Hooray For Bollywood, Part 1
Cinema Junkie Podcast Episode 213 Hooray for Bollywood, Part 1 CLIP Bollywood song There is nothing quite like a Bollywood film… It’s about impossibly gorgeous stars, deliciously overripe melodrama, spectacular production numbers, an explosion of colors, and music with such an irresistible beat that even someone with two left feet feels inspired to get up and dance… Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. I am Beth Accomando. Cinema Junkie Theme Music Bump 1 (drums) This month, in honor of Indian Independence, I look to Bollywood cinema. Cinema Junkie Theme Music Bump 2 (horns) I'm going to call this Hooray for Bollywood, since the name took inspiration from Hollywood and this podcast is meant as a celebration. I adore Bollywood cinema and the unabashed way it embraces certain tropes and formulas. It delivers exactly what you expect but in the most seductively over the top and wildly fun manner. Yes it is like a drug and I get high just watching these films. In order to tackle the huge expanse of Bollywood cinema I decided to invite the trio of Moviewallas podcasters onto the show. So Today, in part one of Hooray for Bollywood we look to the history of Bollywood Cinema and then next time, in part two we look to modern Bollywood films and offer a list of must-see movies. Cinema Junkie Theme Music Bump and OUT But before we get to that discussion I need to take a quick break and I want to have Nora Fiore, AKA The Nitrate Diva take us into the break with the latest Share Your Addiction. Nora with be joining me in November for a podcast on film noir and femme fatales. I hope her passion for film and her unique addiction will whet your appetite for our discussion so take it away The Nitrate Diva. SHARE YOUR ADDICTION The Nitrate Diva Thanks Nora. I’ll be right back with the Moviewallas crew to celebrate Bollywood Cinema. MIDROLL 1 [00:01:55] Welcome back. Our Bollywood conversation with the moviewallas crew kicked off at their home studio. Let me introduce everyone here. We have Yazdi Pithavala. Welcome. YAZDI: Hello, Beth. And Rashmi Gandhi. RASHMI: Hi there. And Joseph Djan. JOSEPH: Hey Beth. Thank you all for joining me. So when I decided to do this podcast, I thought that getting together at your place would be great because you have four microphones and KPBS right now is closed down for the pandemic. In part, I did not expect to come over to the house with incense burning and Bollywood music playing and even better intermission food. So Rashmi, what did you have prepared? Oh, my God. Well, Beth, you just gave me the perfect excuse to go in and Dulwich. And so we had some simosas and we had what we call deli chart and, um, we had some Chave rock. So all little snacks that you can get in between the intermission, um, Yazdi is the expert on this, but I just remembered Yazzie describing the experience of being in an Indian cinema and wanted to kind of recreate that experience for you, Beth. To get us in the mood. Yeah. I mean, I, I grew up in India watching movies every Saturday, every Saturday. It was a thing our family did. And, you know, as a kid, maybe I wasn't so interested in the movies, but always looked forward to the intermission because you would have these hot samosa and you would get two of them in a little paper, like a wax paper bag, and it would be a crinkly. And, uh, my parents would actually use that. If you were naughty, then you would say you are not going to get there. I've watched movies without getting some Moses and my sister is eating them. So it was, it was very good incentive, but yeah, you get some massage, you get popcorn and you get Cheevers, you get peanuts. Uh, it's a whole thing. And you know, when there's a huge rush and nobody in India knows anything about QS, you know, at least they did not when I was growing up. So there would be like 20 people on that stall, like, you know, like, like think of the world's busiest bar and they're all clawing and trying to get at things. It was quite. Okay, well, this is perfect because the new cinema junkie is now doing some themed food, YouTube videos to go with each podcast. So Rashmi has given me all sorts of inspiration for what we can do on these YouTube videos. So we are going to do some intermission food that you can watch these videos and learn how to make your own. Perfect little Bollywood evening. And you know, we're doing Bollywood in August because one Bollywood is wonderful for summer, especially if you can have a little outdoor screening and have some food with that. It's also important because August is the month of Indian independence. So what does that mean in terms of the holiday? That's similar. It's uh, August 15, it's India's independence from British rule. It, you know, it comes, you know, end of summer. And, uh, it's great. You get a day off from, from school and, uh, you know, just like you're in Hollywood, a lot of the big budget, blockbuster movies get released, you know, late June, early fall that, around that timeframe. So everybody looks forward to those right. So we're going to talk about Bollywood, cinema and Bollywood. For those of you who don't know it is playing off of Hollywood and Bollywood cinema is