IN FOCUS: MUMBAI CINEMA

Last Updated: March 7, 2008By Tags:

(by Anupama Chopra) Indians suffer from a particularly virulent case of movie madness. Their country produces the largest number of films in the world–800-odd a year. Of these, about 200 come from Bollywood, or the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Bollywood is a magical space, brimming with color, stars and songs. Bollywood films unapologetically mix genres, styles, locations, tone. Anything is possible, so the tension of a murder mystery might suddenly be broken by a romantic song in Switzerland or a family melodrama will be regularly interrupted by a comic sub-plot. In this universe, the Aristotelian unities have no meaning. What matters is spectacle and usually, a happy ending which affirms the status quo. Hindi films present life not as it is but as it should be, which is perhaps why they travel so well. Non-Indians—in countries as diverse as Germany, Nigeria, Malaysia and Greece—can connect with the songs, stars and unbridled optimism. For an estimated annual audience of 3.6 billion worldwide,

Hindi cinema is a necessary comfort and a collective expression of hope. I belong to a family steeped in Hindi film. My mother Kamna Chandra sowed the Bollywood seed. She wrote scripts for two of Bollywood’s finest directors: Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra. My siblings followed in her footsteps: my sister Tanuja Chandra is one of the few women directors in the Hindi film industry. My brother Vikram Chandra is a renowned novelist (Sacred Games) who has also written film scripts. I am a film critic. And I’m married to Vidhu Vinod Chopra, a well-know Hindi film director whose short film, An Encounter with Faces, was nominated for an Oscar in 1979. Conversations in our home inevitably center on movies, scripts, songs, critics, box office. We rarely agree on anything. I’m a sucker for full-blown Bollywood musicals while my husband, educated in European art house cinema at the Film and Television Institute of India, doesn’t have the patience for six songs and melodrama. I have my own weekly film review show on a channel called NDTV 24/7. I see almost every film that is released. Many are terrible but each week, I am thrilled to sit in the dark and escape, with my bag of popcorn, into a landscape of color, joy and beautiful people. Bollywood has routinely been criticized for being overtly fantastical. But as Charles Taylor, the former film critic at Salon asked: If it’s reality you want, what are you doing at the movies? (Anu Chopra is a film critic and book author. She has published ‘King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan And The Seductive World of Indian Cinema‘ on Warner books.)

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