My sister wants to plan a trip to India so much we enjoy watching Hindi movies. When I first told dad, in Brazil, about Bollywood movies (Bollywood is the informal term popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay), he had never heard the expression. South America may not be a target market to India’s movie makers as the Hindi community in those countries are not as large as in America, Europe and Asia (not to mention India itself, a universe of its own, with a population of one billion), but the fact remains that over eight hundred new titles are released by Bollywood each year, according to one article on the Web (http://geography.about.com/od/culturalgeography/a/bollywood.htm).
Let’s take the example of one actress only, one of the most popular nowadays – Kareena Kapoor. Here is a list of her work from 2009 to 2011 (online source: Wikipedia):
|2009||Kambakkht Ishq||Simrita Rai|
|2009||Main Aurr Mrs Khanna||Raina Khanna|
|2009||Kurbaan||Avantika Ahuja / Khan|
|2009||3 Idiots||Pia Sahastrabudhhe|
|2010||Milenge Milenge||Priya Malhotra|
|2010||We Are Family||Shreya Arora|
I don’t know how they do it, but it is apparently possible and one does not die of stress or exhaustion; everybody seems healthy and in perfect shape. A body in motion tends to remain in motion – Mr. Isaac Newton knew his Physics.
My taste for Hindi movies began with the discomfort I sometimes experience when watching too many Hollywood productions in a row. I absolutely love U.S. made movies and my childhood would have never been the same without Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Yoda, Indiana Jones, Superman and ET. But every now and then I crave foreign movies, different languages, stories and characters. And this is where Netflix becomes key: I can find from Dutch to Brazilian productions and everything in between. Sometimes my selection is far off – I have watched German and French movies which were pure torture. In most cases, however, I am pleased – to my husband’s relief too – with the choices I make. There are tons of talented people in this industry, in front and behind the cameras, all over the world.
Spanish movies by directors Pedro Almodovar (Spain) and Guillermo del Toro (Mexico) are almost always guaranteed to work. Every now and then an unexpected happy glitch occurs too, like Character (Netherlands) and La Casa Muda /The Silent House, filmed in Uruguay. Nice Japanese, Chinese, Australian, British, Argentine, Italian, even Korean and, of course, Indian surprises keep happening to me.
Somewhere I had read about the movie industry in India and decided to investigate the show Namaste America that airs on channel 20 over the weekends (between 11 am and 1 pm – by the way, we have Comcast; I am not sure Verizon carries it too and if it does, on what channel). Needless to say, I struggled with the language and to make sense of the names I was hearing, although a lot is spoken in English.
One face in particular seemed to be in all video clips and movie previews. Slim guy, dark haired, always dancing and singing. The ladies that co-star his movies wear gorgeously colorful dresses and the most beautiful hair and makeup styles. His name is Shahrukh Khan and I soon learned Bollywood has three main Khans: Shahrukh, who seems to reign supreme, Aamir Khan (a more quiet type, more intellectual and inclined to producing rather than dancing and singing) and Salman Khan – who reminds me of Silvester Stallone in his Rambo days.
I decided to start with a movie by Khan # 1 – Shahrukh. A 2008 production, filmed in Amritsar and Mumbai, called Rab ne Bana di Jodi. I even emailed a colleague at work – she came from India years ago– to ask the meaning of those short little words. She wasn’t sure; had to contact someone else to get the translation: A Match (or Couple) Made by God.
“There’s always an extraordinary love story in every ordinary Jodi “(Hindi word for couple) – that’s how the movie opens. After unfortunate circumstances that turned her life upside down, young Taani (Anushka Sharma) finds herself married to a man (Shahrukh Khan) she barely knows (arranged marriages – for many different reasons – are still popular in the India of outsourced call centers).
Off Taani goes to her new life in the city of Amritsar, in the state of Punjab, home of the main Sikh community and shrine in India, The Golden Temple (and not far from where Anita Delgado’s wealthy husband, if you read the previous blog post – From Spain to India – built her a French palace replica, which is briefly shown in Rab ne Bana di Jodi).