huge and it, it, it follows some similarities to Hollywood in terms of having big studios and stars and all this. But for each of you, what does Bollywood mean? And I'll start with you. Yazdi cause you were raised in India and you were at the heart of this. Yeah, the Bombay on the west coast of India now Mumbai, uh, was, and is the main center of filmmaking in India. And at one point they had more film studios in Bombay than any other city in the world. I don't know if they still hold the record for me, Bollywood is a package. It's something that you build your free day around. It's something of celebration. It's something you and your friends. Family goals. And it's not just that hour and a half. It's, you know, the whole preparation for it sitting down, together, talking at the screen and joining the intermission. Um, yeah, it's, it's a whole big entertainment package and so forth in my mind, Bollywood is that movie which creates the perfect entertainment package. It has, you know, music and color and preposterous things and there's comedy and action and a love interest in a sidekick comic. There's the whole bag. In Rashmi. Yeah. So growing up in London, in England, I feel like Bollywood to me, always, I always think of family. It was a way for those people who are Indian at heart to remain connected to the motherland. And so, um, our parents, it was definitely a time where we all went together, all watched on VHS, growing up, um, music. Dancing preposterous, unbelievable stories that are difficult to follow where everyone is related to everyone. Um, reincarnation, mythical, stupid things happening. People hiding behind trees, but joyful all over. And your father was involved in a certain way with actual Bollywood films. He was. So he was actually a film distributor in London, in England. And, um, so we often had, you know, film reels laying in the house and the big Indian posters. And so on weekends, they would run the cinema. And so you would see the diaspora come out and, and joy being. In touch with their motherland, the community would come together. So yeah, Bollywood was definitely a huge part of my life growing up, unbeknownst to me, it was something that just happened. Um, and I always described my life as kind of Alice in Wonderland. I lived in a very Western culture outside and when I opened the front door, I went down the rabbit hole. And Joe, what does Bollywood mean to you? I didn't grow up with it unlike Rashmeen yesterday. So I think I had very much the, um, the cliche opinion of it for a long, long time. I think now over the years, I've really come to appreciate it with knowing these guys, obviously being married too. Right. Movies like show lay. Some of the old Indian classics were just kind of, they blew up the whole image that I had of these singing, dancing over the top type of thing. So, yeah, it's, it's still a really interesting category of cinema. I can't say I'm really into it, but there's so much more access to it now. So those movies are kind of entering my, my mind space in a way. So I, I, it, it doesn't have a specific connotation other than the cliche to me, but I mean, I, I love the films that come from there. So how did you seduce him into Bollywood? Uh, chalet. I won't say anything else. I think Shirley is a great entry point for anyone who wants to understand what Bollywood is about. It's a mid seventies film. It's part of the, kind of, um, genre of movie about it. It has everything and it's a masala. Western is how we would describe it. So, um, yeah, I think Schaller was the first look I was trying to impress you. Okay. There you go. There you go. These films look terrible, but I'll sit down and we'd sit and watch one with you, but they were great. Are the defining qualities of a Bollywood movie? What do they look like? Uh, you know, are they packaged around stars? How would you kind of point out the things, the elements that have to be there to define a Bollywood film? Uh, it has to be a musical. There has to be musical. Although there have been, uh, you know, in the last couple of decades, good Bollywood movies without any, any music in them, but yeah, predominantly good musicals. They do have big action. Stars are big film stars in general. You know, there's always been a very clan like Indian cinema royalty, a dynasty, and you know, they're kids and kids have continued to be in cinema big name actor. A lot of music, usually what we call an item number, which is, you know, a song picturize on somebody. Who's not a main character in the movie, but they're just there to provide the glitz and, uh, you know, Uh, checkout or spice. Yeah, the spice to the whole movie. Um, and you know, for the longest time, um, Hollywood movies did have, I have a formula and at the risk of sounding repetitive, it's this whole package, there's a little bit of fighting, you know, a little bit of action, a little bit of comedy. Oh. And it has to tug on your heart strings. I mean, it's very manipulatively created to kind of. You know, target you. And, you know, there, there is a lot of, uh, built in morality, which goes with a lot of, uh, Bollywood known films. Like, you know, you, your mom comes before anything else, you know, your, your