by Janine Ashbless
There are some things you shouldn’t admit to liking if you want people to take you seriously: Porn – D&D - Musicals – Comics – SF- Bollywood films.
I suffered a lightning conversion to Bollywood while on holiday in India. The tour guide suggested we all go to the cinema. "But it’ll be in Hindi!" we said. "It doesn’t matter," he told us: "enough of the dialogue will be in English. The plots are easy to follow anyway." So we went and saw a romcom whose name escapes me. Then a few days later in Delhi we went and watched Bluffmaster. Abhishek Bachchan! Phwoar!! I haven’t looked back – though I have to admit watching them with the subtitles on really does help.
So if you’ve never tried watching Indian movies, or your memory is of dodgy 70s moustaches and ferocious overacting, let me persuade you to take a look. Now, Bollywood has an enormously fast turnout of films – hundreds and hundreds per year – but stick to big-budget, big-name films which have been well-reviewed and you won’t be disappointed. "Masala" films are entertaining - and sexy!
Indian films, like any art form, have their own structure and rules. Here’s a Gori guide to some of them:
1) The films are very long – normally 3 hours. Much like Shakespeare’s plays, they are intended for a mass audience and will have something to please everyone including the cheap seats. There will be spectacular musical/dance numbers. There will probably be an undignified slapstick scene.
- 2) The actresses (unless they are playing a mother or a comedy role) are jawdroppingly, astonishingly beautiful. The men on the whole, alas, are not. (But don’t worry! – wait for my gallery of heroes below.)
- 3) Not matter how light and fluffy the first half of the film is, there is no guarantee that the hero (or heroine, or both) will not be dead by the end of the closing credits. Emotional drama, particularly willing sacrifice, is an important ingredient.
- 4) The cinematography will be great.
- 5) Just as American film/TV obsesses about the father-son relationship, Bollywood obsesses about the mother-son relationship. Mothers are always saintly.
6) The singing will be dubbed. Male singers sound normal to Western ears, female ones sound like they are pinching their noses. You just have to get used to it.
7) Not matter how revealing the clothes and steamy the looks or the dancing, no one will kiss. (Except in Dhoom 2, and it got taken to court for obscenity!)
8) Love don’t come free. Romantic love is treated as the most wonderful, overwhelming experience – with the potential to tear lives and families apart. Win or lose, you will suffer for love.
9)If the heroine is wearing a spectacular white dress and receiving a ring that’s not the wedding, it’s the engagement party. Brides wear traditional red clothes for weddings.
10) Yes, you probably have come across this plot elsewhere. Bollywood has a longstanding tradition of sticking 2 fingers up to the concept of intellectual copyright, so you may suffer from odd feelings of deja-vu. Jism (I kid you not!) is a rewrite of Body Heat. Zinda is Oldboy. And so on.
Shah Rukh Khan. He’s in hundreds of films. An absolute superstar, nicknamed "King Khan". Very likeable screen persona. SRK usually plays a nice-guy hero, dances well and is very good at the teary tragic bits. For Om Shanti Om he buffed up to glorious effect. See him in: Asoka; Dil Se; Devdas; Veer-Zaara.
Amitabh Bachchan. Semi-divine superstar of the previous acting generation: think Sean Connery but much more popular. Dignified charisma personified. Nicknamed the "Big B". See him in – well, just about everything, as the hero’s or heroine's father; Kabhi Kushie Kabhie Gham; Aetbaar.
Abhishek Bachchan. Son of Amitabh above right. Think he looks a bit rough? He’s tall, strongly built and oozes a gruff masculine charisma. Not the best-looking hero, but probably the sexiest. Plays loners, tough guy heroes. See him in Dhoom & Dhoom 2; Bluffmaster.
- John Abraham. Male supermodel. Body of a god. What can I say? (Apart from "Gimme now!") Usually plays villains and badboys. See him in Aetbaar (my review here); Dhoom; Jism.
Hrithik Roshan. Muscles and unusual looks (including green eyes and an extra thumb). See him in Dhoom 2 where he plays a master of disguise and stars in the most knicker-wetting basketball scene ever written.
And if you want another set of opinions (and …. ooh ….photos) take a look at the India Times Top 10 Men.
If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film I suggest the following as a good place to start. They’re easy to find on Amazon and they all have at least one yummy hero (and many lovely women).
1) Bluffmaster: modern setting: witty, twisty comic romantic tale about a con-artist. Reminiscent of the TV series "Hustle".
2) Rang De Basanti: one of my favourite films ever. Political drama. Modern setting but with flashbacks to the Raj; about a bunch of layabout students who get involved in making a film with an English girl. Great music. It’s a fabulous movie but the end made me cry. (Frenetic trailer here)
3) Dhoom 2: Crime/chase caper with motorcycles and exploding helicopters and stuff. Two sexy heroes (Abhishek as the cop in pursuit of Hrithik the criminal) for the price of one! Also stars the worst shirts ever worn by man.
4) Veer-Zaara : Romance. SRK is in prison for a crime he did not commit, to safeguard his true love. Brave ‘n’ beautiful female lawyer hears his story and fights to win his freedom. Glorious cinematography.
5) Dil Se: Tragic romance. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl turns out to be suicide-bomber… Scenery so beautiful it will take your breath away. Has a very famous dance sequence set on the top of a moving steam-train.
6) Lagaan: Historic Raj setting. Sports drama about a grudge cricket match between Indian villagers and the local British regiment.
7) Asoka: Ancient historic setting. The (romanticised) tale of the rise of Asoka - first Emperor of India - who subjected the surrounding kingdoms to bloody conquest before renouncing violence, converting to Buddhism, and instituting one of the oldest and most humane systems of law in the ancient world. Swords ‘n’ saris!
P.S. All the films and actors mentioned above have their own individual Wikipedia entries if you want to know more.
Any questions? (I don’t promise I can answer them!) Or am I preaching to the choir?