What might that be? Bollywood, of course. With apologies to Tertullian (to whom the original credo quia absurdum quote is often wrongfully attributed), whose preference for veiled women would not have endeared him to Bollywood, I think that statement just about sums up my attitude towards Bollywood. There are very few Bollywood movies that can be taken more or less seriously. Among these I would count Lagaan (which was nominated for Best Foreign Film), the original Pyaasa and the classic Mughal-e-Azam, which is as pretentious and over the top as the great Cecil B. DeMille films, albeit nowhere near as compelling.
Most of the so-called masala genre are perfectly predictable love stories with carbon-copy dialogue (oh, that’s right, I could be describing Hollywood movies just as easily). The difference between the schlock Hollywood churns out in the romantic comedy genre and the average Bollywood film is that the latter is a lot cheaper, the acting is about the same quality and there is song and dance enough to make you forget how bad the plot you’re watching really is. Some of the songs are quite good (provided you like either traditional folk rhythms, as I do, or Asian disco-pop).
Rani, Mera Dil Ki Rani
The artifice, arbitrariness, predictability and often complete irrelevance of the dance scenes allow for a movie experience that is as fun as it is ridiculous. The genius of Bollywood is that it rarely pretends that film is this terribly serious medium for delivering important social messages. The Bollywood movies that make the mistake of trying to be “about” something are either ludicrously chauvinistic nationalist agitprop pieces or ludicrously secularist (in the Indian sense) agitprop exhorting us all to get along and be friends.
The great, or at least memorable, films of recent years, such as the ever-popular Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the more modern hit Dil Chahta Hai and the budget-busting period piece, Devdas (mostly memorable for Madhuri Dixit’s enchanting performance), are the ones to go for if you have three or four hours to kill and have no desire to watch anything that pretends to be serious social commentary. Paheli, starring the lovely Rani Mukherjee (above), is this sort of movie. Bollywood is extravagant, entertaining fluff that knows that it’s fluff, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.