Bollywood as an Art Form

May 2, 2009

When I think back to my movie-watching experience as a child, I realize that I unconsciously distinguished Bollywood movies from every other movie that I grew up seeing. I had frequent Bollywood movie nights with my family, but never with friends (specifically, non-Indian friends). For some reason, I always kept my Bollywood films separate from my other DVDs, reaching for a different pile depending on the friends who were visiting. I think it was because I believed that Bollywood was a completely different cinematic experience from the other movies.

Dance Sequence from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Picture from Google Images.

Dance Sequence from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. Picture from Google Images.

And that’s true, to some extent. Most Bollywood movies have several things in common: a hero pursuing a love interest, random song-and-dance sequences in the middle of a scene, of which at least one is required to take place in a gorgeous landscape that is someplace in Switzerland (or some other green, mountainous country). And at the rate that the Hindi Film Industry churns out movies each year, many of them do share the same themes and basic plotlines.

However, that’s not to say that Bollywood is any less of a movie-watching experience, as filmmaker Suraj Das told me in a recent interview. “I always thought it was unfortunate that Indian films get a bad reputation–especially in academia, when you’re studying filmmaking and cinema studies,” he said.

“People tend to think of Indian movies as silly distractions. People don’t realy think there’s a lot of artistic merit to them at all.”

Mr. Das, who directed and produced the film “Arranged” for his senior film thesis, explained that the musical sequences in Indian films are actually very difficult to film, as actors and directors have to work to make sure the choreography aligns with the camera angles. For Mr. Das, the filming was particularly difficult as he and his choreographer had to try to create their own Bollywood sequences by picking up on elements from other Bollywood films. Mr. Das’ film in particular is an homage to both Hollywood and Bollywood, as the early musical sequences are reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever and Singing in the Rain, both iconic musical sequences in Western filmmaking.

Perhaps it’s time I joined my Bollywood-Hollywood DVD collections into one pile, after all.


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