“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” “Dil Chahta Hai,” “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” “Mujhse Dosti Karoge!”, “Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai” – I grew up watching the sappiest romance movies ever. My first celebrity crush was a Bollywood actor and I’ve always cared more about the newest Hindi movie than the latest Jonas Brothers album (my worlds have been colliding a lot recently … ). When I was younger I’d get teased for not having seen “Toy Story” or not being able to quote “The Parent Trap.” While my friends debated the spelling of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” I was singing, “chanda chamke cham cham chikhe chaukanna chor, chiti chate chinee chatoree chinikhor” from “Fanaa.”
When I was younger, I watched Bollywood movies because that’s what my desi parents watched and it’s all I knew. As I got older, I continued to watch them for a multitude of reasons.
When I would visit my cousins abroad, they made fun of my weird American accent and how I couldn’t really communicate with anyone outside of our family. My cousins in Mumbai learned Hindi and English in school as well as our family dialect. I, on the other hand, grew up in the United States, where the only additional language I learned was English. I used to visit India confused about everything and with zero communication skills. So, I watched Bollywood movies in the hopes of learning Hindi.
I continued watching Bollywood movies in the hopes of learning about customs that weren’t mine. I didn’t like the astonished reactions I would get when I told people I didn’t know the answer to their question about Hindu rituals that they assumed were Indian traditions, or when my non-Muslim desi friends mentioned holidays or ceremonies that my family didn’t participate in. I wanted to be part of the desi community around me and watching Bollywood movies was how I tried to decipher all the things that to an outsider I looked like I would know, but just didn’t.
Now, I watch Bollywood movies because these movies are a connection to my South Asian roots. I’ve spent so much of my life internalizing racist ideals and distancing myself from my parent’s heritage that Hindi movies have become my way of learning to love my culture.
As much as I love the Bollywood film industry and Hindi-language films, I can’t help but feel some cognitive dissonance every time I sit down to watch one. Bollywood movies are SO problematic. This is, of course, a reflection of the society that creates these movies and the audiences that consume them. Yet, while I recognize the problems in these movies, I haven’t been able to bring myself to boycott them the way I will Hollywood movies. How can I cut myself off from the one thing that’s keeping me rooted in my culture? Ultimately, I’ve decided that I can still appreciate a typical Bollywood blockbuster for its filmy drama, while acknowledging that some of the jokes, and sometimes even the entire plot, is extremely problematic.
This column will be a space for me to talk about my problematic favs. The biggest Bollywood movies always have questionable elements and I want to think about them critically while still being able to appreciate the reasons that I bother watching these movies in the first place. Stay tuned for movie reviews, rants about the many messed up parts of the Hindi film industry and some celebrity buzz too.