When I refer to Bollywood, many people think of vibrant clothing, cheerful and over-the-top choreography, and drama-filled stories which lean on the edge of sappiness. They certainly wouldn’t be wrong for the most part, but for me these movies were an integral part of how I defined myself in my childhood. Nothing would beat going to the nearest cinema that played Bollywood films and seeing the latest Shahrukh Khan (otherwise known as SRK) movies. My childhood was defined by seeing “Kal Ho Naa Ho” (translated to: Tomorrow May Not Be) and “Veer-Zaara” (Simply two names joined by a hyphen) with my family and investing three hours of my life into seeing what they had to offer: humor, songs, story, and emotion. These were the movies I grew up with, and movies that I still watch today, whether in the comfort of my home or my dorm. These were the classics, the movies everyone had seen. They had heartbreaking stories and catchy tunes. They had the classic actors, but most of all they all had a soul.
Fast forward ten years, and I’m not sure I can say the same. The directors that had made masterpieces ten years prior now all make distasteful movies that show off a westernized version of India that no one cares for. I’m not saying “western” culture is bad, but it’s not what Indian films should evolve into. It’s all glamor, all glitter, all big-name actors, but no soul. Those who are familiar with Bollywood will identify completely with this, they just don’t make Bollywood movies like they used to anymore. Essentially, Bollywood is trying a bit too hard to recreate “Hollywood-style” films. All the “big-films” of the year have some serious, often terrible to watch, action component to them – and all of these action sequences have horrendous special effects. Now, I wouldn’t mind these bad effects if a solid story helped ground the film. But, of all the films I’ve seen in the past few years, I can identify myself with none. I have not seen any film which I walked out of actually liking. Not even an SRK or an Aamir Khan film can bring me to the theater anymore – I end up catching an online version of the film in a few months later and often skip many scenes.
Where is the story to the film, and where has Bollywood misplaced its soul? There’s a rather simple, but disappointing answer. Bollywood has lost its soul to the power of money. Often, “big budget” films with a great amount of action sequences make a ton more money compared to films that actually invest in their characters and story. A solid scriptdoesn’t matter anymore, nor does a deeply-riveting emotional complexity -– it’s about maximizing profits as much as possible.
Is this a problem with the industry, or the audience that pays to watch them? That’s a tougher question to answer, but that isn’t what I’m trying to get at. Bollywood films need to stop familiarizing themselves with what they think their international audiences will like. People don’t go see a Bollywood film expecting a western interpretation of a culture. They don’t want to see Indian characters as western characters – they want to see the culture that the genre of the film stands for. Audiences go for the uninterrupted, original culture the films offer, not a fake interpretation of said culture. For now though, I’ll stick with those films I grew to love as a child and stop paying to watch westernized versions of a culture that is anything but.
Usmani is a member of
the class of 2017.