Bollywood’s Obsession with the “West”

When one thinks of the term ‘Bollywood’, one either embraces the glitter and charm of the Hindi multi-million dollar industry, which is a canvas of human drama, romantic relationships, songs, and both classical dances that sometimes are intertwined with hip-hop belly-dancing moves or blatantly rejects it stating that the films are mere mimics of the popular Hollywood flicks. Most recently, Bollywood has also gained popularity in the West as films release predominantly in UK and US for both N.R.I (Non-Resident Indians) and International audiences who are curious about and love the Indian culture. The films in the last decade reflect the change, which is happening in metropolitan India, as Indians too are becoming more and more mobile and masses migrating as opportunities become available to them in the overseas. Indian satellite channels now promote dwellings like “Shantiniketan” Retirement Community in Florida especially designed for the South Asian community where they are served Indian food three times a day, can relax in a shared-community, enjoy religious time, and own a condo without having to return back to India. Shantiniketan is the name of Rabindranath Tagore’s educational institution in Bengal. The same name now used for a retirement community in the States. This phenomenon would not and still in many ‘traditional’ households is still unwelcome and considered to be strictly a ‘western’ notion. ‘Western’ and ‘modern’ are convoluted terms in Modern India because ‘western’ implies a stringently attributes, features, and anything which is non-traditional. Bollywood too has had a complicated relationship with the terms ‘western’ and ‘modern’. 

Lets take an example of Slumdog Millionaire released in 2008, won an oscar because it had opposing elements of the contemporary India – poverty juxtaposed with wealth. Shot in the Dharavi slums, the film talked about the poor in India who struggled in the stark life of prostitution, depravity, communal riots, and poverty. Then, NBC produced the show Outsourced which gained popularity over its series run last year finally being cancelled in Summer 2011. These popular media examples however are only a part of the canon, which is currently in midst attempting to define its identity as a globalized ‘new’ nation – both the identity of the Indian within India and in the Diaspora.
 With Netflix promoting and providing a library of Indian films, it is a great time for those unfamiliar to the current Indian culture to get a taste of it away from the most noted films like Darjeeling Limited and Slumdog Millionaire. So here are some reviews of the most recent releases on Netflix to aid your journey into Bollywood and figure out this phenomenon by yourself. Ask yourself if you have the chance to watch these films – who is the ‘new’ Indian? How much of his identity is stringently ‘western’? Are they even different from each other?:

Dev D (2009): Starring independent star, Abhay Deol as Dev, the film is an adaptation of a famous classic Bengali novel Devdas. The treatment of the film is however different from many run-of-the-mill Bollywood films, because it shows parts of Delhi that many travel channel hosts fail to show. The heroines: Leni, a Lolitaesque young woman who becomes involved in the infamous 2004 scandal and Paro, Dev’s childhood lover who is known for her fiery sexuality hidden under the Indian garb, the film explores the trials and tribulations of the generation X in India as the youth reconcile the modern changes in India. If you enjoyed SM, you will love Dev D.

Kites (2010): A Bollywood Crossover film starring Indian heartthrob Hrithik Roshan with Latin beauty, Dela Mori, the film combines the beauty of the Indian and Mexican cultures. Both Roshan and Mori are engaged to sons of a wealthy Don (Kabir Bedi ) but realize later that they are actually in love with each other. Thus begins the run away from the seething hands of the Don and Mori’s fiancée who is out for their hunt. The film ends on a somber note, but is a refreshing testament to the melting cultures of the ‘new’ world. A note: Because the film tried to be authentic using Spanish and English as its core language, it did not fare well in India but did well overseas. 

Delhi Belly (2011): Aamir Khan (Lagaan, 2001)’s nephew, Imran Khan, Vir Das, Kunal Roy Kapoor, and Shehnaaz Treasurywala. This film is a dark comedy, which will make its audiences squirm. Delhi Belly’s premise is hard to define. It seeks to capture the filth in India (namely dire conditions, which people continue to live in today with the underworld gangs) and contrasts this filth with the newly wealthy Indians who converse primarily in English to each other and are the consumers of the latest important brand cars. It is also a must-see and will transform the way in which you think of India.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011): Starring Abhay Deol, Hrithik Roshan, and Farhan Akhtar, the film is the journey of three childhood friends from different walks of life who come together for their friend, Kabir’s bachelor party. In this journey, all three of them have to confront their personal fears with activities that each of them designs for the entire group. The film is shot primarily in Spain, shows the famous Tomatina festival, and promotes a ‘new’ way of thinking. This film is a far cry from films like SM, because it shows a different demographic of Indians probably unfamiliar to many.

Here are my recommendations for the most recent films, I would say that these films are visual attempts by many filmmakers to define India’s identity in the new millennium as a site, which is both a growing economic powerhouse but also a place where tradition, religion, and history is still intertwined as one. The greatest challenge for many is to reconcile their identity as both traditional and modern in the ‘new’ world.

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