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Guest: Making a Song and Dance about Indian Films

Courtesy of Stuart | Likhaavat | Fifty Pachaas

I joined the fiftyfiftyme challenge to have the incentive I needed to read more books. I also saw a chance to pursue my other hobby, Hindi films. Joining the challenge is the perfect opportunity to watch more of them, and to promote them.

Although I’m of Anglo-Indian descent, I didn’t get into watching Hindi films until my late 30s. Before then, if I’d been asked what Indian films were all about, I probably would have said “song and dance”. It’s that stereotype I hope to challenge here.
Indian films are often marked by their use of musical numbers, but to define them by that is to do them an injustice, and anyone who dismisses them for that reason is doing themselves a disservice.

I love old, classic Hindi films, where the songs are an integral part of the storylines, and the poetry of the lyrics is sublime. Quite possibly my favourite film ever is Pyaasa, a masterly example of how traditional Hindi musical cinema can reach the heights of art cinema. In more recent times, films like the Oscar-nominated Lagaan and 2011’s Mere Brother ki Dulhan have shown that song and dance are still relevant and productive elements of Hindi films.

Now though, more than ever, Hindi films cover a wide range of genres, and many have no songs at all. Hindi cinema has everything from superb Shakespearian adaptations such as Maqbool and Omkara to bawdy farces and pratfall style comedies like the current box office hit, Housefull 2. In the course of my fiftyfifty challenge I will be watching comedies, thrillers, biopics and social issue dramas, in addition to the “song and dance” romances that many think are the sum total of “Bollywood”.

I will also be watching many films that are not “Bollywood” at all. That term has made a place for itself, and is a convenient catch-all for mainstream commercial Hindi cinema. Indian cinema is so much more than just Bollywood. Hindi cinema itself includes many films that are outside the mainstream of Bollywood. Some examples from the last few years are Shor in the City, Dor and Dhokha Every major Indian language has its own film industry, and the biggest of the South Indian languages have cinematic cultures as distinct from the Hindi industry as their languages are. My focus is on films in Hindi, since I have almost enough comprehension to get by without subtitles, but I hope to include some films in Malayalam and Bengali as well.

For those unfamiliar with Indian cinema, a key mantra to remember is this: SLUMDOG IS NOT BOLLYWOOD AND BOLLYWOOD IS NOT SLUMDOG

India is a huge country, where diversity is perhaps the only constant. The same is true of its films. From the internationally-acclaimed works of Satyajit Ray to small gems like I am Kalam, from Hindi masala standards like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge to the quietly thought-provoking Malayalam Adaminte Makan Abu, from the Elvis-like swagger of Shammi Kapoor to the moustachioed machismo of the one and only Rajnikanth, from the piercing genius of Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics and the magic of A.R. Rahman’s music to the unflinching honesty of Nandita Das’s social issue films, Indian cinema really does have something for everyone, and I hope that many fiftyfifty participants will include India when selecting films for the challenge.

A sample list of some Indian films I enjoyed:

  • Pyaasa, Lagaan
  • 1947:Earth
  • Kannathil Muthamittal
  • Adaminte Makan
  • Abu, Firaaq
  • Amar Akbar Anthony
  • Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge
  • Maqbool
  • Jab We Met
  • Wake Up Sid
  • I am Kalam
  • Road: Movie,
  • Junglee
  • Mere Brother ki Dulhan

Check out more of Stuart's views and reviews on his Hindi cinema blog, Likhaavat!


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