let me remind you that beyond the lavish sets, incredible costumes, foot-tapping choreography, and occasional good acting, there’s a discerning army of shrewd minds at play on how to win and woo over a billion-plus Indians. I love a good drama (ok, melodrama and tears), and I am not ashamed to admit that a Bollywood musical stirs my heart, and occasionally stir my mind.

But let’s face it. Bollywood films -- with their dazzling dances, eye-popping colour, hyperbolic emotions, and multiple narratives – are not an acquired taste.

Either you love the bombastic outlandishness of it all or you reject it as some bizarre display of heightened drama and droll, but there’s no ignoring Bollywood.

I watch and review Bollywood films every Thursday – perhaps Gulf News is the first to publish my verdict of any Hindi-language film – to millions of movie-mad Indians across the globe. Some dramas are admittedly terrible, infantile, and borderline ludicrous, and maybe as interesting as watching my nail polish dry, but then there comes along a gem that simply blows my mind and sweeps me off my feet (I am looking at you 'Andhadhun' - a murder mystery that tickled me)

And it’s for the latter that I live and breathe.

If Hollywood has their superheroes, I have my indestructible Bollywood heroes and heroines who can sing and slay enemies. They are larger-than-life and all-conquering, and they can bust some mean dance moves as they decimate the evil forces.

Bollywood is in the business of spinning fantasy with strands of realism in it, but if you are a true-blue Bollywood buff like me then you take it all in without judgment. Plus, we are prolific. The multi-billion-dirham industry – which coughs up romances, action-thrillers, crime dramas with divine-looking actors – by the day can never be ignored. There’s always an escapist Bollywood movie for every mood. They may take time to get to the point meanderingly -- don’t be surprised if there’s a song and dance to underline every plot twist, including a funeral, childbirth, wedding, the first date – but if a movie truly speaks to you, then you have made a friend for life. And that’s why I love the world of Bollywood. They tease you endlessly.

Watching a dapper Shah Rukh Khan stretch his arms and sing aloud at Brooklyn Bridge when dying from cancer in ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ is a highly improbable scenario, but Bollywood and its makers have this insane ability to make it believable and that’s what makes it tick. His chemotherapy can wait, but crooning can't, seems to be their collective credo.

Bollywood knows how to sell that impossible dream and I buy into that dream willingly. No regrets.

Why Bollywood makes such bad movies with such fantastic talent pool?

By Shyam A. Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

Bollywood hate
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Which was the last Bollywood movie I saw? Can’t remember, frankly. Because I watch them rarely. Why? I don’t enjoy them. They are so artificial: the storylines defy logic, and the acting is always over the top.

How do I know that if I haven’t been watching Bollywood films? I can’t escape them since my wife is a Bollywood buff. Every time I walk into the living room, there’s some Hindi movie playing on the television. I have tried watching them, but it’s been a drag.

Having been raised on a steady diet of Malayalam movies, I have loved films in other Indian languages. Tamil films have been a favourite, so also Bengali. When Doordarshan used to telecast regional movies on Sunday afternoons in the eighties, I discovered that the rest of India produces better films than Bollywood.

Disclaimer: A Keralite, I’m not fluent in Hindi despite studying the language in school for six years. But I understand enough to make sense of it and can haggle with vendors at a market. The language was never an impediment in following movies and TV serials, although I may miss the nuances.

The first Bollywood movie I saw was ‘Barood’, starring Rishi Kapoor and Shoma Anand. That was in the late seventies, and over the next four decades I might have seen around 30 Hindi films. Not all of them have been bad. In fact, some like ‘Alaap’ and ‘Paar’ were superb. Loved ‘Sholay’ too.

I have genuinely tried watching Bollywood films. At a friend’s suggestion, I watched ‘Tezaab’ and ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya’, and I walked out of the theatre thoroughly disappointed. What’s worse, Bollywood remakes of Malayalam movies have turned out to be disasters.

Malayalam movies bring us a slice of life. The stories are original, the relatable situations, and the acting is so true to life. Even bit-part actors are so good that it’s not a surprise when they turn up in lead roles.

Bollywood films are precisely the opposite. Most plots are shallow, and they stretch the imagination. There’s so much emphasis on glamour that the characters lack depth. Poor acting makes the bad mix worse.

