There is a rather complicated way in which Indian society works, the classes, status, religions, sub-castes and sub-sub-castes. But if there are two things that probably unite the most varied citizens of my country, then they probably are cricket and Bollywood. Cricket, I am told, no longer grips the nation’s imagination the way it used to. Or so I gather from what columnists write; I wouldn’t know myself, the late 1990s and then Lagaan was the last I watched cricket myself.
But Bollywood in particular and other Indian movies in general, as far as I know, still rules. Cinema, beginning from my favourite professor Dr D S Poornananda’s film studies classes, continues to fascinate me. Even as I write this, I am watching a Kannada film called ‘Cheluvina Chittara’, a very controversial film at one time. And it is, for now, the perfect example of how influential a movie can be.
This film, starring Ganesh, a popular actor and Amulya, a then 15-year old girl, is about the two of them, him a mechanic and her, a school student who fall in love and elope. She is the proverbial rich man’s daughter and he is, well, the mechanic. At the time the movie released a couple of years ago, there was much hue and cry for a) getting such a young kid to romance a man on screen and b) for the messages it was conveying. Someone the other day was telling me that in his town, there were at least four girls who had eloped with mechanics, bus drivers and the like after watching the movie.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with two people in love. But looking beyond the hormonal charged impulses of teen hood, there is that practicality, that thing that makes you doubt how happy Jake and Rose (of Titanic fame) would have been if they had gotten off the ship and gotten married. We all like happy endings, but then movies never show what happens after the ‘happily ever afters’.
Now this is something I have always wanted to write about movies and especially Bollywood. I speak of myself here too. Any Indian, with access to at least a bit of television or radio or the internet, would know at least a few Bollywood numbers. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, Hindi movie songs are something everyone hums all the time. There are of course the other regional songs too but travel to any part of the country and you can be sure to connect over Bollywood.
When I was on my defence course recently, there were journalists from every part of the country. Even the armed forces we interacted with was drawn from every state. But be it during the baraa-khaana (an evening when all ranks of people in an Army unit eat together; the Army is otherwise very hierarchical) or during the famous Indian pass-time ‘Anthaakshari’, Bollywood was what would bind everyone. If you start a song, you can be sure that someone will sing along or at least hum.
Bollywood works in this country and it is not too difficult to see why. It gives you a dream, a dream that you can be in love too, whether you are rich or poor. It is a dream where you can be a millionaire within three hours, where hard work still counts but unattainable things are within your reach. It is a dream where you wear good clothes even if you are poor, where the good always wins, the villain is always caught and the hero always gets the girl. And if you ask me, I don’t see anything wrong in that.
Most Bollywood films defy logic. But then, how many dreams can you call practical always? The audacity of dreams is what makes these films work. Forget the nuances of cinema, leave out the techniques, the montages, the pan, the neo-realisms, the importance of music, the sophistication of the plot. A typical Bollywood movie would have a rich girl meets poor boy story where after much fighting the bad guys, they live happily ever after.
Bollywood is audacious. But then so are dreams. They work. They unite the country in ways that no religion, no nothing else can. That is because we all believe in dreams. We all want the good guys to win. We all want happy endings. The audacity of those dreams never really has anything to with ‘reality’, you know. Practicality is boring, even if the dreams are audacious.
As for the movie that I was watching, for a change, the boy does not get the girl and goes insane but is rescued by the girl and her husband two years later!