Bollywood vs Hollywood

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Posted on October 1st, 2006 in Movies

The age old debate between Asians: Bollywood versus Hollywood. While there are those who deny their association to that industry, there are those who flaunt it. The general consensus of those who don’t watch Indian films are that all Indian films are terrible, tacky and formulaic. Indian films are embarrassing if they are badly done; well done Indian films are fabulous to watch. And this can also be said for any “Western” film. So I just wanted to point out a few pot holes:

1) Dancing and singing are a part of Indian culture; have you been asleep during Asian weddings or something – it’s all about singing and dancing and partying until 4 in the morning. Musicals are a genre in Hollywood; it is culture and tradition in India.

2) Indian cinema is also guilty of making formulaic films (a.k.a. typical Indian films); so what? This is what works in India because Indians remain the primary audience. Also the flip side of ‘typical’ Indian films is that most people in this world understand some English and with Hollywood making such a ‘fabulous variety’, no one else needs to. Hollywood also needs to appeal to a larger audience to make returns. Indian cinema is not the only one to churn out formulaic films: European countries also make formulaic stories about the trials and traumas of life and love while Far Eastern formulaic films usually consist of little dialogue and plenty of action. So while European films’ identity depend on dramatic interpretations and Far Eastern cinema’s identity is based on action, Indian cinema’s identity lies in the song and dance. Hollywood, too, has its’ own identity and churns out films accordingly.

3) Hollywood’s identity primarily depends upon the following genres: ‘horror’, ‘thriller’, ‘action’, ‘comedy’ and ‘fantasy’ (or a combination of these); it appears that there is an unlimited variety but it isn’t. It’s just the presentation of each genre that is very different; primarily they are the same ‘good versus evil, where good is always victorious’ stories. It’s just a common misconception that there is great variety.

4) The only films in Hollywood that make an impact (outside of the box office) are Indie films because they are the only ones not made for the purpose of ‘box office success’ and again, majority are about cultural issues that are present in all film industries.

In some ways, I think, the Indian film industry has the upper hand; they have actors and actresses who are bilingual and can dance up storms; Indian or non-Indian dancing. And when it comes to returns on their films, they can usually break even by airing them on national TV despite failure at the box office. The Indian film also produces more music because aside from the Asian music scene, each film has an original score, which is also a good way for them to get returns on their films. Hardly any Western film can boast of that — so if every now and then they swipe a tune from the Western world, they have a good excuse.

It’s a common perception that it’s an honour to be called to Hollywood to act; but the other side of the coin is that very few of the top Hollywood thespians will ever be called to be a part of the Indian film industry — most of them can’t speak the language and if they can, very few will understand the nuances of the culture, while many of the top Indian thespians can immerse themselves in the West and still be Indian.

And then there are people who feel that the French aren’t embarrassed by their ballets and the Italians aren’t embarrassed by their operas so why are Indians embarrassed by Bollywood; let’s get this straight, shall we, there is no comparison between Indian musicals and French ballets & Italian operas. Operas and ballets are refined art as is classical Indian dancing which are not in the same league as films. Classical Indian dancing and music are all stories and they are the arts of refined theatre. Operatic and ballet stories are made into films like old Indian tales but none of these are ever the same as a stage performance. Don’t confuse refined art with bubblegum diluted stories (with background scores) of fate, misfortune, love, tragedy, thrills, action and comedy.

This is, of course, not to say that all Indian actors/actresses are gifted or to say that the Western actors/actresses are useless and could never act in any other industry and also not to say that Indian films are always fabulous because as everyone knows that this has never been the case. It’s just that you cannot make generalised statements about any industry; there is some good and some bad but isn’t that generally the case?

People’s like or dislike of this industry (or any other) is individual but those who have disdain for them have no right to ridicule them (for whatever reason) because if you don’t like something, don’t associate yourself with it.

I watch films all the time, Indian and otherwise, and some of the people I have come across mocked the ‘singing and dancing’, initially, but after me raving on about the fun of these films, they stopped. But at the same time I have known people who mock Western and Far Eastern films and again, a good film is not dependent on its’ industry but it’s dependant on how well it’s done. People will only mock if they are given the opportunity and if they continue to mock, then it is perhaps their unwillingness to accept a global phenomenon.

Kuch Toh Bolo!

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