Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why I hate Bollywood

So if you’re a regular reader of this blog (or even someone who’s stumbled across this site via my Twitter or my blog, or are just a friend who’s here out of curiosity) you will be very aware of the fact that I am what could be described as a die-hard Bollywood fanatic. Perhaps one of the best things about living in Central London is that it is very easy to access the latest cinematic offerings at mainstream cinemas at Piccadilly Circus, unlike some other geographies where Bollywood movies play in suburban desi ghettoes (this is also probably yet another reason I dislike Singapore...)

Having said this, there are several things that I either find singularly irritating about my relationship with Bollywood, and with Bollywood’s relationship with me. One of these many irritants is how Bollywood has made me into a strange combination of champion and pimp (a pimpion?) Insidious, devious, underhanded, it forces its way into all my relationships – friends, lovers, colleagues – and I end up pitching for it everywhere. There have been so many random conversations – acquaintances in pubs over beer, lovers in bed after sex, random strangers on transcontinental flights – where what starts out as chitchat ends up turning into an unsettling blend of passionate sales pitch, courtroom defence and self-righteous admonishment of ignorance.

Now while you might say that it serves those idiots who dare broach conversations with the strangers next to them on transcontinental flights right to have me bite their heads off, imagine what it does to your sex life. And I always feel that some of my friends have gotten too cautious about what they say in front of me, out of an overweening fear that it may unleash the Bollywood beast.

The thing is, in my own pimpion head, it’s a simple equation. If you plan on maintaining any modicum of a relationship with me, in whatever capacity, you will have love the Bolly; not necessarily as much or as passionately as I do – it’s not too cool to be too eager or desperate – but enough to get me. And if you can’t get to that special place in your heart where you love it as much as I do, where if you could you would marry it and have lots of little Bollywoods, then at least show me that you respect my love of it. It’s the same as how I choose not to make disparaging comments about croquet to friends who I know can think of no better way to spend a mild English summer’s day knocking clunky wooden balls through metal hoops with even clunkier mallets. I may not get it, but I will respect your right to risk sunburn and potentially broken toes.

So yeah, I kinda hate Bollywood for making me into such a raving fanatic. I hate how it turns me into a Bolly-vangelist who deep down feels that everyone who doesn’t believe will burn for all eternity in some antiseptic Iranian / French cinematic graveyard (all monochrome and bleak) without ever a rainbow coloured dance routine to brighten up the day. (Note to self: can you burn for all eternity in a graveyard? Oh what the hell; it’s an Indian thing to mix metaphors...)

The other reason I despise my addiction with Bollywood is because it’s just so damn relevant to what’s happening in my life, and in the lives of my friends and family. Just when I get lulled into this sense that my life can be considered to be unique, individual, or just distinctly my own, something comes along that just proves that despite India and Bollywood being such massively post-modernist narratives, we’re all really just part of a wider piece.

Bah, humbug. This, however, totally contravenes all attempts to reinforce my inherent coolness by doing things that are supposed to be unique, different and not so mainstream that the world’s largest commercial film industry can make blockbusters around the broader themes.

For example, when I was growing up, everyone who was Indian would rush to the USA for postgraduate study. How typical, I thought. I was going to go somewhere else. Somewhere hatke. The UK had been a big destination post-Independence, but had slowly lagged behind as the USA took over as the main destination of brown brainiacs in search of a Masters’ degree in something (if not a PhD). That’s it, I thought – I’ll look at programmes in England.

And then what happens? As soon as I start my research, Bollywood had to run across and start filming every second song over here. Starting out with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Main Prem ki Deewani Hoon, Mujhse Dosti Karoge... it was like, so you want to go here? Look, if you’re lucky you may run into Rani Mukherjee! And it’s not gotten any better these past few years that I’ve chosen to live here. Salaam-e-Ishq and Love Aajkal have significant portions filmed in London, a city I’ve lived and worked in for the past six years. It’s like, wtf? Go somewhere else!

Alright, I know you’ll argue that my being here in London and Bollywood’s presence here are not unrelated. (No, TBS, it’s not as if an entire film industry is stalking you). Both the UK, and London in particular, have strong links with India, not least because of a large diaspora community, and there are a large number of Indian expatriates who come here to study and work for a few years. Some stay on, some return home. So yeah, you’re just part of a wider trend. Chill.

Well, okay. I might buy your argument there. But it’s not as if this is the only instance. There are distinct moments while digesting the latest Bolly news that I get a sense that at some cosmic level, someone is having a massive cinematic laugh at my expense. So last year when I was gearing up to go to Delhi for the wedding of a good friend, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na came out, along with famous song Pappu Can’t Dance Saala. Listening to those lyrics, I realised that my friend, the would-be groom, was actually Pappu. (Hey, hey, Pappu ke paas hai MBA, karta hai France mein holiday... I even think he had a Rado watch before he hid it to avoid too many comparisons. And yes, my friend can’t dance either.)

Okay, I know you’ll argue that again my friend is merely typical of a broader genre of Indian men who are well educated, travel and have poor rhythm and fashion sense.

So how do you explain these last few “coincidences”?

Fine, I decide - the UK is a but-obvious choice for anyone who’s Indian and making movies. What with 200 years of colonial rule, maybe it was going to be difficult to pretend that there’s no real link between the two countries, especially since the damn Kohinoor diamond’s still over here. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past few years exploring other parts of Europe, hoping to find the next city for me to move to (NB – given my itinerant childhood, I get this uncontrollable desire every few years to uproot myself and find a new home in a new country. I’ve realised that the smart thing is not to fight it; rather, I should facilitate the move by pre-selecting the next destination before the urge kicks in, just to speed up the transfer process.) I’ve now also decided that I don’t want to go to a place that is mainstream, popular with Indians or something that’s made it to a Bollywood movie.

So in 2007, for the first time, I get my ass out to Berlin. One weekend, and I’m in love. The place is unbelievable. In 2008, I’m back again with work for almost a full week, and it’s just reinforced the attraction. This is it, I decide. It’s funky, it’s cool, it’s unique, and nobody will film a dance sequence here. It’s a beautiful city, but it doesn’t have that Bollywood aesthetic. I’m safe.

And, then, back in London, after a couple of weeks, I read about how Shah Rukh Khan is planning to film the sequel to Don in Berlin.

Bah, humbug.

And finally – the icing on the cake - a recent one that’s just reconfirmed that I’m being stalked. By an entire frickin’ film industry:

My sister, a good Indian girl (she was born in a good family in the city of Varanasi – you can’t more desi than that) has been seeing a Brazilian guy for the past eighteen months. Both sets of parents – one Indian, one Brazilian – came to the UK to allow both families to meet, so it’s been all fun and games, really. The one thing that struck me when they started going out last year was how, despite a life spent in four different continents, in fairly international communities, where international relationships are usually a norm, not an exception, while I’ve come across Indians with Europeans (French, German, English), Indians with Australians, Canadians, even Japanese, I’ve never encountered an Indian-Brazilian couple. So in many ways, I liked to think that my sister’s breaking new ground. I mean, India – Brazil is just not spoken of unless you’re talking about BRIC economies.

And then I go to India in June and figure out that the latest new actress is this woman who plays good Punjabi Sikh girl Harleen Kaur in Love Aajkal. The catch? Her real identity was kept secret until after the movie was released. She’s BRAZILIAN!!!!!!