What do people think of when they hear the words “Bollywood movies?” I asked a couple of friends this question and here are the following answers that I received: running up snowy mountains with clothes that would guarantee frostbite; dancing around coconut trees; a hugging scene to deliver an intimate moment; life or death circumstances; flamboyant clothing; random locations (Switzerland is a popular one); and a heart-wrenching, melodramatic moment where a family member’s health is put into question.
You see, Bollywood movies have a certain perception of being too dramatic, colourful, over-the-top, and emotional. What possibly distinguishes a Bollywood film from, let’s say, a Hollywood film is the dance numbers. As an avid consumer of Bollywood films, this perception bothers me and yet pleases me at the same time. With the label of ‘dance numbers’, it shows me that people have watched or noticed Bollywood films enough to have had it placed it in a special niche. However, it also means that people are not willing to look deeper into the other aspects of Bollywood films as the dance numbers are given more attention than the actual plotline or performances.
This is part of the reason why I had started the DESI Cinema club this past semester to celebrate and spread the knowledge of these films. Desi is a word to describe a person of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi descent. In DESI Cinema, we do movie screenings of Bollywood films every two weeks in the Metcalf Hall Lounge. We have shown a wide range of genres, from romance to comedy to drama, and also an all-in-three packaged movie. On Saturday, we played 3 Idiots, which is one of the most celebrated Bollywood films in recent years. This film still has the dance numbers included, but it is an example how the dance number has not overshadowed the story and performances of the film. The Bollywood films of recent years have become much more progressive, and I am glad that they are finally achieving the level of acclaim and international recognition they deserve.
Speaking of international recognition, I watched a French film the next day as part of the French Film Experience. The film screened was Le Gamin au Velo – a powerful film about a young boy’s attempt to find his father who had left him. Now I understand how it is when non-Hindi speaking people watch Bollywood movies. You have to pay attention to both the visuals and subtitles. To be able to read and watch at the same time is quite a task, but I was still able to enjoy the film. The nice coincidence was that right after the French film was screened, I rushed over to the Campus Center viewing party to watch the Oscars. Sitting in the upper level of Hotung while snacking away with popcorn and Coke just made the night a lot better. Knowing that I was able to eat junk food while the nominees probably starved for the day was oddly satisfying. I’m going to be very superficial and say that I was looking forward to the red carpet dresses, and of course, the actual show.
So Bollywood, Hollywood, and French cinema in one weekend – very, very productive. It was great being able to celebrate all these film genres and I am proud to say that I am now a cinephile. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this may be my best weekend yet at Tufts.