It can’t be so bad. Bollywood is arguably the pinnacle of Indian cinema. Writers, directors, actors and technicians all want to make it big in Bollywood. Why do they make such bad movies with such a fantastic talent pool? The audience loves them. They are to blame.

The OTT platforms confirmed my belief that talent is not the problem. I loved ‘Pathal Log’ and ‘Sacred Games’ so much that I wondered why the same crew go on to make sub-standard movies. The TV series ‘Panchayat’ seemed very much like a Malayalam movie; it’s so earthy and felt like a story around us.

If the Bollywood directors took a leaf out of these TV series, they could produce movies that could entertain people like me. I think my last Bollywood movie was ‘Finding Fanny’. That was good.

Being a Filipino, my fascination with Bollywood is part of UAE's cross-cultural treats

Filipina Bollywood love
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

By Tweenypher Maddela-Hilotin, Special to Gulf News

It started with our free Bollywood channel, which came with our du internet/TV/phone service in Dubai. Why do I like Bollywood movies? No, why do I love them? There are 3 reasons I can think of:

Connect: Our life in cosmopolitan Dubai afforded us a great time to form deep connections. My work at an airline afforded us travel and cross-cultural linkages. A colleague initially gave suggestions on the latest or the best Bollywood flicks to watch. And that’s how I got to know the Kapoors, the Bachchans, the Khans. And, of course, Sridevi. I was crushed by the news of her death in 2018.

Sceneries: From the movies I’ve seen, Bollywood is the mothership of the world’s film industry. It’s quite generous in bringing movie-goers to breath-taking landscapes. Add to that the well-choreographed “item dances”. It’s a different world. The narratives offer deep insights into Indian culture.

Unwind: Given the stressful situations at home and at work, I found Bollywood films a good way to de-stress. I started with subtitled films and eventually graduated to the ones without (taking clues from the characters’ expressions and action). Who can ignore the charm of Amitabh/Abhishek Bachchan in “Paa” (2009) or Shahid Kapoor in the 3-hour epic “Mausam” (2011, which I watched 3x on different occasions)? Being a Filipino, my fascination with Bollywood forms part of the rich cross-cultural treats the UAE cultivates. My happy cells get triggered even talking to my husband about Sridevi’s role in “English Vinglish” (2012).

As told to Jay Hilotin, Senior Associate Editor

Bollywood has finally struck a fine balance between content and box office

By Ajay Abraham de Melo, Night Editor

Bollywood cynic
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

I discovered Bollywood movies as a teen in the 80s when a middle-aged Rishi Kapoor was prancing around trees with actresses half his age. Mithun Chakraborthy was bashing dozens of goons when not dancing in garish outfits, Govinda was doing more of the same and Sunny Deol was putting his dhai kilo ke haath (2.5kg arms) to good use when his bombastic dialogue delivery failed to pulverise the villain.

It was an age when histrionics trumped content, stereotypes were perpetrated and misogyny was celebrated. I, like thousands of other Bollywood film buffs flocking to single-screen cinemas, lapped it up. I guess it was escapism for the common man looking to forget the rigours of reality in the reel world. For me, it was an act of rebellion. Raised on a diet of controlled Doordarshan, it was the thrill of breaking the rules. Also, sticking my hand into a small window to buy a ticket and sitting in the ‘balcony’ with oily samosas and a soft drink for nearly three hours had me hooked. Growing up in Goa, I barely understood Hindi so content didn’t matter. I liked the dishoom-dishoom fight sequences and crass comedy. I was clearly a teen with issues.

Formulaic filmmaking was the name of the game – a larger-than-life hero, a long-suffering widowed mother, a damsel in distress and a caricature of a villain. Throw in some titillating song and dance routines, over-the-top action and plenty of tears, and a film was ready. Oh yes, a ‘rain song’ and rape scene were mandatory.

This is not a scholarly piece on Bollywood, but arguably the 80s and 90s were the worst in terms of content. Of course, there were notable exceptions. Everyone loves ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’, which released in 1983. ‘Sharaabi’ and ‘Shakti’, which had legends Pran and Dilip Kumar playing father to Amitabh Bachchan, released in 1982 and 1984 respectively. Come to think of it, I watched great movies like these on TV much later in life. All the stuff I watched in theatres was trash.