greatest responsibility is to your parents. And, you know, there's, there's a lot of, uh, old school Morali, which, which is tied with Bollywood films. And frankly, some of it has been damaging over the years, but so be it it's that package. Yeah. I feel like inherently, they used to be about good versus evil. There's always a really good guy. And then as a really bad guy, there's a lot of unfair, bidden love or unrequited love that adds angst. I feel like they were a good mechanism to overcome. Discussion about cost or wealth or gender, gender, not so much. Maybe now in recent years, it's more about gender, but, um, definitely this kind of cost or boy meets girl, boy, and girls shouldn't be together and how they fight for that love. There was a lot of, and when we use the term Bollywood cinema, this is not covered. All the films that are made in India. There was a lot of, um, this kind of international art house, uh, films that were starting to get popular, like late fifties and definitely in the sixties. So how do you define kind of the difference between those kinds of things or, or what other kinds of cinema are you finding in India that is maybe overshadowed by the term Bali? There's always been alternative cinema Indian cinema, I think as early as the fifties sixties, and when I was growing up, there was no real difference between the two. I mean, you knew that there was this big flashy movie, which is coming on with the big names and big directors and so forth. And then there were smaller movies which kind of tackled more socialist ideals. They were kind of more near realistic if you will. I mean, a set of Ray's films, you know, They're almost documentary. Like they're very quiet, very subtle. Just, just, uh, observing life around the camera wouldn't move too much, but that was also part of cinema. It never felt like outsider. To me, it just felt like something else. We'll talk some more about this, but I think India is going through like the second wave of, uh, you know, it's called an age right now because in the last 10 or 15 years, um, there's so much. Other content outside of this formula, which has been created, the scripts are exceptional. They're tackling new issues, things that Indian cinema would have never touched 10 years ago. There's a movie. There was a wonderful movie about a sperm donor. There's a great movie about a blind man who kind of may have witnessed a murder. I mean, it it's just, uh, outside the box thinking, and again, in the last decade, a lot of our tears have come up, um, who have. Taking the reigns in their own hands and created the scripts and the content. And we reached a point now where those are tears have become mainstream because the big name actors realize that people go to watch those other movies as much as you know, the song and dance running around the trees, kind of moving. Yeah. And I think inherently Beth, one of the things that strikes me about Bollywood is ultimately it's about escapism. You have a billion people in a sub-continent and then hon you know, billions of people who are of Indian origin outside of India, all wanting to escape and connect. And so I think Bollywood movies represent this ability to just sink into another world and escape. Hence the big, um, dance numbers and music and people dancing in the aisles, even along with the song. Yeah, yeah. Not uncommon at all. Or people just literally jumping out of their seats and like, you know, clapping and screaming and that's, that's commonplace all the time, you know, exactly to what Rashmi said. It's the great equalizer in India. You know, India has always had this cost system, the very rich and the very poor and whatever, but the typical Bollywood fare is made. Kind of serve everyone. It, it kind of meats, you know, it crosses all those genres and it's tickets are relatively cheap. So no matter whether you are very rich or very poor, you are able to get lost for a period of time. And that's why you get this whole package because you're paying some amount of money and they want to put you in an air conditioned cinema in the middle of sweltering, heat, and give you escapism for, for three hours. That's also the reason why I think the movies tend to be so long because people want their money. Plus you've got to fit in, in to reincarnation somewhere. And one, at least one intermission there, there were a couple of movies which had two, two lots of simosas. Yes, yes. Uh, Mira, nom, joker, and Sangam, there were two movies which came out in the seventies. [Note: tracks sound out of sync, echo-y, not sure how to re-sync in Audition] YAZDI: They had two intermissions, three and a half hours long each. Wow. Wow. Well, the way you described that, it makes me think of Shakespeare in the sense of, you know, he had to please the rich people in the boxes and the Groundlings. And he had to have humor that played low and humor that played high and, you know, really reach across all sorts of different, uh, social levels. MUSIC [can you add something to transition from me in interview to me recorded at home] I need to take one more quick break and then I’ll be back with more Bollywood cinema history. And let’s have Nora Fiore, the Nitrate