Though I consider myself a competent movie reviewer, I recently realized my objectivity is forever clouded by an irrevocable love of Bollywood movies.
For those living under a massive pop-culture rock, “Bollywood” refers to Hindi-language Indian cinema, so named for being based out of the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). Like many of my Indian friends, I grew up a child of two worlds, which is unignorably reflected in my taste in films.
India’s movies, like its food, are often described as having the quality of masala — a spicy blend of genre elements — to elicit the most delicious and entertaining dish. It’s that skillful integration of story facets that makes Bollywood so compelling and impossible for Hollywood to emulate. Bollywood films don’t adhere to the constricting Western boundaries of genre; almost every production features action, comedy, drama, romance and the most distinct component: music. Indian movies are almost always musicals, and with a liberal use of that label.
My inordinate consumption of Bollywood content has significantly impeded my ability to lead a normal life. I’m physically incapable of listening to a Hindi song on my iPod without theatrical lip-syncing and including every coquettish look or gesture (if my mugshot looks familiar, it’s because you’ve had the not-so-exclusive privilege of judging me on the Diag).
Every form of precipitation seems like a missed opportunity for dance and romance. And where are the vibrant item numbers? Where are the background dancers necessary to support my every dramatic and amorous endeavor?
Since I sound certifiable, let’s look at it otherwise. Our generation in the U.S. grew up in the golden age of animated Disney classics. No matter how many times we watch them, we cannot shake the pearly sheen of films that influence us at the most impressionable time of life. We cannot be critical of what was inextricably linked to our fondest childhood memories, and has been with us as long as we can remember.
Yet there’s something about Bollywood as a whole that always keeps me coming back for more. I want to believe in it. More often than not, my main criticism of cerebral cinema is that it’s too real. Movies should be an escape from reality, into worlds where people sing about love and dance on trains. I like my media content to cross genres and impart hopeful themes. That I’m so enamored of the films I’ve grown up with speaks to the immense amount of care with which these stories are crafted and brought to life. A Bollywood film is, above all, a labor of love. It is not an industry ploy for money and awards, but a tribute to the most beautiful aspects of this life.
Indian cinema makes an art of masochism, filling young people’s heads with ambitious dreams of romance and resolution that may never come — but is that so bad? Thanks to Bollywood fantasy, the world may be a more optimistic place, waiting to be filled with color and song. I’m old enough to face the fact that no singing, dancing hero is dreaming of me from afar, but that tiny glimmer of hope has made me a better person.
It’s not uncommon to feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to watch all the TV and movies that interest me. Mainstream and indie films come and go from theaters with flagrant disregard for cluttered schedules. Bollywood is even less considerate, with few films even coming to local theaters and the rest going straight to abysmal DVDs. They are the long-distance boyfriend who I will never truly be with, who strings me along, whom I just can’t quit.
After two decades of these movies, life-changing stories are few and far between. Even the most shocking twists don’t surprise me. I find most commercial Bollywood films to be almost insufferable, but I suffer nonetheless for the same reason that we all put ourselves through dreadful media content: quality, not quantity. I could subject myself to a hundred asinine movies made with all the care of a drunk person making Ramen noodles, but it’s worth it to get even one that I will adore for years to come.