Monday, September 19, 2005

Hooray for Bollywood!

I have always appreciated Indian culture. Their cuisine is so yummy -- spicy and delectable. Their clothing is a model for the world -- what could be more lovely than the beautiful sarees (saris) the women wear or more comfortable than the men's garments? Every Indian immigrant I have ever met has been just a warm and wonderful person. I even love the way patchouli smells. Now, to this appreciation, I can add the most visible element of their popular culture: the films.

So, I have four words for you:
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (or DDLJ for those in the know)

If you have never seen an Indian movie, I heartily recommend this one as a starting point. This splashy, flashy, wonderfully romantic tale is ripe with humor and drama and big musical numbers that would make Busby Berkeley smile. Apparently this 1995 release is the longest continually running movie to play in India's theaters. It is not hard to see why.

First of all, you have two extremely likable protagonists, the romantic leads. Simran, played by Kajol, is so beautiful and intense, and yet funny too, that she fills the screen with radiance. Raj, our hero, played by Shahrukh Kahn, is such a scene-stealer, with such an affable and easy presence, that it takes all of Kajol's considerable charisma to hold her own in their shared scenes. There is chemistry here -- real chemistry.

Secondly, the movie is filled with an incredible array of supporting characters. Simran's family, with her delightful mother, traditional (rather scary) father, and quirky sister, are very real. Raj's dad was one of my favorite characters -- so warm and loving and funny. The auxiliary characters from the scenes in India keep the energy up in this long film. I especially appreciated the little gem of a role that was the aunt on Simran's mother's side.

Thirdly, the movie is exciting to watch. There is a lot of action - with scenes in such locations as London, Paris, Switzerland, and, of course, India. The cinematography is very straight-forward -- the director lets the action speak for itself. The characters are constantly moving and speaking, which makes the rare scenes of reflection or still conversation more dramatic. And, without apology or even trying to make it remotely plausible, the characters often break into song and dance numbers, many times with painstakingly coreographed background dancers, in a way that will astonish and beguile you.

Lastly, this picture is funny! I laughed so hard at some of the scenes -- mostly because the actors are very skilled at conveying humor in their facial expressions. It was so light-hearted, and yet, there was an earnest streak too. When the film took dramatic turns, there were tears in my eyes. But, overall, this movie left me walking on air -- brimming over with happy thoughts.

To an American, this film had a slightly less polished look than what we've grown used to. Sometimes the picture had that grainy quality you see in earlier technicolor movies -- or, as Jason put it, this film looks a lot older than 1995. Some of the situations seemed contrived or hackneyed -- this movie was not perfect. But there is so much to delight the eyes and the ears and the soul, that its faults just fade into the background as you become enchanted with the story.

For a Christian there might be some discomfort with prayers to and discussions of the multiple gods and goddesses that constitute the Hindu faith. Hopefully this will not distract from your enjoyment of the film. One lovely scene that nods respectfully to Christianity is in the middle of the first half of the movie during the tour of Europe. Raj and Simran come across a beautiful church in, I believe, Switzerland, and Simran prompts a visit inside to take a look. As Raj goofs off in the church, he looks over and sees Simran kneeling at the altar, praying while facing a painting of Jesus. At the end of her prayer, she makes the sign of the cross. Raj stares at her in wonder, and it is a profoundly moving religious moment. It is a nice gesture toward respecting Christianity made by a filmmaker who, I am guessing, is not a Christian, nor has a Christian audience in mind for his film. How many times do we see earnest portrayals of prayer to Jesus in American movies, wherein the intended audience is almost 90% Christian? Not often. Also, in a much appreciated by this viewer decision by the person who subtitled this film, the English subtitles when, after the prayer, Raj and Simran are talking of God, capitalize the "g" in God, whereas when they refer to Hindu dieties the "g" remains in lower-case. It is just refreshing to see that kind consideration for the faith of others.

This movie is romantic without any cynicism in a way that you do not often see in American films anymore. It evokes the golden age of Hollywood. The hero is dashing and bold, a problem-solver, and an honorable man. The heroine is gorgeous and feisty, with a pure mind and courageous heart. The problems they overcome are mostly external (after getting over their initial dislike of each other), not those pesky post-modern internal demons. It is so nice to see something so unabashedly optimistic and gloriously hopeful. I dare you to rent this movie and not fall in love with it. Heck, one billion Indians cannot be wrong!


Arielle said...

I'll have to see if it's available through netflix.

You know, I've always felt the same way about the sari! A woman of any bodytype can wear one and look nice, and the colors and materials they use can be so rich, vivid and gorgeous!

Andrea said...

Cool post, and you definitely have me wanting to see this movie!

I just moved out of an apartment complex that had a lot of Indian immigrants and I can attest to the warm culture you speak of. Whole families played together outside, *every evening*. Mothers and grandmothers walked around in those gorgeous, vividly colored saris. And when they started cooking - ooh boy, those were some yummy smells!

So, I know this is old, but did you like Bend It Like Beckham?

CrazyJo said...

I'll have to check this one out. Have you seen the original Shall We Dance (not the J-Lo train wreck)? Excellent film!

Justine said...

Hey Crazy Jo!
I've wanted to see "Shall We Dance" - which is Japanese, I believe - but never got around to it. "Strictly Ballroom" is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I have a weakness for dancing movies in general. I'll move the original "Shall We Dance" up on the renting list. Thanks for the reminder!

Hi Andrea!
Oooh what guilt washed over me at your "Beckham" question! You see, I've had my friend's DVD of that movie for about a year now, and still have not watched it. It's sitting there, begging for a viewing, and I've heard nothing but good about the movie. I think I have residual bitterness about soccer (having quit ballet for soccer as a young girl and then regretting it ever afterward), that has kept me from just popping it in and having a view. You have renewed my resolve to watch it!