This descent into mediocrity really puzzled me when I discovered classics like ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and ‘Waqt’ in my thirties. In the 60’s and 70’s, great directors, legendary actors, writers, lyricists, music composers and playback singers created rich content. Songs, an integral part of Bollywood, were full of poetry and melody and woven beautifully into the narrative. It was an era of Dilip Kumar’s subtlety, Dev Anand’s lovable eccentricity and Raj Kapoor’s genius.

For me, the 70’s was also about Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Bachchan in terms of leading male actors. I never get tired of watching ‘Sholay’, ‘Deewar’, ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Kati Patang’, ‘Aradhana’, ‘Amar Prem’, ‘Chupke Chupke’ and ‘Blackmail’. There were also brilliant actors like Sanjeev Kumar (Aandhi, Khilona) and Amol Palekar (Gol Maal), but they were not crowd-pullers.

A considerable share of the blame for the rubbish churned out in the 80s and 90s must go to the stars themselves, who used to rush from set to set doing three shifts a day. Bollywood had become a factory run by dubious filmmakers with questionable sources of funding. The three Khans came into the picture in the 90s – Aamir Khan with ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ (1988), Salman Khan with ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ (1989) and Shah Rukh Khan with ‘Deewana’ (1992) -- but It was more of the same fare packaged stylishly. Finally, as Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan and Sunil Shetty appeared in the early 2000s, I lost interest.

The corporatisation of Bollywood in the mid-2000s rekindled my love affair with films. Content improved as big stars chose films carefully and even launched their own production houses. This created opportunities for talented actors, directors and music composers. We were introduced to actors like Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ayushman Khurana and Rajkummar Rao. Even better, a star like Aamir went from being a perennial lover boy to making meaningful films; even Shah Rukh managed a ‘Swades’ and ‘Chak De’. I feel Vishal Bhardwaj did Devgn and Saif a favour with his ‘Omkara’ in 2006. I loved Saif’s portrayal of Langda Tyagi. For me, the revelation was Akshay Kumar, who shrugged off his ‘Khiladi’ image to make socially-relevant yet entertaining films such as ‘Padman’ and ‘Toilet’.

Looking back, I feel bad for the late Rishi Kapoor who became a victim of ‘Bobby’s’ success. Typecast as a romantic hero, he finally got to act at the end of his career. Just watch ‘Do Dooni Chaar’, a 2010 family comedy-drama he did with his wife Neetu. To be fair, even great actors like Dilip Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah and Bachchan could not escape the mediocrity of the 90s if you look at some of the forgettable films they did in this period.

Another welcome change in Bollywood today is films helmed by women, both as actors and directors. I’ve always felt that wonderful performers like Madhuri Dixit, Juhi Chawla and Karisma Kapoor got a raw deal in terms of roles, unlike a Sridevi or Rekha and the legendary actresses before them. Better still, Kareena Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, have proved that glamour and acting can go together. Also, today a Richa Chaddha and Taapsee Pannu have the space to helm films without a leading man. Thanks to OTT platforms, the options are diverse. It’s a good sign for Bollywood when a Bachchan does a ‘Pink’ and a ‘Gulabo Sitabo’.

Bollywood has finally struck a fine balance between content and box office success as the multiplex audience gets more discerning. Older and wiser at 40, I now can’t stand movies that don’t have a great story. I guess both Bollywood and movie buffs of the single-screen era have evolved.

Do I love Bollywood? What a question to ask

By Manoj Nair, Business Editor

Bollywood love
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

Rather than a lengthy recital of where I stand on Bollywood, let me just present some evidence, mostly in flashbacks. Before I start, I have to say the 'love' and 'hate' when used in reference to Bollywood are pretty tame words.

Here's why:

* When the bosses chew me up for making a mess of some key task, I silently hum the whole of ‘Jeena yahan, marna yahan…” (roughly translates into 'Fated to live and die here...') from ‘Mera Naam Joker’ (Joker's my name) through the ordeal. The bosses' berating often runs well over the six-minute song duration, which is the cue for me to put in on auto-loop.

