I feel like this is a bit stereotypical in nature that this topic was my first thought for this blog post…but the great thing about delving into stereotypes is coming out with a changed perspective on the other side. I’ve been interested in Indian culture for quite some time…yes, maybe it was in part due to Bend It Like Beckham (2002), but mostly due to the rich traditions of story-telling and literature that comes out of India and the Middle East. My short list of authors would include Rafik Schami, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy, and there have been many other excellent books written by western writers on the subject like Life of Pi by Yann Martel, House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, and A Son of the Circus by John Irving in the last few decades. I think that the vibrant culture has provided a certain amount of intrigue that attracts westerners.
When I decided to write this blog post on the subject of Bollywood, I really had no knowledge beyond beautiful women dancing and singing about lost loves in eastern versions of Busby Berkeley numbers. The term Bollywood, to me, was basically a knock-off of the far superior Hollywood. I was surprised to find out that the Indian film industry, formally known as Hindi cinema, is as old as the American film industry. The first feature film made in India was Raja Harishchandra in 1913, and film switched quickly to sound after Alam Ara, the first talkie was produced in 1931. Hindi cinema has been critically and commercially successful since that time.
This information was a little shocking to me, as the general conception of Bollywood movies is low budget mass produced musicals. And to some extent that is not untrue, but many films are large budgets with the intent for a wide release throughout Europe and Asia. The elements of Bollywood musicals can be seen in recent western cinema as well. Watch the final musical number of Moulin Rouge (2001) again.
Currently there seems to be an increased interest in Hindi cinema with the world-wide success of Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The country has also started creating mixed language films such as Saawariya (2007) in which the dialogue moves in out of Hindi and English. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a wonderful online collection of Hindi cinema art and a film database from an exhibit, “Cinema India: The Art of Bollywood,” that ran in 2002.
I was extremely surprised to find that Hindi cinema has had such a long standing presence in the eastern world, and it has just as much influence on world-wide cinema as Hollywood. The nickname, Bollywood, actually signifies the contemporary level of its influence to Hollywood and not its inferiority as a copycat. Although there are still plenty of low budget Bollywood movies made every year, there is quite a bit more to the Hindi film industry than maybe the western world realizes. So although it may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of life…it’s one more stereotype demystified.
 Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema. (New Delhi: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003), 28; Ibid, 44.