A Star-Studded Night in Bollywood

One evening in Jaipur, we went to see a Bollywood movie. For the uninitiated, Bollywood is the massive film industry in Bombay, which turns out one film for every day of the year. These films are incredibly popular, not only in India but all over the world, and they put the Hindi language on the map in a way that the government never could.

The typical Bollywood movie is a love story and a musical, and the songs double as hit tunes on the pop charts. The orchestrations are lush, and the women singers have glass-breakingly high voices. Though there's plenty of suggestion in the dance numbers, there's never any kissing, and this plays well in a conservative country like India. In fact, many like-minded countries play Indian films, including Pakistan. A friend who grew up in Peru told me that Bollywood movies were quite the rage in Lima.

Besides the music and the dancing, there's usually a dream sequence somewhere in the movie, and also, some action that takes place in Switzerland. I had always wondered why so many Indians I know are so eager to visit Switzerland. Initially I thought it was the fascination an elephant might have for a mouse. But on learning something about Bollywood it all became clear. Apparently there's an Indian producer who set himself up in Switzerland, and there are as many shots of the Alps as the editors can cram in.

These movies are pure entertainment. The productions are as lavish as the plots are cheesy, and that's the magic of Bollywood. You simply suspend your disbelief from a noose if you can find one. It's an evening of escapism, and no one in their right mind would walk out of the movie theater asking "Now what did the filmmaker mean by that?"

The movie theater in Jaipur was brand-new, as elegant as any of the movie theaters they used to build in the 1930's, and the sound system was superb. It was a Thursday night, but the place was completely packed, with traffic jams up and down the street. Next door was MacDonalds, with its McAloo Tikki Burgers, for those who really wanted to pull out all the stops. The film was a new release called "Deewangee". It was a murder mystery love story, with all the earmarks of a Bollywood hit.

The film starts off with a gruesome murder. I was actually surprised at the level of graphic violence, but at least murder accords with the "no kissing" rule. Where I thought I'd be at a loss because I don't speak Hindi, it turned out not to be a problem. First of all, the plot is pretty simple, and you don't need Nostradamus to tell you what's happening next. And second, people throw in gratuitous phrases in English to show how sophisticated they are. Some gems of dialogue:

There was, of course, the obligatory dream sequence. Here, it was a flashback to the criminal's past as a nice child. It was filmed in a dark, greenish hue. But best of all, the lawyer said "I love you" to the girl, and Presto! they were in Switzerland. Better still, her costume changed between verses of the dance number.

The audience ate all of this up. They cheered when a young woman slapped a fresh fellow across the face. And when it turned out that the crazy man was only acting crazy, everyone in the audience gasped. The directors may work on several of these films at the same time, but they clearly have their finger on one, single pulse. I'll look forward to the sequel.