Diva, takes us into the break again but this time with her Cold Turkey rant. COLD TURKEY The Nitrate Diva Thanks Nora. I’ll be right back with the Moviewallas podcasters MIDROLL 2 [00:17:01] Ok, We’re back With the moviwallas crew talking all about Bollywood . Let's’ get back to it. Music Beat India was a British colony, but when films first began, so what was early Indian cinema like, and when did the idea of Bollywood really come into play? Um, you know, the first silent movie as, um, I think you mentioned Yazzie was Roger Harris, Chandra, which was in 1913. And I think most of those early films were very much based on, you know, the holy book, the Mahabharata epic battles, good versus evil. And I think once we get into the talkies, it changes things a little bit, you know, later on we have. Between the thirties and forties, and you've got the great depression world war two, Indian independence, partition. These all all create for a very rich tapestry of different types of movies. Bollywood for me, the term Bollywood, I feel comes around, you know, the forties to sixties, maybe a little bit later when you've got those established studios that Yazdi was talking about and established names in cinema, like the guru darts, the, um, Raj Kapoor's. And then a whole host of films that come out of that area. You know, during the time that India was going through its uh, uh, battled to kind of, uh, get independence from British colonialism film actually played a very, very big role in terms of kind of putting forth these patriotic ideals. And sometimes they would tip over, but I don't think. The fact that India was colonized by the British directly resulted in the British ization. If you will, of Indian cinema, Indian cinema remained always very Indian and they were always built around Indian mores and, you know, uh, Indian sensibility. And so if anything, they kind of helped. Create the social change within the country, a sense of, you know, we need to be independent and get out of it. So I think from that perspective, it helped out. And now we tend to use Bollywood as kind of this umbrella blanket term, but India is an incredibly diverse country. There's not one language spoken. So when we say Bollywood, does that reflect this kind of style of filmmaking, that appeals. Across the country. It depends on who you ask. I grew up in, uh, in Bombay. And so for me, Bollywood was primarily in the cinemas, uh, which is the national language of India. But, you know, over the years there has been Tollywood, which is Tamil Bollywood, and, you know, At least for the last, I want to say three or four decades, there has been regional cinema alive and well, you know, 10 million movies. Malila Moody's Muraki movies cause ratty movies, all of these, and they have their own little infrastructure. So they have their own, you know, big actors and actresses and big directors and so forth. In fact, for the longest time, there was not much crossover from one to the other. In fact, there was how popular some local cinema was or some local cinema actor was. Could be judged by how well they were able to transition and get into, you know, Bollywood cinema, Hindi movies, and, you know, uh, in the sixties and seventies, the most well-regarded female actors, they all came from south. So, you know, I be talking about Drake high and Sri Davie and, uh, him and Malini and all of these veterinary matter, all these big name actors, they all came from the south and they kind of. And eventually took the big spot and in the big Hollywood cinema. And what do you consider the golden age of Bollywood cinema? I mean, for me, it's the sixties and seventies, I would say because that's really, when I recognized my parents obviously love that era. And so those were the movies that were playing. A lot of the time. And I think that golden age continued right through from, you know, the sixties through the early eighties. Uh, and then there was a complete change with the advent of VHS, I would say. And VHS changed everything, but definitely the sixties and seventies, early eighties for me. Yeah, definitely. I think it's two things which kind of overlap with each other. I think in terms of craft, you know, things got to be really, really sharp and just. All, all the craft pieces came together, you know, in, in those starting the late sixties or so forth. So just gorgeous cinematography, great sound great dancing. Technicolor came about and at 70, mm. Screens came around. So, you know, the filmmakers just had this completely wider, bigger palette to play on. And that combined with some really good, you know, writing at that time. Resulted in, I think, you know, the golden golden age in the sixties and seventies, and a lot of those movies, they hold up remarkably well, both in terms of visual splendor, as well as, uh, the economy with which, uh, very complicated stories. Um, the musicality is just incredible. I mean, that was the music I was playing when you came in, just because it's so enjoyable and it's just in our psyche. And I think I told you the anecdote of many of those sort of like the rock and roll era. I would often hear my dad singing in the kitchen and if he and my mum had argued, he would sing to