Two months of Indian TV — and if I see another ad for Maasilamani, I will hurt someone badly — have gotten me thinking about the quality of the movies and shows I watched. I said earlier that women only play a few set roles in Indian cinema — housewives, lady cops (which I don’t understand — the other extreme?), and pretty young things in search of love. The thing is, men don’t branch out a ton either: The villains are mustachioed; the heroes, also mustachioed, are either too poor or too proud, or, if right in the middle, have no faults.The same characters wind up doing the same things. I have seen three lady cops now, two businesswomen — but no other professionals — and about ninety housewives. This might be a slight improvement over male characters, many of whom only star as bad guys, husbands, and fiances. But it’s still not very interesting.
The national and international scale
An op-ed piece in The New Indian Express was upset that India’s most successful export (in terms of acclaim), Slumdog Millionaire, wasn’t even directed by an Indian — that India is incapable of producing an Academy Award winner on its own. I agree to some extent. There is a tremendous amount of talent and passion in the industry, but not enough diversity — for me or the Academy. Bollywood produces almost one thousand movies a year, and they’re all virtually the same. Most are about love, some are biopics, and I think it’s telling that one of the best movies to come out of India, Black, was about neither of these things.True, it is an Indian adaptation of The Miracle Worker, and it stars Amitabh Bachchan, the Godfather of Bollywood. But it was different. It’s the same with Lagaan, which was actually nominated for an Oscar in 2001. If you have to tell a story, either tell one that’s been told before and tell it better, or make up something completely new.
That being said, Bollywood has made its name on a totally different foundation than its western equivalents. Bollywood is about song and dance and tradition. It’s not necessarily about reality, but idealization. Bollywood doesn’t do grit and anguish. Nor do I think its movies fit nicely into any one genre. Indian movies have a lot of love, a lot of music, and always a happy ending, which is what people like seeing. Believable? Absolutely not. But mildly stimulating and entertaining if you can get into it.