Beyond The Slapstick Formula

The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world and Bollywood is one of the most prolific industry across the globe. In fact, when it comes to global presence, box-office sales and crazy far-reaching influence, Bollywood’s dominance exceed the rest of the country’s film industries. Kollywood comes second… I think.

We have got to accept that regardless of the audience age group, Bollywood never disappoint. They deliver exactly what they promise – hopeless but more importantly, entertaining masala films backed by good looking actors cherry-picked from many parts of not just India, but the world!

Two to three hours of entertainment, some singing, dancing, action, intense heartbreak, and comedy – these are the common things we can expect from a Bollywood film. The plots are often melodramatic with standard ingredients such as star-crossed lovers, corrupt politicians, conniving villains, strictly religious parents, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences. Among its other attributes, they also incorporate their culture in almost every films. And with the budget, modest by Hollywood standards to finance its stuntmen and extras, amazing costumes and explosion of cars, the films although mostly set in India, they are usually filmed in other parts of the world such as the continental Europe, or Australia and the UK for specific scenes.

Back then, the Indian Censor Board is a significant crusader in preventing porn and nudity in the films. Most of the content in Bollywood films are safe for PG-13 and under audience. But today, curse words, kissing and subtle sex scenes are allowed. Murder, violence, and swearing, on the other hand, can be found more frequently depending on which films you decide to watch.

And the films are made so fast that sometimes actors on set shoot scenes for a few different films at a time. I am not surprised if they are shooting using the same actors and the same backgrounds too, especially if the films are all under the same banner.

I have been a big fan of the Bollywood film industry since I was born and this surprises every soul I met along the way. Of course, when I was younger, I did not know better. Malaysians started talking about Bollywood thanks to Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. But I can tell you that through the years, the films gradually changed, ventured and developed into different directions and went under a very important transformation.

Every now and then, and today especially, you will come across some quality films to bring the sanity back in your life. Today, a lot of Bollywood films are talking about various issues that led to social impact, that touches a deep chord. They are not just another piece of fiction made to make money at the box office.

They fill you with emotional turmoil – not so much romance. In fact, the amount of songs is cut into half. A few has maybe only two! And these films in one way or another shows us ways to change our life and perspectives, ways to move forward, to defend ourselves, treat people and ways to speed up pending justice. After all, we all want our life to be a perfect film story. And the cinema plays an important role in our lives, even more than we notice.

Unfortunately, though, we don’t get to hear much about them due to the marketing gimmicks of mainstream commercial films they cannot afford or perhaps, prefer not to waste money on. And also usually, these films are not backed my famous commercial celebrities.

But the ones who are, they gave rise to the brand new age of Bollywood films. Their versatility and skill are really world class. The films won accolades and they gained recognition that eventually leads to them playing in many international films.

Don’t get me wrong, the commercial films no doubt has a relevant message that reaches a wider audience – like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and PK. But unfortunately, people watch them for the actors. They left the cinema partially disappointed. They want entertainment, not moral values.


Among the films that I feel really satiate my desire for quality cinema include Deepa Mehta’s Earth, Fire and Water, Margarita with a Straw, The Last Lear, Monsoon Wedding, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Sulemani Keeda, BA Pass, Lajja, Well Done Abba, Rang De Basanti, Chak De India, Taare Zameen Par, Masaan, 3 Idiots, Swades, OMG! Oh My God, Udaan, NH10, Slumdog Millionnaire, Life in a… Metro, 15 Park Avenue, Black, Bandit Queen, Aarakshan, Agneepath, Bend It Like Beckham, Gangs of Wasseypur, Haider, Badlapur, Bombay Velvet, Kaminey, Ankhon Dekhi, Maqbool, Omkara, A Wednesday, Guzaarish, Chalk N Duster, Paathshaala, 7 Khoon Maaf, Queen, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, English Vinglish, Mary Kom, No One Killed Jessica, Mardaani, Ship of Theseus, Akira, and many more.

These are some of them that I have seen from my collection of almost 1000 Bollywood films. And the most recent one I saw was Parched. I have been meaning to blog about it but I will just mention it here.

Parched is a film that falls under the category of prostitution in India. But it really is about a society that is plagued by several social evils and age-old traditions and practices of patriarchy, child marriage, dowry, marital rapes and physical and mental abuse. This film is not backed by any famous celebrities.

There is a widow in the film, struggling to support her old mother-in-law and teenage son who is rebellious and prefers to loiter with a gang of spoilt friends and spend time with prostitutes. And there is another woman, struggling an abusive marriage with an alcoholic husband who blames her for being infertile when it was actually him who has been shooting blanks. Then there is an erotic dancer in a local entertainment company – an eye candy for the men in the village and doubles up as a prostitute. These three women are best friends. And then there is the widow’s daughter-in-law. She is a child bride forced into marriage who later was set free and given the permission to go with a childhood lover instead.

The film did not do commercially well by the Bollywood standard but like most Bollywood film, it, of course, has a happy ending. But throughout it, I was taken into a disturbing and thought-provoking territory. It got the feminism in me in a way, agitated and overwrought. It got me wanting to write a poem inspired by it but… I am still lost for words and I have written way too many dark poems.

See, filmmakers should not be burdened with the responsibility of making films based on social issues all the time. But I really like the fact that today more and more are shouldering that responsibility and they are doing it well. Kudos to the scriptwriters and actors also for their deep thoughts, creativity, and flawless performance.

I am happy with the transition and the future looks bright for Bollywood. Warner Bros and Twentieth Century Fox are setting up offices in India. This is the start of the next big area for Bollywood to develop.

PS: Here in Malaysia we do not have the access to all the Bollywood films. I am guilty of downloading the films I cannot find at the shop or on YouTube. I will buy them if they were available.


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