Popular Indian Cinema

Foreword by Derek Malcolm.
Edited by Lalit Mohan Joshi
Dakini. 2001.
Large format hbk. 352 pages. Index. 500 colour and b/w photographs. £29.95.

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Bollywood is often used as a condescending term that refers to highly musical and melodramatic movies for the undemanding masses. In his foreword to this volume Derek Malcolm admits that Bollywood 'has produced some of the most feeble and repetitive films in the world.' 

Considering that India produces 800 films a year for an audience of over one billion there is bound to be plenty of dross but as Derek Malcolm says it has given us Satyajit Ray and after peaking in the 1940s and 1950s it is set for a revival.

Whatever the quality (a very subjective and cultural value judgement in itself), Bollywood puts popular
myths, folk tales and legends of India on the screen and reflects its own cultural beliefs and values. In the opening chapter the editor of this book, Lalit Mohan Joshi, looks at the evolution of Bollywood over the last one hundred years and some of its landmark films.

In his chapter on music in Indian films, Gulzar points out that it reflects the pace of life and that many film songs have become part of certain ceremonies and have even replaced some traditional folk songs. Lyrics and melody became an essential part of the film narrative but in the social turmoil of the 1970s he tells us that the Golden Age of Melody faded. Nonetheless music remains a vital part of the Bollywood industry however much musical styles and fashions change.

Pratik Joshi, a well known critic and documentary filmmaker, talks about Bollywood’s Classics and Blockbusters, “For the most part, blockbusters are pure entertainment. Some of them attain an aura of respectability if, over time, they continue to draw viewers. Classics make the audience introspective about life. Their innovative content or treatment may not necessarily be commercially successful.” 
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal in action.
In the chapter Heart Of The Movie, Maithili Rao explains, "In the broadest sense, mainstream cinema meets the emotional and cultural needs of a people who may be divided by language and ethnicity, but are united in their addiction to the multifarious joys of the Hindi film”. 

Shyam Benegal, who has more than 25 feature films to his credit, gives a fascinating insight into his personal story in Making Movies in Mumbai. "Popular cinema was seen as a hybrid, creatively dependent on the existing urban theatre for its ideas and plots. Although the medium was cinema, it resembled filmed theatre, complete with interludes of songs and dances. Its success with Indian audiences was undeniable.” 

The All Time Greats are explored by Kavita Mehta: “Right from the silent era you could count a handful of Bollywood films that created stars. Out of them only a microscopic minority stood the ‘legend test’. Often, luck created stars but only talent sustained it. The interplay of hardwork, talent and luck in varying degrees has been a tried-and- tested formula to attain it. The longer you remain a star, the higher your chances to be a legend”. 

No Indian film can be truly complete without Villains and Vamps. Deepa Gahlot, who writes extensively on cinema for Zee Premier and Screen in Mumbai, explores the ‘underdogs’ of Bollywood cinema "Over the years, the hero in Hindi films has not changed much although the villain has changed his spots several times over. Good comes in just one shade of white, while there is a spectrum of black-to-grey characters who have been challenging the hero from the dawn of cinema.”

The final chapter deals with The Next Generation of Bollywood written by Madhu Jain. A former senior editor with India Today, she has been writing on films for the last 15 years. “In this new school of filmmaking, the look of a film is all-important. The 1990s saw the emergence of a young crop of writers, musicians, choreographers, art directors, fashion designers, stylists, distributors, make-up men and publicists who could whip up sleek, good-looking films with airbrushed protagonists. They no longer needed to rely on tired, pirated videos of American movies for inspiration.”

You only have to glance through this high-quality volume to appreciate the vibrant, colourful and exciting world of Bollywood. For me Derek Malcolm's foreword is the worst part of the book, he's surprisingly short and rather sniffy about Bollywood. Surely cinema, of any nation if it is to be successful, must be entertaining and relevant to its main paying customers. Bollywood does the business and that's why it continues, Hollywood and Derek Malcolm could still learn a lot from it.

The stunniing Kareena Kapoor.

Bollywood - Popular Indian Cinema is published by Dakini for further details see their website:

Nigel Watson 
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