Monday, March 5, 2012

Tradition vs. Modernity – Bollywood

About six or seven years ago, when I lived in Canada, if I spoke about Indian movies to my Canadian friends, they would automatically assume that all Indians wore traditional clothing all the time, or that the people would ride on elephants or run through fields or even live in villages. Although these are stereotypes, Bollywood classics did portray these kinds of images in their movies, that is, before the age of modernization.

Sociology has taught me a lot about the functions of societies, and has also made me more analytical of why and how societies function the way they do.

When I used to watch Indian movies before, I would appreciate the themes of tradition and family values. Although Indian movies have always been “Masala” movies – containing a variety of genres in order to appeal to a broader audience – they would address domestic problems such as arranged marriages, the role of women in their households and issues of status and caste.

At the present though, Bollywood has been pumping out movies with lots of special effects, hyperbolic plots, modernized views of Indian women, and has lost some of its traditional taste. I understand that the Indian movie industry has to keep up its pace with Hollywood and the ever-increasing rate of improvements in technology, but in terms of audiences these industries differ significantly.

While people of all ethnicities, religions, and ages watch Hollywood movies; it’s largely Indians who make up the audience of Bollywood movies. Another thing that differs vastly between Hollywood and Bollywood is the average length of movies. Hollywood’s movies are about an hour and a half, or two at the most, but Bollywood’s movies can last for three hours or more.

Why? The number of songs and dance sequences that are incorporated into Indian movies take up a large amount of time. This creates a distinction between Hollywood and Bollywood.

Modern day Indian movies still do incorporate songs and dances, but they are meant to help narrate the plot of the movie. Nowadays the plot of Indian movies seems to involve a lot of foreign back-up dancers and settings in cities like New York or London. The Indian actresses who are cast in these movies are light-skinned, super-skinny and really don’t represent the majority of Indian women. The same can be said about Indian actors – buff, light-skinned and usually portray men of the upper class.

Along with an evolution to plot, types of songs – which have now started to include lyrics in English – and physical appearance of actors, even the type of clothes that are worn in Indian movies today differ significantly than the traditional garb worn before. Before, saris – a type of traditional Indian garb for women – would be worn fairly modestly; today saris are being designed in a very “modern” way. But to maintain some dignity to the Indian culture, the elders of a household, mothers and grandmothers, are generally wearing saris in a respectable fashion. This also highlights the differences between generations.

An example of a fairly recent Indian movie that I’ve watched with a totally modernized and untraditional plot is Dostana, which means friendship. The storyline focuses on how two Indian men attempt to rent an apartment, but have to share it with an Indian woman, and in order to move in with her they have to pretend to be gay. Eventually both the men fall in love with this woman. The entire movie is shot in Miami, Florida and has the running time of 146 minutes. One of the songs in the movie is called “Desi Girl”; the word “Desi” means the dispersion of Indians in different countries, or away from their homeland. Although this song shows preference to the fact that the woman is Indian, it highlights that she is Desi. She is quite westernized in the way she dresses and thinks. This might be a subtle message encouraging Indian women to move abroad.

Is Bollywood becoming too westernized and degenerating the moral values of the Indian culture? Well, I’ve stopped watching Indian movies mainly because I see a lot of Hollywood mirrored in Bollywood. I used to watch Indian movies because of the unique plots and because of the originality of the stories.

However this is my personal opinion.

Bollywood does seem to be doing well for itself in India, with millions of viewers watching movies everyday. Then again, it could just be people wanting some air conditioning for three hours.

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