Learning to Love Bollywood

The Indian entertainment industry at the beginning of the twenty-first century is worth $3.5 billion, a minor part of the global $300-billion entertainment industry. But it is the world’s biggest movie industry when it comes to production and viewership. The 1,000 feature films and 40,000 hours of TV programming and 5,000 music titles that the country produces are exported to seventy countries. Every day, 14 million Indians see a movie in one of 13,000 theaters; worldwide, a billion more people a year buy tickets to Indian movies than to Hollywood ones. Television is galloping in; the country has 60 million homes with TV, of which 28 million are cabled, bringing to city and hamlet alike a choice of around a hundred channels…Hollywood films make up barely 5 percent of the country’s market.

That is from Suketu Mehta’s excellent Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

If you don’t already know Indian movies you should. Go to your local Indian grocery or spice market. Ask the proprietors which movies you should rent; most of the DVDs will have subtitles in English. Don’t think that Lagaan (or Satyajit Ray, for that matter) is the real thing, or that Blockbuster will do you any good.

Don’t be put off by the three hour length. Watch them in bits and parts. Cut to the songs. The use of color, cinematography, and orchestration of scenes will blow your mind. Allow yourself to be mesmerized. Compare them to your dreams at night, not to other movies you know, and pretend it is the only air-conditioned place in town.