Welcome to Sandalwood

I’ve always felt like an anthropologist when watching Bollywood films. Mass market films inadvertently tell you a lot about the culture that they originate from. The latest one was similar. Except this was a Sandalwood film. Sandalwood is a term for the Kannada language film industry while Bollywood is synonymous with Hindi. I’d never seen a Kannada movie before and was dying to actually see one. Our driver’s wife works as an extra broker for Kannada and Tamil language filmmakers (and even tried to recruit Sammy as an extra for a shoot once) and I’ve long wanted to watch one. The problem is that they never translate them. They don’t even put subtitles onto the DVDs. Somehow this fits the curious habit that South Indians have of remaking the entire film in other languages, rather than dubbing them or adding subtitles.

So a few weeks ago, I came across a DVD of Mungaru Male, complete with English subtitles. It took weeks to convince Daniela to actually sit down and watch it. She has an inherent mistrust of any Indian film not recommended by Siva. This mistrust is not unfounded as most Hindi films range from godawful to merely not very good and even most of the relatively good ones share the same basic plot layout as the bad ones. To top it off, most Indian films have pointless song and dance scenes that feel like they were spliced in with duct tape; song and dance scenes that get conveniently repackaged as music videos and become the mainstays of pop music. Now there are also genuinely excellent Bollywood films; Being Cyrus and Chak De!, which has joined my pantheon of favorite films. But Chak De! is that rare example of mass market Hindi film (Being Cyrus is English) that does not have a single dance scene.

Eventually I was able to convince her to watch it. After all, Mungaru Male is one of the most famous Kannada films, its outdoor cinematography is supposed to be exceptional and it comes with the bit of trivia that a scene at Jog Falls – one of the highest single drop waterfalls in Asia – has inspired copycat fools to fall to their deaths. Siva, who was over for the weekend and had never seen a Kannada film before, watched it with us.

It was horrible! It combined the worst instincts of a Hindi “romance” with horrible 60’s style indoor cinematography, cheesy fight scenes that derived inspiration from old tradition poorly dubbed, badly acted Kung Fu movies and yet had enchanting outdoor fimography. It felt like a YouTube mashup created by a deranged twelve year old. The hero not only stalked the heroine, but he acted juvenile to boot! The only redeeming feature was that we recognized the places in the Bangalore scenes. Dani only survived half the film and left. Siva had her own opinions:

I wouldn’t even watch a movie like this in Tamil!

(She is a Tamil)

Only Charlotte was glued to the plot.

I need to find more Kannada films with English subtitles. It was so delightfully bad that it was great!

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2 responses to “Welcome to Sandalwood

  1. U should ask Siva to recommend some Tamil movies. there have been a few good “artsy” ones lately. Ayngaran international do subtitles for them in London and distribute them worldwide.

  2. Your articles are quite interesting to read.

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