Last night I went to a house warming party and drank a bit too much red wine. (Which is hilarious given that I haven’t gotten drunk off wine in what feels like years.) Given the time of year the subject of TIFF naturally came up and we eventually got on to Slumdog, a film I do not like very much. This got me ranting on Bollywood and I am afraid I was not very eloquent – I believe the phrase “I don’t give a shit” occurred multiple times – and I chased the guy out of the room, as he did not know me and I think assumed I was much more angry than I actually was. (I have a habit of getting over-animated while drunk, though I am utterly harmless.)
The defense of Bollywood was no better. The guy insisted that Bollywood were movie movies in the old Hollywood tradition of a film that tries to include everything, and that they made a lot of people happy – this prompting a “I don’t give a shit,” as we know how I feel about populism in the arts – and one of the hosts popped by and insisted that it was their culture and therefore valuable. (Ah cultural relativism, the horrible concept that because a culture creates something that is valuable to said culture, it cannot be criticized by people from without that culture.)
I feel that I am right, at least from an artistic if not entertainment level – and I think films are art rather than entertainment – and so I want to properly defend my position. Here goes:
Most Bollywood films I am familiar with and the couple that I have seen (Hollywood / Bollywood, Road to Kandahar and the British but Bollywood-inspired Slumdog) seek to erase movie history. These filmmakers insist that audiences ignore Italian neo-realism, French new wave, American renaissance, new German cinema – and no doubt other movements I am forgetting – as well as India’s own realist cinema of the ’50s and ’60s, and they believe that the golden age of film was 1930s-early 1960s Hollywood (i.e. the era of the production code) and that this era should be recreated, with a few modern touches (i.e. modern special effects) and a few cultural touches (i.e. Indian pop music). The result is entertainment that panders to the lowest common denominator: people who only seek out movies because they want a good time where they don’t have to use their brain.
Bollywood has to be one of the most conservative national cinemas in the world in this respect – far more conservative than, say, Iranian cinema, an idea which strikes me as fascinating – and personally I have no time for conservatism in art, unless it is a serious traditionalism that seeks to revive a long forgotten or ignored genre or style or a particular “golden age” of cinema, provided that genre, style or era is worth reviving.
That is the key. I am an “old movie” buff but I can’t stand the “movie movies” of old Hollywood because they treated their audiences like idiots. The films of that time that are great are those that dared be different and dared to take influence from European cinemas.
Bollywood is reviving a bad tradition that has been partially killed off by the success of more realistic or more artsy – and better – films. That is why it sucks. It embodies conservatism, regression and the patronizing concept of movies solely as entertainment.
Bollywood sucks. Fuck Bollywood.