I’m not going to lie, I love Bollywood’s masala movies as much as the next person. But it wasn’t until I watched a non-commercial film that I realized how much my perception of the industry is shaped by those in power. I was just in India for a couple weeks and while I was there, I watched a movie that I had never heard of before: “AndhaDhun.” It didn’t feature any stars that I would consider big, yet the entire cast is very experienced and critically acclaimed. The movie itself is one of the best I’ve seen come out of Bollywood in ages.
I watch Hindi movies to stay connected to my roots. But it wasn’t until I saw “AndhaDhun” that I realized I have a singular idea of what Bollywood and “my roots” look like. I decide which Hindi films I want to watch based on who is in the movie, rather than what the movie is about. The big players in the industry — the Khans, the Kapoors and anyone that Karan Johar casts in a film — influence which movies I deem worth seeing.
This may not be problematic in itself — naturally, you’re going to watch the movies that feature celebrities you like. However, it’s important to examine exactly why you like those particular actors over others. My favorite actors are the ones in the movies I grew up watching: Hrithik Roshan, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Aamir Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Preity Zinta … they’re the big stars of the ’90s and early 2000s and the movies they starred in are the ones I watch when I’m sick, bored or just feeling nostalgic. But I didn’t decide who my favorite actors of the current generation are based on their acting ability — I love Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone, Sidharth Malhotra and Aditya Roy Kapoor because they were in commercial movies and they were interviewed on Koffee with Karan. They’re not terrible actors … in fact, I would argue Ranveer Singh is an excellent actor! Yet, Rajkummar Rao, Kangana Ranaut, Radhika Apte and Ayushmann Khurrana (the main actor in “AndhaDhun”) most definitely have incredible acting skills. Yet, when I think of my favorite celebrities, or even Bollywood as a whole, their names don’t come to mind.
Because of this, I have most likely deprived myself of so many great films. I’m so focused on getting myself to the movie theater to see the commercial films with the big name actors that I never even realized I’m missing out on some really great content. The fault isn’t entirely mine though — the bigger stars have more money, more industry connections and more name recognition (thank you, nepotism) so their movies get advertised here in the United States more often than movies with not-so-famous actors. Yet, the movie theaters make their decisions based on what the audience wants. So, if I make a more dedicated effort to actually go to the theater and watch the movies that don’t feature a Kapoor or a Khan, then maybe the theaters will start promoting them more and they’ll be more popular.
Watching “AndhaDhun” has made me decide to prioritize the quality of films over who is in them. I hope Bollywood’s audience will also move in this direction as well. I see this happening a little bit already, as movies like “AndhaDhun” did better at the box office than “Namaste England,” which featured two stars born into prominent Bollywood families. It may not be an immediate shift, but I hope this means more high-quality films — featuring actors who worked their way into the industry instead of being born into it — are advertised more and actually premiered in theaters in the United States, so I can go watch them!