In Defence of Bollywood
I’m one of those slightly obsessed Bollywood junkies who patiently awaits Karan Johar movies each passing year, watches Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham every time it plays on television, and loves delusional romantic dramas with vibrant songs featuring actors dancing atop snow-capped mountains in free flowing yellow saris.
I’ve received tremendous flak for my obsession and still continue to. The common criticism which Bollywood receives stems usually from the intelligentsia, the haughty, ‘cultured’ critics, and the liberals. Bollywood movies are commonly criticised to be nonsensical, misogynistic, regressive, and even capitalist. This is my minor attempt to defend them.
A slight disclaimer: This defence is primarily centred to Yashraj, Dharma and similar productions of romantic dramas and comedies, I take no responsibility to defend the works of alleged motor criminals *cough* *cough* and alike unpleasant works.
The Nonsensical and Frivolous Aspect
Mainstream Bollywood movies are often criticised for their failure to address important social issues. A movie is heralded as unimportant just because it’s all about emotions and seems to focus more on the bourgeois whose lives are irrelevant against our socialist ethos.
My question here is what’s wrong if a movie is an over exaggerated display of emotions of rich men. We can’t have all filmmakers making movies about social issues and ‘reality’. Plenty of people derive entertainment and their doses of guilty pleasure from Bollywood melodramas. One can’t be expected to watch the supposedly intellectual and serious movies about the grim realities of society all the time. We all need our morsels of junk and tittle-tattle. There’s nothing inherently wrong if a person prefers to enjoy and weep at such a film than a national award winning film. If you want realistic, go watch a documentary. There’s plenty of realistic cinema out there. If you’re too lazy to explore it, then don’t expect mainstream films to portray reality.
Moreover, even if a movie focuses on a social cause, people are not likely to change their ways after watching it. People will laud the film and the cause, then go home, and do absolutely nothing about it. I’m not trying to diminish their impact but that’s the sad truth. So stop patronising people who relate to these ‘frivolous’ dramas because you’re no better otherwise.
Misogyny and Regression
Bollywood is frequently criticised to propagate misogyny. We can’t deny the fact that Bollywood cinema has progressed tremendously with time. It evolves as we evolve. In recent times, movies with strong female characters receive abundant acclaim and popularity. Female centrist Bollywood movies have undoubtedly gained much ground in the last couple of years.
While I don’t deny the fact that certain Bollywood movies tend to display misogynous content which is outright unacceptable, but misogyny in general is something freakishly pervasive. Misogyny and gender disparity are dire problems in society which need to be tackled. Concrete steps have to be taken by the state to resolve these problems. There are PLENTY of instances which take place in this country which should trigger your progressive streak (for instance, political leaders objectifying women, literature and films about women being censored, prevalence of laws disfavouring women (marital rape is allowed?!?!), etc. We should be able to channelize our energy more towards questioning these peculiarities than works of fiction. Planting the responsibility of changing mentalities solely on Bollywood cinema is pure unfair. Honestly, if our minds were that impressionable, we’d be influenced by every delinquency in society.
Bollywood movies are criticised to give way to unrealistic notions about life, professions, worldviews etc. The intelligentsia often says “Bollywood movies just break into dance sequences in the middle of the street, like that happens.” Of course that doesn’t happen and most people realise that. We don’t have to burden a Bollywood filmmaker with the responsibility to dispel the ignorance of the youth; his job is to solely produce entertaining works. A majority of us love watching those spontaneous dance sequences and that’s fine.
This feature is not limited to Bollywood but to foreign cinematic works as well which is probably why La La Land won so much acclaim worldwide. We, as humans are entitled to enjoy watching other humans dance in multi-coloured clothes with immaculate synchronization. We need to have enough common sense to detach it from reality. NO ONE believes that if one starts dancing randomly on the street, a band of strangers will join him and match all choreography.
The Constant Comparison with Hollywood
I fail to understand why we even compare our cinema with Hollywood. Both film industries are located in spheres having vast cultural differences. Indian cinema tends to romanticise national events, culture, sentiments and emotions because that’s what their target audience prefers. Hollywood movies does not have much potency here and a plethora of people cannot relate to them. A lot of people here don’t like sci-fi dramas or understand global issues. Don’t badger Bollywood filmmakers to “learn from Hollywood” simply because it doesn’t relate to your standards.
While we spend most time dissing Bollywood, we ignore the fact that it plays a HUGE role in fostering national solidarity. From the urban city brat to the local slum dweller, Bollywood manages to unite this diverse country on plenty occasions.
A very important aspect of Bollywood is the music it provides. Bollywood music is at the crux of every wedding, festival and other socially intimate events. We associate several parts of our life with a Bollywood song (Or maybe that’s just me). There’s a certain charm to this music which makes us emotionally reliant on it.
Moreover, language plays a huge part. Hindi is more dear to the heart for most of us because it gives us a sense of belonging. A beautiful language that Hindi is, Bollywood movies happen to be a great source of their expression by supplying unmatched dialogues which are cited for time immemorial. It’s very natural for us to resonate more with a Bollywood film.
In conclusion, I don’t think anyone is entitled to be patronising towards Bollywood fans, or heckle them by pointing out the several loopholes in a film of their fondness. It’s my choice if I wish to spend my money on a Bollywood movie or even happen to enjoy something you’d consider inferior. You don’t need to be a dick because a movie supposedly ‘doesn’t match your IQ’.
I understand the immense impact films create, and the moral obligation filmmakers have to make socially fitting and progressive films. I also agree that a greater number of movies addressing social issues need to be made. But at the same time I also believe that Bollywood movies have given us a lot to be proud of and are beautiful in ways unthinkable. Cinematic preference is subjective. Deal with it.
It is here that I rest my case.