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Super Bollywood Bros: Videogames vs Music in Popular Hindi Cinema

During our in-class discussions and readings, I was reminded of a concept I had read about a while ago pertaining to video games that I thought was interesting in trying to understand the appropriate ways to interpret or consume the song and dance sequences in Bollywood. The article (here, if you’re interested) was a criticism of a popular video game that had, many claimed, a very strong narrative component. Specifically, the plot and themes were reminiscent of something more typically found in film. It was, of course, not a film, but a game that was played. The problematic element for the writer of the article (and for players) was how to reconcile the parts that were played with the parts that were passively observed, or dictated to him. In a purely diegetic or narrative sense, it would make no sense to include in the explicit story the fact that the player character systematically kills hundreds of thousands of people who all kind of look the same. The simplest answer is to keep the two artistically separate, that is to say the ludic game and the narrative story are presented in parallel but are to be consumed as different entities. Finally relating to Bollywood, this sometimes tends to be the reaction to the long music/dance breaks. Just as games may follow the pattern ‘story story story shoot shoot shoot story story story shoot shoot shoot, repeat’, Bollywood adheres to the ‘talk talk talk dance dance dance talk talk talk dance dance dance, repeat’ formula.

However, consuming the different elements as different expressions is ignoring the holistic work of art. Instead, we must consider the ways in which the discreet components complement each other. Any one who’s played a Nintendo Mario game is probably familiar with the plot: A stubborn turtle-dragon kidnaps the princess and you, a plumber faithful to queen and country, set out to free her by any means necessary. However, a synopsis of the plot does not do justice to what it is to play the game. While it may convey the major narrative elements, it pays no regard to the experience of playing. Any of those same people who just explained the plot to you would probably be just as quick to tell you about the level they got stuck on and why it was so hard. A narrative explanation could never include the frustration from the countless deaths sustained by the player in their quest, nor could it relay the joy of FINALLY getting past the thing that had haunted them for so long. These emotions are things unique to that aspect of the medium, and could not otherwise be conveyed to the audience. The same absolutely goes, I think, for song sequences in Bollywood. The expressions capable in music and dance are fundamentally different from those available strictly to film. The inclusion of such elements really serves to broaden the range of communication between artist and audience. It would be wildly inappropriate to laugh and dance during a dramatic dialogue, but the musical segments not only allow but invite that opportunity.

-Kevin Berzinis

Filed by kberz at January 31st, 2013 under Uncategorized

Great connection Kevin. Take a look at R.A. One, a recent Bollywood movie (starring Shah Rukh Khan) about a video game world that comes alive.

Comment by uanjaria — January 31, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

Over the semester, I’ve found myself becoming more and more attached to the extent of the expression afforded the characters in the Bollywood song sequence. So much so that I actively find myself wishing now, as I watch a Hollywood movie, that I could somehow gain access to the same insight into the character. The Bollywood song sequence often acts as a Shakespearean monologue that helps to incorporate the audience into the overarching narrative as it gives insight specifically into how this character might react to future actions in the film once the audience knows a little more about how the character actually feels about the situations they’ve so far encountered in the film you watch realtime. The article you mentioned above toys a lot with the idea of the “willing suspension of disbelief” idea from Shakespearean scholarship, and I think that the idea is extremely fitting for both the medium of videogames and the Bollywood film medium. That article then goes on to discuss how a great masterpiece in gaming would be created with the successful integration of the narrative with the gameplay, but I think that what is inherently great about a game is the disjuncture between narrative elements like the cut-scene and the eventual banality of the gameplay you might spend 60+ hours consumed in between those brief moments that develop plot further. To me, the best games would make this disjuncture greater, and in my opinion the joy of watching a Bollywood movie stems from the song and dance sequences more than from anywhere else. Just as this article mentioned the future of the gaming industry and where these two incongruent elements will be taken in the search for the greatest masterpieces, we have spent a bit of time throughout the semester discussing the future of Bollywood, and whether the medium will retain the quirks of its non-global roots, namely elements like the song sequences. I think that in either case, it would be a shame to lose out on these chances for connection between audience and character, however disconnected they may feel from the rest of the time we spend enjoying the medium.

Comment by lime — May 14, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

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