There's always going to be a million and one Indian films you could watch. But your choices are yours, as are your views. What we can give to each other is knowledge of what we've yet to look into, recommendations, and stories. And I think we should tell more stories of how we watch films, instead of just talking about the films, to give context to our own film experiences.
Since I started watching Hindi films, I have lost count of the number of times friends and family have asked me how I went from renting a single Bollywood film from the library on a whim one (fateful) weekend to owning over 200 dvds and having a Bollywood themed blog. Not to mention the countless Bollywood books, magazines, posters and various Teach Yourself Hindi manuals scattered around my room.
The short answer is that I don’t really know.
The more filmi, Bollywood answer is that it was always in my destiny. Bollywood and I were always going to meet, and fall in love…it was just a matter of time.
SOME STUFF THAT MAYBE PUTS MY RABID OBSESSION IN CONTEXT
My first film obsession was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I saw on my 13th birthday. Musical? Tick. Wackadoo storyline? Tick. Crizzazy costumes? Tick. Campy (sort of) supervillains? Tick! (Also when I say I was obsessed with this film, I’m not exaggerating – I’ve seen it at least 50 times and still know huge chunks of it off by heart. Geeky right?) Let’s face it: Rocky Horror was preparing me to truly appreciate full on masala films (all it really needed was long lost brothers and it would have been perfect).
Similar deal with Jesus Christ Superstar – the first big stage show I remember seeing (I was 11). I am not AT ALL religious (but do find all religions fascinating – probably a strong reason for the Bollywood love) and a shameful amount of my scant knowledge of Christianity comes from knowing the lyrics to Jesus Christ Superstar songs off by heart. Anyway – the point is: tragic tale, religion, glitzy costumes, dancing and singing = AWESOMETUDE TO THE MAX. Obviously that left an impression on eleven year old me.
I’m a big filmi dork who loves learning new stuff – I even have an Honours degree in Media Studies and Communications, and so I spent four years of my life passionately studying (mainly) all things related to cinema. Discovering Bollywood was like discovering an alternate universe with SO MUCH LEARNING TO BE DONE. Not only is there so much basic knowledge to be gleaned, like who’s who, but there are so many interesting things coming up like copyright issues (with Bollywood regularly ‘taking inspiration’ from Hollywood) and the battle re: royalties for songwriters, and obviously…Hindi.
When I was at uni, I learned how to analyze the crap out of a film –within about six months, watching films stops being very enjoyable (and after three years of scrutinizing films in minute detail for every nuance of meaning and symbolism it’s no huge surprise I ended up focusing on the music industry for my thesis). With Bollywood, what I have discovered is the value and sheer joy of pure entertainment. That’s not to say that I don’t look for deeper meaning sometimes, or that it’s not there to find. But one of the things I truly love about mainstream Hindi films is how they place the highest value on PAISA VASOOL – giving the audience their money’s worth. (Just because it might explain why I am so interested in what entertains people and why, it’s probably worth knowing that my Honour’s thesis was on the dichotomy between art and commerce, and how different groups - e.g. fans, artists, critics, industry groups define ‘popular’. Usually popular = commercial = good with fans, bad with critics; and ‘alternative’ = usually associated with non-commercial ventures, very niche fandoms, adored by critics and unsuccessful commercially).
I’ve mentioned a few times now that the first Hindi film I ever watched was Om Shanti Om – my blog is named Shahrukh is Love because Rukhie was like my gateway drug into the crazy maze that is Bollywood. I rented it on a whim and just fell in love…but it was the second film I ever saw, a film I picked up at a bookshop to test if my Om Shanti Om love was just a fluke, that really cemented the obsession. I didn’t know anything about Kuch Naa Kaho when I sat down to watch it – didn’t recognize Abhishek from his cameo in Om Shanti Om and wasn’t that familiar with Aishwarya Rai – but it was different enough from OSO (a less flashy, sweet, funny romantic comedy as opposed to OSO’s over the top self referential melodrama) to hook me into the variety that Bollywood could offer. And there was this. The moment, definitively, that I fell in love: