Last month, I did something completely unacceptable in my social circles. I watched, and, horror of horrors, actually dared to like two Bollywood films in a row. When your immediate circle of friends comprises chiefly proud Tamils who only watch films in languages nobody in India speaks (Korean, Arabic, Yiddish), this is clearly a no-no.
The films in question are Dabangg and more recently Do Dooni Chaar. Both are rather good, and there's absolutely nothing wrong in enjoying either of them. But for me, due to this cultural peer-pressure, it's almost as if it's some forbidden, guilty pleasure. Like Bon Jovi. Or eating Boost directly from the jar.
Take Do Dooni Chaar for instance. It's a delightful film about a middle-class family and their aspirations. It's a superbly written feel good comedy with some absolutely great laughs, poignant moments and some brilliant acting from Rishi Kapoor. (which came as a shock to me. I thought he only did stuff like this)
Yet, when speaking to my friend in Chennai over the phone, I found it impossible to bring myself to confess my liking for it. The conversation went something like this :
Friend : "What's up? Where are you? I can hear traffic"
Me : "I'm returning from a movie"
Friend : "Which movie? You saw Enthiran?"
Me : "No. Do Dooni Chaar. It's a Hindi film"
Friend : "Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha."
Me : "..........."
Friend : "Hahahahahahaha. Deep Breath. Heeheeheeheeheehee. Sniff. Heh. Snort. Heheh."
Me : "It's actually quite good, it's . . ."
Friend : "Have you gone mad? A bollywood film? Good? Next you'll be telling me you actually enjoyed a Salman Khan movie."
Me : "Actually er . . . ah . . never mind."
I don't think I'd have felt this embarrassed if I'd been caught watching amateur porn featuring those gross balding men and women whose faces are always hidden using a clever combination of hair and mood lighting. You know what I'm talking about, right? No? Oh.
Anyway, the problem lies with perception and prejudice. The attitude that my buddies in Chennai harbour towards Bollywood films is similar to how Atilla the Hun might have regarded a passing group of pigs when he was busy invading Italy - a mixture of amusement, disgust and disdain. They refuse to believe that a Hindi film can be anywhere close to watchable, steadfast in their assumption that every Bollywood movie must either be ripped off from some foreign film, be terribly substandard, or feature a needless cameo from Sunjay Dutt. This perception is reinforced by the overabundance of four kinds of films in Bollywood. They are :
The lavish grand-gala-gerfoozlastic pretentio-drama : A high budget extravaganza featuring high budget stars in high budget locations with high budget special effects with a low budget script and poverty-stricken ideas. Usually has Amithabh Bachchan and a group of other actors who look as if they've all been given a coating of Brasso (with the leftover Brasso being used to coat the sets, props and perhaps the crew). This is the kind of film that has everyone in tears â€" especially when it gets handsomely rejected at the Oscars.
The hyper-confusion-comedic-slapstick-nobody-knows-what's-going-on caper : Usually shot entirely in some Bungalow near Panvel, this genre is typically a multi-starrer, with more emphasis on the 'multi' part and significantly less on the 'star' part. The basic ingredients are a nonsensical plot, at least three lead actors (with at least one of these being an 'unsuccessful Khan'), at least four lead actresses, Satish Shah (or Paresh Rawal), a swimming pool, a climax where everyone is running around helter-skelter trying to get hold of / get rid of some object (which may be an incriminating photograph, a document, a small dog, or some such), and a needless cameo from Sanjay Dutt. The censors have ruled that such films must always feature a 'boinnnnggggg' sound effect to mark the telling of a joke in the film, since the audience might miss it otherwise.
The wannabe-Hollywood-sepia-toned-action-crapfest : By stealing everything from an obscure hollywood or foreign film (with the exception of screenplay, dialogues or plot, if said items exist), these films perform the noble service of giving everyday Indian audiences the opportunity to feast their eyes on shit cinema they otherwise would never get to see. Thanks to the entire movie being in some bizarre sepia tone, you'll feel like you have sunglasses on the whole time, just like every single member of the film's cast, including the extras. These films either feature a needless cameo from Sunjay Dutt or a needless lead role from Sanjay Dutt.
The pseudo-intellectual-youth-college-rock-music-coolfest : Entirely Sunjay Dutt free movies which are usually made in order to tell the country's youth that they should 'follow their dreams' and 'be themselves' by doing exactly what the film's ridiculous stars do â€" such as break the law, ridicule authority, wear unaffordable designer clothes, strum the guitar to songs that have little or no guitar parts, and recover from the tragic death of at least one of their close friends. This genre is almost exclusively the preserve of Aamir Khan, since Shah Rukh is beginning to look way too old and Salman doesn't give a monkey's.
It's thanks to films like these that the whole of Bollywood gets a bad name. (although, as the excellent Nikhil Vyas pointed out to me, films like these ARE practically the whole of Bollywood)
However, it's also true that most of my Hindi speaking friends in Mumbai have the exact same attitude towards Tamil and Telugu cinema. While there are indeed some fabulous films being made in these languages, it's hard to convince my Bollywood watching friends that all Tamil cinema is not like this.. Their unshakeable conviction is that all South Indian films are uniformly terrible, unless said film features that world-famous rescuer of otherwise terrible cinema, the mighty Rajnikanth.
I think I had a message I was trying to convey, but I've forgotten what it was. So I'll end instead with a random link to a great game, sure to be enjoyed by fans of the Commonwealth Games.