her. Both strange and cute. And I think cute now I look back but weird at the time, but you know, the musical NUS, we heard the music all the time, so I think that's what resonates with me. Yeah. And during those decades, what you would hear on radio would be primary. You know, Hindi movie songs. So it really became part of your bloodstream. That's what you were hearing in the background. You know, when you go to a store or when you're in a public transportation system, Indian television at that time was just starting to pick up as well. And the most popular television show used to be. On Thursday evenings. And it was a half hour show where there was like a review of songs from different movies. And I've spent many, a Thursday evening, like, oh, I wish it's a song from a movie. I like, and you know, then it would be some random thing or like, oh, and you would kind of wait for the next song to come along. So movies were just so inextricably tied into the culture of, of the people there. Um, you know, I, I can't think of life without movies and I can't think of life for any other Indian without. Yeah. And I was going to say, after you just remind me the fashion. I often remember my mother telling me that they would see some famous actress, like Sharmila tech or in the sixties, from the films, like these three months El Brom Chari. And they would look at what they were wearing and then they would actually imitate those what we call Solarc it would set the fashion trends. Um, th they would literally watch the movies and then imitate the clothing. So looking like the Beatles or Elvis Presley, my uncles would often have them tailor their shirts tighter to look like that. Now for American audiences, a lot of people are familiar with like the old MGM musicals and the way those production numbers were. So is there a similarity between kind of the way the Bollywood musicals were and those kinds of old Hollywood, or is there something. Like very specific to the way these Bollywood numbers are because they just, I know I had spoken to one person and he explained to him, he said, watching a Bollywood musical number was like seeing a, uh, Skittles factory explode. It's just like all this. Right. Um, but do you feel like there's a unique quality to the Bollywood musical? That's very different from what Americans might be from. I think for me, it's always been one thing, which is how ironic it is. You know, it has some commonality with, you know, the early musicals from, from Hollywood. But I think the musical numbers are always an ironic, they are doing ridiculous things. They're, they're jumping like jackasses, but they don't feel right. You know, shame for it. It's just so joyous. It's you want the camera to be all over the place you want the most elaborate dance steps. I mean, I do believe that the best choreography right now, the best choreographers when it comes to musical numbers, as an India, forget being a big name, actor in India, it's to be, you know, an extra in a, in a dance number is something to aspire to because you have to be exceptionally well-trained to be able to perform those dance. Yeah, it's interesting. You say that yesterday, we were just watching in the Heights, which has these terrific big group numbers. And I just kept thinking Bollywood does it better. And they've been doing it for longer. I think what music does is it's the part of the movie that you take away from you and you get to relive that great movie, that great night. As many times as you want outside of the movie, we all listened to that music in our homes at weddings, at birthdays, we dance to that music. They'll choreograph, big dance numbers and put them on for the family. These are just things that live within us. Like I liked how you described it yesterday. They're just in our bloodstream. And that's what I think the music does. That's how transportive they transport you to another place? They've always been very good in terms of recognizing. Who has contributed to that number. So even when a song would play on radio before the song comes on, they would say not just who the, who the person is, who is singing it, but they would say, then this person was the music director. This person wrote the lyrics. So, you know, Selim, Java, Cozaar, all these, you know, lyricists became household names. I mean, we grew up with them, so it wasn't that. All the credit just went to the director or that movie, you know, even the writers and the, the person who composed the music, they became household names and equal celebrities, I would say. Yeah, big music directors, everyone knows who ADI Berman is. any number of things. Now talk about the scale of Indian cinema it's been referred to as the largest producer of films in the world and the second oldest film industry in the world. Is that still true? Is it still huge? I believe it is. I don't know how the pandemic has affected things, but certainly pre pandemic, you know, India was making somewhere like 2001. You know a year, which is when you think about it, that's like almost eight to nine new movies released every day. And just like, yeah, the movies would get released on a Friday, but there would be like usually, you know, so many