Bollywood started for me with a selection of films shown on the French TV two years ago, and I was at first simply curious to discover a new sort of movies. One of them was Mani Ratman’s Dil se, with Manisha Koirala that literally blows up on the screen. Interestingly, I read on Imdb (http://www.imdb.com/) a review of this film that matches almost completely my own. It has been written by Tarynblake: Here it is:
“This was the first actual Bollywood film I've ever seen. I knew nothing about it going in, other than that it was considered a classic and featured "that Indian guy" (Khan) who shows up in every other film. Needless to say, after I became accustomed to the singing and dancing, I was able to dig in to the film a bit. It got slow at times but I was intensely interested in figuring out what the heck was going on. In the final moments of the film, my friend and I just sat frozen. I've never seen a movie that had singing, dancing, and ended with a bang. Needless to say, I'm hooked on Bollywood and determined to make everyone I know watch this film.” (Dil Se...)
Well, that was my beginning too. That dancing and singing, that vibrant life, those colours, that length of action, when we in the West are accustomed to 1h30 or 2h movies, that display of sentiments in their often exaggerated, or stereotyped fashion, but precisely, this simplification of human psychology somehow attracted me. Strange, isn’t it? Because in fact it also meant what I cannot name otherwise than a more innocent type of cinema, or a more decent, if you get my meaning. It isn’t only a question of Bollywood films being less dirty or violent than Western ones, although that is part of it. There is a kind of freshness in most of these films because they deal with central themes of love, marriage, the family, parents and children relationships, friendship, and the like. These themes are life-themes, if I may say, whereas too many Western themes are death-themes. Or themes in which negativity and hopelessness are given a weight that naturally is more difficult to bear (and are perhaps the signature of a nihilist culture which has refused its former transcendent values?). When I say this, I hope I am not giving in to childishness or naivety: we are talking about an art, and Bollywood is, I believe, more on the side of life and joy than Hollywood.
I must also discuss the question of sex, since I think it is not only a question of culture, but also of aesthetic choice. It is of course a question of culture, I am not denying this. But even if the fact that in Bollywood films actors don’t kiss on the mouth, and that skin or love-scenes are hardly seen could pass as prudery and lack of realism, I think it enables the spectator to look at actors in a different way. We all know excellent films in which the deeper exploration of a relationship would be very artificial without a foray into intimacy, and that includes love and sex. But the tendency for money-seeking producers is sometimes (often?) to include sex-scenes in films which would not necessarily need them in terms of aesthetic purpose. And so if certain Bollywood films fall in the trap of using this trick to attract spectators, I think you will agree with me that the best of them don’t. Anyhow, my personal position as spectator is less uncomfortable when watching a Bollywood film, because I feel less a hostage to that sort of manipulation.
It might sound difficult, after having read all this, to connect it with Dil se, with which I opened the article. Isn’t that a film about a girl terrorist who has lost all hope, has forsaken all joy in life? Where are the spirit, the humour, the charm that characterise Bollywood so well? Well, perhaps Mani Ratman is rather special (I’m saying after having seen only two of his films, agreed) and not mainstream Bollywood. But Dil se has the vibrant emotionality, the dance, the music, and, yes, the values that I enjoy so much. Of course, there is a lot of trash in Bolly films. But I like to think that this doesn’t counterbalance the fundamental stance according to which the pleasure to be found in cinema is on the side of hope and joy.