What On Earth Happened To Bollywood?

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Words by Moiza Butt

As a young girl, I loved nothing more than watching a Bollywood film with my family. In the 90’s, Bollywood was at its peak, with interesting new films every week. They are now the classics we all love to watch and talk about. Growing older, my interest in Bollywood fizzled out and my obsession with Hollywood grew. It was not until a recent episode of the BBC’s Newsnight that I began to question why. Why did my relationship with Bollywood end?
As I watched Newsnight raise issues about Bollywood, I instantly turned up the volume. The current affairs programme discussed how the Bollywood industry is now a confused culture, and flashed images of young Asian actors partying and drinking. I could not help but ponder on how much Bollywood had changed since I was a youngster. Where were the young girls running around in fields? Where were the strong men riding their motorbikes?
I suddenly realised why I no longer watch Bollywood movies. Whereas some may enjoy the new Bollywood, I do not want to watch Bollywood turn into Hollywood. I want to enjoy the culture it used to transmit – the beautiful colours, perfectly choreographed dances, dramatic yet realistic storylines. I want to see angles flipping around from every direction. I want to see the weather changing drastically every five minutes to match the characters’ mood. I want to see the girl sink lower into the ground because she has lost the love of her life; because to me that is classic Bollywood. It is this poetic imagery that I miss about this cultural phenomenon. 

I understand that Bollywood cannot completely stay the same forever; it has to change in order to stay current. However, it still has some serious issues it needs to address. One of the main reasons Bollywood no longer interests me is it has not remained family-friendly.
I would feel more comfortable watching a Hollywood film rather than a Bollywood film as they are less about trying to attract ratings with vulgar dances, and more about the actual storyline. Just because the female actors are beautiful, does not mean the audience wants to see them stripped down wearing practically nothing. In Hum Dil De Chuke Sanaam, the famous Aishwarya Rai performs a classical Indian dance in the song ‘Nimbooda’. The song was popular not because of its Hollywood body-popping style, which is commonly displayed in today’s cinema, but because of its clear portrayal of Indian cultural heritage. Any film, Bollywood or not, is successful not for its antics, but because the story is well written. Which leads to my next point.
It is becoming apparent that a lot of the originality films once had has now disappeared. Why would someone want to see Bollywood’s version of a Hollywood film they saw five years ago? Rather than Bollywood creating their own brand, they are adopting Hollywood’s and attempting to make it their own. There is no longer any depth to the films; no twists in the plot, no amazing shock factor just before the intermission. They have all been overused many times.

I am not saying we should completely regress when it comes to Bollywood. I enjoy classics, but it does not mean the old woman in the film has to have one grey streak in her hair – make up and costume can progress! 

I do think some new films have the best of both worlds, such as Jab We Met. It’s a recent Bollywood film I thoroughly enjoyed. Not only did it have elements of classic Bollywood, but it also dealt with situations that we face in every society. It checks all the boxes; the music, the convincing story and youngsters lost in today’s world.

For Bollywood to improve, it needs to go back to basics. Quality means going back to what makes classics so special and bringing them out in a new light. For Bollywood to truly reflect where it comes from, it needs to build on its legacy by using the traditional arts that we all love. By bringing the old and new together, we can revive the Bollywood of old yet keep it contemporary.

Moiza Butt is currently in her third year studying English Literature at MMU. You can follow her on Twitter @MoizaB

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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