Hear the word Bollywood and images of choreographed routines, bright colors and heavily eyelinered eyes are conjured. Bollywood is a dance. No, Bollywood is a musical, no, it’s a TV series! Misinformation notwithstanding, Bollywood gets around. Most of us should be able to place the genre; others will agree that it isn’t American, probably unpatriotic. I recently was properly introduced to the genre on my way back to New York from Cannes this year, during a layover in Milan. Milan was replaced by a Dantesque film set that day, it seemed. Brusque extras at the terminal’s restaurant treated customers like miscreants and tears-inducing flight delays guaranteed this was going to be the layover from hell. All of this disappeared after running into Vijay Iyer. Iyer is a producer for a major Mumbai-based production company named Vinod Chopra Films in Cannes to shop his company’s latest titles. Even though we were both tired after twelve days of negotiating crowds and screening rooms, once we sat down to coffee and italian-made croissants Iyer deconstructed the Indian cinema world in ways unhoped for. Contrary to my knowledge, Bollywood is only representative of one region in India, namely Mumbai. Films produced there are in the Hindi language. Each of India’s regions is a movie production hub onto itself, with its own genus. Indian Tamils have Kollywood, for example, and the Bengali film industry is called Tollywood. What had always baffled me about the Indian film industry is its giant output. Movies are shot, produced and often shipped out abroad at an almost alarming clip. And while Indians watch a lot of their own movies (the more affluent rent and watch videos at home; moviehouse going is for the masses, apparently), Indian films are also very popular abroad, and especially in Gulf countries where they are translated in arabic immediately upon arrival. Iyer then told me about a character that was created through the films his company produced, named Munnabhai.
Though Munnabhai has certain nuances that a Westerner might not be able to grasp, he’s obviously quite the gooey romantic and gets involved in apparently hilarious mixups. The Vinod Chopra-produced Lage Raho Munnabhai was shown in Cannes’ as part of the All the World’s cinemas program to a packed theatre. Iyer and I parted ways, he was off to Mumbai and I to New York. Our discussion had lasted a while but it would take days more for me to get a good sense for it; so we promised to meet again, though probably not in Milan (pictured: a scene from Lage Raho Munnabhai) Visit the Lage Raho Munnabhai site