Confession: I originally planned to post just one of the below links as one of my usual “weekend silliness” spotlights, only to realize that not only are the below clips NOT silly, they are actually dear to my heart. Also, they require a bit more explanation than a quick weekend post.
So today I am going to indulge my non-writer side, and gush a bit about Bollywood.
Yes, I do like Bollywood. I am, however, selective about which movies I recommend — some seem very silly to me, while others are absolutely astonishing in richness and story-weaving. Of course, the Indian idea of what constitutes a beautiful story does not necessarily line up with the traditional Western notion of storytelling, which must always be taken into account; but it makes the tales of Eastern love, life, death and tragedy no less poignant.
Besides the distinct difference in world perspectives, the allure that draws me to Bollywood is simply this: Bollywood movies are amazing eye candy.
I mean from an artistic slant, of course, not hot bodies. Modesty laws in India do not allow for nudity or strong sexual innuendos. That’s not the sort of thing that draws me into a movie anyway.
What I mean by “eye candy” is the artistic aspect of things: the colors, the dance routines, the lush settings and costumes. Moreover, I love soaking up two hours of India telling tales about herself. I always tell my students that if they want a visual story about another culture, then they need to watch movies from that culture – not Hollywood. If you want India’s stories, listen to India herself. It may still be over-the-top storytelling, with unrealistic portrayals about her own society, but at least India is telling it herself, and with her own unique spin.
Below is a clip of Devdas, which came out in 2002, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwariya Rai Bachchan (still Rai at the time, as she had not married Abishek yet). To Western audiences, it was touted as “India’s Gone With the Wind”, which I think is very unfair. For one thing, you don’t compare the perpetually naive and hopeful Paro with the selfish, scheming Scarlett. Nor do you compare the Indian and Western ideas of love (or tragedy) as interchangable ideas. It simply isn’t done that way.
The clip has English subtitles, though I have seen a couple other translations that capture the original poetic intent of the song better (no longer available on YouTube). The context of the song is this: Paro (Rai) has just discovered that her childhood sweetheart, Devdas, is coming home after many years of studying abroad in Europe. The little lamp that figures so prominently into the song is one that Paro lit as a little child, to symbolize her love for Devdas, no matter what might happen to separate them. The song is an extension of the dream behind the lamp.
And then last but not least, because I can’t resist another Aishwariya Rai clip, here is one from another excellent Bollywood movie based on Mizra Muhammad Hadi Rusva’s book, which may or may not be an actual account of a real courtesan-poetess named Umrao Jaan: