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April 16, 2004

Cinema India

My morning coffee reading: Interesting New York Times article on Cinema India, a film program touring the United States showing several Indian films.

A.O. Scott details several of the Indian film industry's features, specifically its deep roots in musical numbers, especially in Tamil movies. What I found interesting about the article is Scott's discussion of the "breezy cosmopolitanism" of many Bollywood films (this was something I'd noticed when watching Kal Ho Naa Ho a few months ago). And as Scott suggests, American audiences are often unaware of the fact of Bollywood's popularity.

In his discussion of 1995's Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ, as many fans call it), one of the films playing in the Cinema India series, Scott also discusses the attempts in recent Bollywood film to negotiate economic globalization while sustaining a unique cultural identity. He notes that DDLJ's "deft combination of adventurousness and conservatism — of youthful rebellion and filial duty, which are brought into harmony at the end — may be one source of its appeal. It suggests that India, which in the 90's was rushing headlong toward participation in the global economy after decades of semi-isolation, could embrace the wider world without sacrificing its history or its identity."

Note: I just did some digging and the festival is coming to Atlanta's High Museum of Art in May. Perhaps I can work in some extra credit in my film class this summer for students who attend one of these films.

Posted by chuck at April 16, 2004 10:40 AM

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Well I'll try to reconstruct the comment I tried to leave a long time ago, which got deleted.

Here are some interesting papers on Indian cinema:

The Exhilaration of Dread
warning: this author tries a little too hard to use pomo jargon

Playback as Mass Fantasy: The Hindi Film Experience

Radhika Seth, Desi Goes to Hollywood: Cultural Negotiations in Films by Indian Diaspora
-the author is at GSU

As an Indian I have a cynical take on the new phenomenon of expat films. Because (a) Bollywood is in a slump, and (b) expats are an wealthy, untapped market, Indian producers have started to make films about the Indian abroad.

Bollywood in general has a very low standard when it comes to production so you wouldn't be missing much if you skipped most of its recent films apart from the rare high points like Sholay, Satya, Dil Chahta Hai, and Lagaan. There are some parallel-cinema films that might be of interest but they're B+ films at best. I don't know much about pre-1970 Bollywood so I can't be of much help there.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 19, 2004 5:11 PM

I'd agree that the assembly line production probably leads to some really bad films (other Indian friends have said as much). I'd also agree about the attempt to market to expats, something I should have articulated more clearly in my original entry, and while I basically enjoyed Kal Ho Naa Ho, I can imagine that the film's cosmopolitanism could have fallen flat in the hands of a weaker director. Also, I'm not sure I could handle that much melodrama again for at least six months.

Posted by: chuck at April 19, 2004 5:57 PM

If you want to watch an Indian film that's so bad it's good, rent Jaani Dushman. In fact it has a cult following now. As always it's more fun if you watch it with friends. Seriously, if you watch only one more Indian film in your life, watch this one.

Posted by: Chris Martin at April 19, 2004 6:57 PM

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