Other than re-watching old classics, I have not watched much Bollywood fare in the last 25+ years. Mostly, this is because I’m more a book person than a movie or TV person. I am equally not enamored of Hollywood hoopla though I do enjoy the old classics there too.
This past year, though, I’ve tried to watch a handful of much-lauded Bollywood movies because I was led to believe that women have now come a long way on the Indian movie screen and “strong, liberated Indian women” are being portrayed like never before. As I will be using this moniker a few times in this post, let’s abbreviate it to “SLIW”.
Of the movies I’ve watched, let’s take a representative six that cover the present decade — 2011-2015 (to date) timeframe: Tanu Weds Manu; Kahaani; Mardaani; Shuddh Desi Romance; Queen; Mary Kom; Finding Fanny. I’ll share some thoughts and links to other interesting reviews / commentary that I’ve read online.
A couple of notes before you continue:
1) I am not going to get into the technical aspects of storytelling with these movies because there are still so many flaws with plot, characterization, point of view, etc., that I would end up writing a book. My goal is simply to look at how these represent and/or influence Indian socio-cultural norms today.
2) It is easy to say that one should not take Bollywood movies too seriously or that they simply represent our flawed society today and, therefore, must necessarily be flawed themselves. If this is your thinking, you’d best stop reading now. My take is that Bollywood is one of the most powerful platforms in India today and, therefore, must be taken seriously for the myths and fallacies it portrays and perpetuates as well as for how it influences even kids as young as 3-4 years old. If you do not accept these beliefs, then please feel free to use your valuable time reading something else on the interwebs. Thanks.
3) Bollywood is a movie-making machine and does not strive to provide more than mindless entertainment most of the time. And, there’s nothing wrong with mindless entertainment from time to time. That said, here’s one of the best movie reviewers of all time, Roger Ebert on the matter:
The point is not to avoid all Stupid Movies, but to avoid being a Stupid Moviegoer. It’s a difficult task, separating the good Stupid Movies from the bad ones. . . .