Thursday, January 24, 2002

recipe for bollywood success

By Shailaja Neelakantan
(This book review appeared in January 2002).

Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story, By Nasreen Munni Kabir. Channel 4 Books, 495 rupees ($10.23)

While India's art cinema has a worldwide following due to directors like Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, its commercial cinema -- or Bollywood, as it is known -- has been taken seriously almost nowhere except Russia, the Middle East and some African countries.

But that's changing.

Lagaan, a film about a cricket match between a peasant community and a team of rapacious British overlords, won international acclaim; Asoka, a film about an Indian emperor in the third century B.C., directed by ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan, is getting rave reviews on the festival circuit; and Mira Nair's The Monsoon Wedding, very much inspired by Bollywood fare, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival recently.

If Bollywood conjures up only images of lavish song-and-dance sequences and you're still unsure what all the buzz is about, the essential Bollywood primer is here. Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story by Nasreen Munni Kabir is a perfect introduction to the world's largest film industry, which makes 800 movies a year.

The book is divided into chapters covering the ingredients that make the Bollywood mix. Just as masala is a mixture of basic spices, a Bollywood film is a mix of some essential ingredients: a larger-than-life hero, a pretty and playing-hard-to-get heroine, a sacrificing mother, a villain and his moll, songs and dances, a wet sari song sequence and absolutely no on-screen kissing or coupling. Hence the wet sari, for that dash of sexuality.

Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood's contemporary idols quoted in the book, couldn't have described it better: "A {Bollywood} film is like Titanic, everything is told to you. This is going to happen, the ship will hit an iceberg and just in case you don't know it, let me show you at the beginning of the film how it happened."