movies being released on that Friday and there's always a battle to see which one comes ahead. I think that number also includes, like I said, a lot of regional movies, which would only probably play in that particular area of the county. It's a big thriving business. And I think even now in the age of Netflix and Amazon prime and so forth, Indian cinema stumbled a little bit, but they have completely picked up their step. They're making as much content now for the streaming services as they used to for anything which is going to be screened on a cinema. So for you, what are some of the standout films of the golden era? Are there any landmark moments? I mean, films that really, I mean, I'm sure with 2000 films a year coming out sometimes, uh, it's going to be hard to narrow it down to a few, but, uh, are there some real standout moments that you want to have? That is a question you can ask every person in India and they'll give you a different answer from the list as long as there are. Yes. And then you will immediately regret it five minutes later, like, oh crap. I didn't mention this one or that one. I think if there was one movie which towers over any other movie, Ever made an Indian sandbox, you know, Sholay played consecutively for something like 15 years, 20 years in the same theater. There's this other movie called Del valley millennial age I gave, which has the record now of being playing in the same theater. For 25 years, something ridiculous like that. It's in Bombay. It's been, it's only plays, uh, 11:00 AM morning show, but it's been playing forever because it's so beloved. It almost withstands, fashion and time and fat and people just keep going to see that movie again and again. Um, for me, I'm I have a soft spot for. Movies like DVR and movies, uh, and a movie like, um, a color or America, Anthony. So these were very pulpy, um, early eighties, early eighties, very pulpy, very musical, very over the top movies, which were. And I don't know if anybody will ever match that. The high entertainment cautioned on that. I mean, the, you know, I'm on a brand, Tony's about three brothers are separated at birth and one grows up as a Christian. One grows up as a Hindu, one grows up as a Muslim and they all have their love interests, and then bad guys come around and then somebody has an accident and they need blood. And the two other brothers give it, give him blood and everybody's crying and it's just, you can't make this stuff out. Excellent. I mean, we could probably hum you a tune right now. Yes. So I, I have a soft spot for those, uh, late seventies. Uh potboilers. And for me again, it's the it's slightly earlier. Um, my favorite movie of all time, probably other than surely is , which is, it means pure of heart. It has some of the best music that just holds up. Now it's about a love affair or an unrequited love between a cortisone and, um, a young man. Um, and it's a really weird story. It's kind of like pretty woman. The 1960s version. Yeah, it, it took something like 20 years to make, I think, um, took a really long time to make, and it transcends religion, um, boundaries and the whole idea of the cortisone and what it is. Um, just how we accept things in Indian cinema. It's just such a weird story when I try and re say it out to you now. But for some reason, it just, I watched that movie every day for three years when I came home from school. Very strange, but I love that movie. All right. For those of you listening, I know we're throwing a lot of titles out at you, but we're going to put a list and they can make them as long as they want on the website. So at kpbs.org/cinema junkie, we will list these films so you can seek them out. And we've been talking on this first episode of the podcast about golden era Bollywood cinema. We are going to reconvene this group for the next episode, so we can talk about. More contemporary film. And I will be talking again to Yazdi Rashmi and more with Joe who was not part of that golden era cinema of Bollywood, but, uh, we'll have a lot more to say about more recent ones. So thank you all very much for, um, tackling and trying to condense. I know this was very difficult, uh, discussion of classic Bollywood cinema. Thank you. Thank you, Beth. That wraps another edition of KPBS listener supported Cinema Junkie. Remember to check out the new Geeky Gourmet where I will show you how to make Bollywood popcorn for your intermission snack. CLIP toasting spices You can find the video and the podcast at K-P-B-S-dot org-slash-cinema-junkie. I’d like to acknowledge the team that makes Cinema Junkie happen: podcast coordinator Kinsee Morlan, technical director Rebecca Chacon, and director of sound design Emily Jankowski. And thanks to videographer Roland Lizarondo who shoots the Geeky Gourmet videos and last month had to punch me in the face to demonstrate how to put edible blood to use in a stunt fight. Coming up next, the Moviewallas crew returns to talk about today’s Bollywood cinema and to suggest some must-see titles from what can be an intimidatingly massive catalogue of Bollywood films. CLIP or MUSIC? Hope you listen to Hooray for Bollywood Part 2. Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie.