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Bollywood is one of the biggest movie industries in the world today, with millions of people around the globe watching these films. In spite of its popularity, many people are confused about what Bollywood truly is, and what it has to offer. Bollywood today is most well known for its flashy song and dance routines, bright bursts of colour, as well as cheesy dialogue. Plenty of people I’ve spoken to here at Lancaster University haven’t felt any inclination towards watching a Bollywood movie, with people telling me how they feel that they just wouldn’t get it, and that all the song and dance just seemed to be too cheesy for them. It ranges far beyond people I’ve spoken to here, with many around the world seeing Bollywood as a joke. I want to change that perception of Bollywood movies for people, and I’m hoping that by the end of reading this you’ll be willing to give a Bollywood film a shot. Albeit, it’ll take some time before everyone changes their mind about the Indian film industry, but small steps, right?
I’m not saying Bollywood is perfect, it is riddled with plenty of awful movies. Bollywood films have seen volleys of sexism, awful scripting, copies of Hollywood movies, internalised misogyny, and crude humour in poor taste. Bollywood is guilty, just as any other film industry around the world, for producing bad content. But for years there have been countless beautiful, clever gems of cinematic work delivered by Bollywood. These works having gained international notoriety and recognition for their impact on cinema, taking for instance the film English Vinglish (2012) (starring the late Sridevi), a housewife who is constantly mocked by her family for her poor English speaking skills goes to New York to stay with her sister and secretly learns English before her family joins her there. The cinematography is beautiful, with the focus straying from the typical bold song and dance routines and focusing on Shashi’s (Sridevi’s character) journey towards learning English and overcoming her insecurity. The film gained international acclaim and was praised at film festivals in Toronto, San Fransisco, Marrakech, Portland, Beijing, and more. It is a beautiful story depicted in an equally beautiful fashion.
People today often still see Bollywood as a joke, but it is an industry that has been able to consistently deliver unique work that spans across a vast spectrum of cinematic brilliance. There are tons of awful films, I won’t lie to you about that, but for every awful film, there’s plenty of fantastic ones that help to save the day. So if you’ve ever considered watching a Bollywood movie, you should go for it. Ask a Bollywood-savvy friend what they think you should see first, and if they say 3 Idiots (2009), ignore that advice and ask for a different film. I get that 3 Idiots won an Oscar, and even I thought it was absolutely brilliant, but don’t let that be the token ‘first Bollywood movie I watched.’ Let me make it clear that I have nothing against the film, it’s actually one I hold very dear to me, but entirely too many people have talked about 3 Idiots being a first Bollywood movie so we’re gonna change it up.
A great Bollywood film to start with is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), which literally translates to “you only live once”, it features 3 best friends (played by Farhan Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan, and Abhay Deol) on what is essentially a stag do around Spain. They take a road trip to several different cities to take part in an adventure sport that each one of them has chosen, hilarity and soulful insights ensue. It’s a great film about friendship and overcoming fears, and has honestly been one of the best go-to films for a good cheering up. So grab your friends and watch it together, because this film is a great bonding experience. Another excellent choice to start with is the film Queen (starring Kangna Ranaut), a woman who gets broken up with a day before her wedding decides to go on her honeymoon to Paris and Amsterdam on her own. Ranaut’s character ‘Rani’ (meaning queen) is a small town girl who’s never left India, much less on her own, but bravely sets off to see the world beyond. She runs into a variety of characters that make for hilarious and heartwarming situations. Queen (2014) is a fantastic, feel-good film that is guaranteed to put a smile on any watchers face, regardless of language barriers.
There’s a solid selection of Bollywood films on Netflix, and there’s guaranteed subtitles in English so there’s no fear of not understanding any of the dialogue; treat yourself to a Bollywood film, make some popcorn, sit back, and soak it all in. There is song, dance, colours, elaborate outfits, and even more elaborate schemes. Bollywood is a creative field in the world that is constantly expanding and evolving, with goals of becoming a more household name in cultures beyond India. For years since the Indian film industry was born, it has taken inspiration from cultures across the globe, and as a result, we have the eclectic collection of Bollywood movies we do today. Bollywood will always have its awkward and cheesy side, and its strange movies to accompany it, but every year the industry releases thought-provoking, heartwarming, and laughter-inducing masterpieces as well. Think you’ll give Bollywood a chance?