Saturday, April 17, 2004

The New York Times > Movies > Critic's Notebook: From Breezy Bollywood, Films Anything but Vérité

The New York Times on Bollywood

Ten years ago, or even less than that, when I was in high school, I would have never seen two stories, one day after another on India, let alone South Asia. And now, in 2004, the New York Times has actually done it. Bollywood has entered mainstream America's radar and vocabulary, well at least the NY Times' vocabulary.

This NYT report focuses on the third annual "Cinema India!" program, for an ambitious touring film series that began yesterday at the Asia Society before moving to the American Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and then to other cities. The community affairs department of The New York Times is a sponsor. In addition to musicals like "Kandukondain, Kandukondain" ("I Have Found It") starring the bollywood bombshell Aishwarya Rai, and the 1995 blockbuster "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" ("The Braveheart Will Take the Bride,") it includes two crime melodramas; a delicate, humanist art film (which in India, according to some definitions, describes any movie without songs); and a documentary about Zakir Hussain, a prominent classical musician.

With just six films in its program, "Cinema India!" is clearly not trying to be comprehensive or even representative. Given the scale and variety of movie production in India, such a thing would hardly be possible, even in a much bigger series. Instead, it offers glimpses into a parallel cinematic universe, one that is complex and sometimes puzzling but at the same time accessible and welcoming. It is hard, for example, to resist the charms of "The Braveheart Will Take the Bride," a lavish romance (with weddings, mothers and musical numbers) that few people in India have resisted since its release in 1995. "Come, fall in love," was the movie's advertising tag line, which seems to have been unusually effective. Not only was "Braveheart" (better known as "D.D.L.J.," short for its Hindi title, "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge") the top box-office attraction of that year, but it has played continuously in Mumbai ever since and has sold untold millions of videos and DVD's, both authorized and pirated.

The United States, ensconced in the imperial parochialism of Hollywood and spoon-fed exquisite art-house morsels from the international festival circuit, has lagged behind the rest of the world in its recognition of India's cinematic supremacy. But the imminent Broadway opening of "Bombay Dreams," an expensive stage musical with songs by Mr. Rahman, suggests we may at last be catching on. With the way the New York Times, or Newseek magazine are covering such events and the South Asian community, it seems like the catching on is imminent.


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