* In the rare occasions when they do appreciate some of the work I put in, I beam and rewind Amitabh’s memorable line from ‘Kaalia’ - ‘Hum jahan khade ho jaate line wahi se shuri hotie hain…” (All lines start from where I stand...).

* All these years, through every emotion I feel - anger, extreme rage, despondency and the occasional joy - I have a Kishore Kumar song to fall back on. My personal favourite. The title track from ‘Muqqadar Ka Sikandar’ (King/Emperor of Fate).

* I can speak 15 minutes without a break on why I think Raj Kapoor drapes his heroines in white. (If you think I am stuck in Bollywood’s past, I could do the same on why Sanjay Leela Bhansali has his heroines running through long corridors and courtyards with part of their dresses trailing in their wake.)

* For a lifetime (OK, since 1973 when ‘Bobby’ released), I would expect anyone who answered the bell to have flour on their forehead and forelocks, as had happened when Rishi met Dimple for the first time. (Unfortunately, the same never happened with me, unless you count the time I stepped into the kitchen at a bakery.)

* I have this issue when someone drops small change in my presence, it would immediately trigger the dialogue from ‘Deewar’. The one to do with ‘Main aaj bhi phenke hue paisa nahi utha…' (Even now I do not pick up what's thrown at me...). This happens even if the said change belonged to someone else and was not even remotely flung in my direction. There’s something about coins dropping that gets me into ‘Deewar’ mode.

* I get exasperated when I go into raptures about Dilip Kumar saab’s performances in ‘Mela’ and ‘Jogan’ and only to be met with a shrug. More so, when the other person talks up the acting skills of anyone from the 'Golmaal' series...

* I envy the colleague who is on first-name basis with all Bollywood A-listers - and many who are yet to make the grade.

* The moments I slip into a full sentence of Hindi, I contrive to mix 'Bambiya' slang (the unique sub-language only Mumbaikars know) such as 'Rokda' (money) and 'Do Peti' (2 crores) in the same sentence as highfalutin Urdu words such as Zaban (word of honour) and Farmayish (request).

* In the days of my long-gone youth, I could memorise a full Salim-Javed script (running into 3 hours of action- and dialogue-packed movie), but found it difficult to do the same with a wee line of some obscure Physics theory. (My tutors were never impressed with my 'misplaced' ability...)

* And yes, I am interested as anyone out there in wanting to know when Ranbir Kapoor will marry Alia Bhatt. And I was fascinated with each aspect of the Vicky-Katrina wedding and its micro-management.

So, dear reader, you decide whether I love or hate Bollywood. But I will tell you this much, for me life is all that you can squeeze between two screenings of a Bollywood release. Better make those 3-hour movies, please.

There’s always going to be a spectacle even a cynic like me can’t resist

By Jennifer Barretto, Assistant Editor Features

Bollywood emotion
Image Credit: Illustration by Seyyed de Llata/Gulf News

One of my earliest movie memories is of watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ in 1999 in a now nonexistent cinema in Dubai. I was a kid from a Goan Catholic family who had just moved to the city from Oman and of course going to the movies was one of our favourite things to do. I remember being enthralled by the colourful outfits, dramatic songs and the overall large-than-life vibe of the movie. However, the fascination for Bollywood masala movies never stuck with me.

I never understood the interest in watching movies that were so long they needed an intermission. I also couldn’t reconcile my own convictions with some of the outdated social themes that took centre stage in many movies. Maybe my lack of Hindi skills also contributed to my lack of interest in Bollywood movies. That doesn’t mean that Indian cinema is all bad.

Maybe the silliness and ease of it is a balm for millions of people and a way to have fun with friends and family.

What I wish would happen was for indie filmmakers and unique storylines to get more support from producers and audiences. India is a place of billions of stories and there will never a shortage of good ideas. Look at movies such as ‘Sairat’ and ‘Court’ (Marathi), ‘Angamaly Diaries’ (Malayalam), ‘The Lunchbox’ (Hindi) and Axone (Hindi mixed with Northeast Indian languages). The talent is there, but it needs attention to thrive.

I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater; Bollywood, indie movies and regional movies can co-exist and can learn from each other in order to draw more audiences. Will I never watch a Bollywood movie? Never say never. There’s always going to be a spectacle even a cynic like me can’t resist.