Very quickly after I had started watching Bollywood movies, I started crying, often at the end, and I felt somehow justified in my crying, pleased in my crying. I can’t even remember when I last cried, or if I ever cried, after having watched an occidental film. Schindler’s list, perhaps? Or Roberto Begnini’s Life is beautiful? Anyway, I cried after each of my three screenings of Veer-Zaara (or the first two, at least), I cried at the end of KKHH, at the end of Kal ho na ho, of Black, of Khamoshi, and in a few others. I might have restrained myself recently, but for me crying is part of my Bollywood experience. I don’t programme it, and of course I don’t necessarily need it to happen, but it has happened, and sufficiently for me to wonder what it means. I wonder what has happened for me to modify my emotional response in that way. Because it’s partly something that has forced itself on me, and partly something which I’ve welcomed as a sign of that Bollywood experience. I could easily list the objective characteristics of the kind of films which have made me cry (often love movies, a certain purity and simplicity of feelings, an optimistic and deeply reverent perspective on humanity, a playfulness, a vindication of certain feelings which are displayed in such a way that the heart is touched, and of course the fact that the characters themselves cry often – tears are infectious!): but is all this enough?
(OK, here Ash isn’t crying, but you’ll agree with me that BW films are so full of water, rain, monsoons, fountains and the like, all trickling down these poor actresses bodies and making them wet, that you can’t always distinguish the water from within from the water outside!!)
Naturally, love stories play an important role in the response on my part. It is often because the films are love stories, and that they end in a moving and meaningful way, that they bring tears to my eyes. Tears of joy most of the time, but also sometimes of sadness. Also I admit that I am manipulated; but it doesn’t work if the ropes are too thick. The end of Kal ho na ho, for example, was almost too sentimental. Still, I think I got won over by the characters, the story, and because the films are longer than ours, we develop more of an attachment to them, perhaps, and become more involved in what happens to the protagonists. It is clear that this is what happened for me with Veer-Zaara. The 3 hours 12 min long story really makes you follow the lives of the heroes, and even if the first half seems long, in fact, I found that what happens in the 2nd half justifies the lengthy bits of the first part. This balancing act was also part of the emotion created at the end, since of course the role of time is important in the film.
I wonder if this attitude of crying has not been one of allowing crying to happen. Haven’t I lowered my level of critical appreciation because I was in a different cultural world with Indian films? And therefore, haven’t I given in to the lazy pleasure of tears? Well, perhaps in a sense. I suppose there is a zone in our psyche somewhere that doesn’t mind recognizing that sentimentality is good for you even if it is caused by cheesy, wishy-washy stories. I’m sure people somewhere have already developed lacrymotherapy, even if I’ve never heard of it. But on the other hand, I wonder whether there isn’t something specific in these Bolly films that has won a victory over my intellectual nature? Hum… Probably the fact that these films take place in an aesthetic world which is more spiritual, more religious, has played a part. I slowly come to realise that my faith often plays that sort of trick on me. Whenever I am among believers, I tend to feel warmer towards them than I do naturally towards other people. I grant them more easily the right to reach me than if they don’t believe in that other world of love and life and hope. When I feel that fellow believers are there, talking to me about their hope for beauty and truth and innocence, yes, certainly my defences are lower, and even if the coherence of their message is not as strong as in the case of other artists, they can touch me more easily and I don’t mind crying in their company.
I remember I’ve already said things about tears and silence about Khamoshi, the musical. Phew! Am I becoming a teary-eyed sentimentalist? I hope not. The problem with tears is that they’re so serious! It’s difficult to make fun of someone who’s crying! Well, up to a certain extent, this can happen with Bollywood movies. The humour present in so many Indian films helps to ward off that over-sentimentality. Crying for joy is laughable. For example, at the end of Veer-Zaara, Saamiya (Rani) the lawyer, who perhaps represents us spectators, wipes off a tear, but (during the scenes visible as the credits roll on the left of the screen), Amitabh Bachchan’s lovely playfulness is present beyond death through the fact that his statue (and his wife’s) is there at the entrance of the ashram, but also, most importantly, because they are present through their example that the two lovers are not afraid of imitating. Veer and Zaara are re-enacting the joy and liveliness of their elders. And so we laugh after having cried. This sense of life, continuing beyond death with its bountiful creativity, is for me something precious that Bollywood knows how to put forward, and which is there for all those who are willing to appreciate it.