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!
The Times of India was part of my introduction to India. I learned a lot in those first few days. Corruption is rampant. Infrastructure is inadequate. The local term for rolling blackouts is “load shedding”. If you are against the nuclear treaty with the US, it is because you take orders from Beijing.
I also learned many other things:
- Some Bollywood actress that I’ve never heard of is ready to take on a bad girl image.
- Another Bollywood actress is ready to re-enter films after being in TV.
- So and so is moving to Kannada films from Tamil/Telegu/Hindi.
- So and so is moving the other way.
- Some actor has “no problem” kissing in his films and even looks forward to it.
NEWSFLASH! Man enjoys being paid substantial sums of money to kiss beautiful women on camera.
The thing is that I don’t even care about Hollywood stars. Fixating on the social lives people whom I do not personally know is just not for me. In a nutshell, I simply don’t care about “stars” and can recognize only a few. Now Bollywood stars really are just names to me; except that Khan guy who seems to be ubiquitous, that other Khan guy – the older one – who seems equally ubiquitous, the woman who starred in Jab We Met (what was her name again?) and that Ganesh guy who’s face I always seem to see on Kannada movie posters. The last on always wears his shirt half unbuttoned, seems to be photographed in a tough guy walk and wears mirrored Ray Bans.
My problem is that half of the Times of India is either about cricket or these Bollywood types. So earlier this week we switched the newspaper subscription to The Hindu; a paper somewhat similar to the New York Times in tone. So far this week, I have learned that:
- The nuclear agreement is potentially bad for India, especially after the US congress passed its list of “reservations”, because it would make India dependent on a fickle US for fuel.
- There are 6000 transgender individuals in Bangalore. They are often harassed by the police.
- Bollywood seems to have silently disappeared.
I am rather pleased with this latest development, though the newspaper man mistakenly delivered TOI today instead of The Hindu and Bollywood seems to have reappeared a mysteriously as it vanished.
We watched a Bollywood movie yesterday – Del Se… Supposedly, if you read the Wikipedia article on the movie, the seven stages of love are depicted. The “seven stages of love” are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the west, so I’ll define my own version of what I saw in the film:
- Love at First Sight – aka “The Hots” – The main character spies a beautiful woman. Being male, he becomes obsessed with her right away.
- Hey Baby! – Being Indian, he is not really accustomed to love being a high context affair. He approaches her and is about as smooth as I was at the 8th grade Valentine’s Day dance.
- Hard to Get – She boards a train without even saying goodbye! Obviously, she is playing hard to get!
- Psycho Stalker – He finds her by chance in a remote village. She tells him to go away, not follow her, that she is married, etc. He follows her anyway. If she was a westerner, she’d have a restraining order out for him by this stage.
- She really is not interested! – She sends her “brothers” (fellows from her terrorist cell) to beat him up. This was the best scene in the movie! Too bad he did not get the hint!
- Date Rape – No really, he forces a kiss on her. At this point in the movie, I wanted to reach into the TV and punch the pervert!
- Consummate Love – The stupid chick falls for him in the end. At least she blows him up, but she did not need to kiss him before blowing him to pieces.
My biggest critism of this movie is this… the woman is not interested and the main character chases her anyway, the whole time maintaining this air of entitlement; he loves her, therefore she must love him in return. Eventually she falls for him in the end, which made me want to throw up. The moral of this story is that she really wanted him, but he just had to show his love for her enough first. Is this how Indians see romantic love happening in general, or is this just a single strange film that tells me nothing? If so, what about the poor girl who really, honestly simply does not like the boy? Does his sense of entitlement trump her right not to be stalked by a psycho? There is a certain irony that the hero of this film fits a common Hollywood villain trope; the guy that wants the girl who really loves the hero and pursues her even though she can’t stand him.
The second half of the movie has a Crying Game like twist and bizarrely turns into a thriller where she turns out to be a terrorist bent on blowing the prime minister up. This was actually pretty good.
The film has a famous dance scene (Bollywood films are all musicals it seems) quite early on; done on a moving train. Right after she boards the train without saying goodbye, he fantasises about her falling in love with him. It is pretty good.