Depressed and unhappy, Taani can’t see anything her husband does to gain her attention and hopefully affection. Suri is a quiet guy, very romantic, very sensitive and shy. He works for the Punjab Power Company (“Punjab Power lighting up your life” is his greeting on the phone) and rides a small yellow motorbike to the office every morning. He gives Taani his own room in the house and moves in to the dusty attic. They don’t have much to say to each other and the only fun time Taani has is when they go to the movies at night, delighting in romance, adventure, and heroic characters.
In the boredom of her days, Taani finds out that a famous dance group from Mumbai (Bombaiites as they refer to themselves) is coming to town. There will be a contest and she is determined to win the first prize. However, the competition is for couples and she needs a partner. Have feet will dance – Dancing Jodi Competition reads the billboard Taani passes by carrying her groceries home.
The only person who knows about Suri’s uncorresponded love for Taani is his best friend Bobbi. Bobbi owns a barber shop and agrees to help transform Suri’s ultra conservative and antiquated looks into something more suitable for a dance competition.
In his new clothes, hairstyle and no reading glasses on, Suri intends to watch Taani’s dance class from a distance, when she will be herself, happy and relaxed, just the way he remembers her from before their wedding. As fate would have it, the contest organizers join the couple on the dance floor too and Suri, petrified that Taani may recognize him, instantly develops a make believe name and personality. His alter ego he calls Raj – one of the heroes he and Taani watch on the big screen. Suri’s Raj is goofy but bold, athletic, self-assured, outspoken (he talks nonstop actually) and, most importantly, not embarrassed to confess his attraction and eventually love to Taani.
It’s a lively and funny romantic comedy. There is music – dancing and singing – because most Bollywood movies won’t do without it, not even Hindi Disney productions. Among dancing classes and rehearsals for the grand finale, slowly Taani is falling for Raj. His love declarations are always done in spectacular ways – Raj does everything Suri always wanted but never had the courage to do. And when Taani finally admits she is in love with him, married as she is, Raj invites her to run away with him. Suri is heartbroken when she says yes. He is jealous of his own creation – his wife can’t love him for the man he is after all. What is a husband in love to do?
I asked my sister ( she loved Rab be Bana di Jodi to the point I had to give her the DVD), why do we like Shahrukh Khan’s acting so much. It’s true that he is an accomplished actor, adored in India and popular in Europe too, who can perform in comedies and dramas equally well. What makes him such a good actor for us to watch that movie time and again? He is not afraid of making fun of himself, she answered. Definitely not an easy thing. I still can picture one interview where Mr. Khan very seriously and slightly annoyed confessed to the reporter he wished everybody stopped comparing Bollywood to Hollywood “because we only have a fraction of their resources”, he pointed out. Another article yet compared him to Midas not too long ago – everything he touches turns to gold. Mr. Khan owns a movie production company by the way, in Mumbai. To him goes the glory and the stress of having produced and starred (co-starred by tireless Kareena Kapoor) the most expensive movie made in India to this day: Ra –One cost USD27 million – a mix of sci-fi and super-hero adventure, a little of Terminator and Tron in, well crafted special effects and all that without ever forgetting the romancing, the singing and the dancing.
If Hollywood produces higher quality movies it’s not the point to me. I’m glad we live in a world where access to other countries’ culture and arts is just as available as the locally produced. Our world is getting smaller; sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
As for the trip to India, in 2015 we would like to fly from New York to New Delhi. Then take one of the excellent trains we read about between Delhi and Mumbai, on the coast, to see the Arabian sea and its shores. From there somehow to Goa – once a Portuguese possession just like Brazil – and famous for its pretty beaches. Then visit Amritsar, to see the Golden Temple, perhaps Anita Delgado’s Elysee Palace, and finally back to Delhi.
While our itinerary in India remains a dream in the future, like a visit to Santiago de Compostela and the small villages of Galicia in Spain or a trip to Tierra del Fuego in southern Argentina, for now we watch Bollywood movies. Namaste America!