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May 15, 2013

“Bollywood” from the perspective of U.S. Pop Culture-Lilian Medford

As a dancer, I spent most of my adolescence watching So You Think You Can Dance on TV. I still remember in season 2 when the producers of the show decided to introduce a new genre of choreography to their stage: Bollywood. I was captivated by the richness of the choreography and the upbeat feelings watching it always left me with. I now realize, however, that this first glimpse into Bollywood was somewhat unrealistic. While SYTYCD uses traditional Bollywood choreography, the music choices are almost always catering to an American audience. For instance, many of the most popular dances have been adaptations to A.R. Rahman’s Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. As I mentioned before in a previous post, I think it’s sad that what many Americans associate with Indian film is Slumdog Millionaire, a really westernized movie (I personally love that film, but I now realize it’s far from all that’s out there, and there’s so much more Indian cinema that I think is far richer now).

Bollywood, however, has recently come to the foreground of my focus in American Pop Culture. I’m not sure if it’s just in conjunction with this course material, but I certainly notice a lot more “Bollywood” influence around, and when I talk to people about this class, they always have interesting perspectives to share with me.

At the very beginning of this semester, a new ‘episode’ of Neil’s Puppet Dreams with Neil Patrick Harris came out, called “Neil Patrick Harris dreams BOLLYWOOD!” Since I had only seen DDLJ and watched Dil Bole Hadippa out of curiousity when Professor Anjaria had mentioned it briefly in class, I had very little exposure to Bollywood. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but thinking, “Is this really how we (Americans) view Bollywood??! There’s so much more richness there than a dance with a shirtless guy and an Indian cow!” I mean, the video still made me laugh, but I was really wary of it as a glimpse of Bollywood culture.

Flash forward to Om Shanti Om. Now, having seen a dozen or so Bollywood films, the first thing I think of when I see King Kahn in Dard-E-Disco is how much this scene reminds me of Neil’s Puppet Dreams.


It just goes to show that Neil Patrick Harris has probably seen a lot more Bollywood than I have. Not only that, but you totally can’t judge anything about a Bollywood film until you’ve seen quite a few and have more perspectives to compare it to. Though this is probably the end to my watching Bollywood for credit in college, I am not stopping here. I can’t wait to spend my summer nights watching more and gaining more perspectives on what this Bollywood thing really is.

Filed by lime at May 15th, 2013 under Uncategorized
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May 9, 2013

What does Farah Khan achieve alluding to the Ramayana? Posted by Abie Troen

Posted:  AB Troen
Main Hoon Na
draws upon various elements of the ancient Hindu text – The Ramayana.  Khan names her protagonists Ram, and his brother, Laxman. They fight the villainous Raghavan and the names resonate with the Ramayana’s main characters: Rama, Laxmana and the evil Rava.  These names establish a mythical dichotomy of good and evil, and further emphasize the film’s message of reunion.  The main conflict of Main Hoon Na is driven by Raghavan’s plan of abducting Sanjana and Raj’s mission to protect her. This echoes the Ramayana’s story of Ram’s journey to save his wife who was abducted by Rava.  And it is the reuniting of families that resolves the conflicts, bringing both text and film to a happy conclusion.


What does Farah Khan achieve by making such strong references to a Hindu text?

This question is specifically important since Main Hoon Na confronts Hindu nationalism.  The protagonist, Raghavan, sees himself as a protector of Indian values and tries to fight off non-Hindu factors from India.  It could be argued that this clear allusion to a Hindu text is at cross-purposes with the film’s message, a warning about the dangers of nationalism.

However I believe incorporating elements of the Ramayana do not contradict the film’s message but ultimately strengthens it.

By alluding to traditional elements, Khan shows her respect for mainstream Hinduism and positions her critique of Hindu nationalism within the Indian camp. In other words – she is making her critique from within, as a member of the family.  However using mythology to comment on the present has an additional effect. It allows Khan to transcend the immediate to make a universal human statement relevant to members of all faiths.RAMA

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I Hate Luv Storys

For my final film I watched I Hate Luv Storys, and I have to say it was an amazing film. Considering its extreme cinephilia, I was constantly thinking about and comparing it to Om Shanti Om, but I Hate Luv Storys felt like a much stronger film to me. It follows the story of “J” and Simran, put together by fate to work on the next typical Bollywood love story. J is constantly stating his obvious hatred of love and the movies it produces, while Simran revels in the thoughts of love. She begins to develop feelings for him, but when she professes her feelings he states he does not love her back. Then he realizes his feelings for her, but she has moved on. The rest is obvious, but I will refrain from spoiling it too much.

My favorite piece of the movie was the way in which it use cinephilia. In Om Shanti Om, the obsession with movies is viewed much more through the lens of the culture, with references thrown in for those truly dedicated to film. The elements in it seem extremely saturated, as is even the color scheme. I Hate Luv Storys, however, worked from a view I found I was able to relate to much more. Through most of the actual film, we saw the creation of a film from the point of view of someone working on set. Not the main actor, or even an extra, but someone who was there for pre-production onward. I have had the pleasure of working on a film set, and there were so many details with which this film succeeded.

Although the typical points of emotion in the film had an affect on me, the moment that had the greatest impact was when the director of the film called wrap, and I could feel myself with the crew. I had been with them through the building of the set, and all the odd little jobs each person had to do. Then during filming when everyone was standing by watching the scenes unfold, again and again. The wrap is such an emotional moment in the life of a film, with the joy of finishing, but also the realization that this huge project everyone has been working on is now in a new stage of production, and all the bonding that had been done on set would be over. So, even though the film spent only a minute or two on the wrap, I still felt a bit like I was there.

For someone who wants to watch a film all about Bollywood and the typical stories it holds, and if they have a background in Bollywood, I would recommend Om Shanti Om. But if someone wanted a Bollywood film that could resonate with anyone who had worked with film, I would whole heartedly suggest I Hate Luv Storys. I would recommend it to anyone really, but the meaning it held for me was strengthened by my experience on a film set, and the film was very fun to watch.

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Visual Division in the Tulips in Silsila – Miriam Esther Goldman

In my opinion, “Silsila” had the most visually interesting shots of any film we watched this year. One of my favourite visual devices in any film we watched was the use of the red and yellow flowers as counter to each other twice in this film.

When they first appear, Amit is wearing a black polo shirt with a red collar, and Chandni is wearing a yellow sari. The song makes mention of flowers separating them,  but also as lights of love. The scene was shot in the Netherlands, and thus was presumably somewhat expensive to film on location.

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The colours appear briefly a little later in the film, when their love affair is slightly more established. This time, he wears yellow with a little bit of red, and she wears red with a little bit of yellow.

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Near the end of the film they return to a space of yellow and red flowers. This time, Amit wears the same black polo shirt he had on before “Dekha Ek Khwab.”

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It’s clear that the dramatic significance of these two colours is tied up in the personalities and moral places of these two characters. The symbolism of the flowers of spring being so close to the spring song of reproduction which opens the film fit in well with the tone of new beginnings and hope which underlies this film. Their love is doomed, too, though, which may be foreshadowed by the fact that they each stay within red and yellow, occasionally switching between their respective colours, but never moving on to something different, never matching, and never considering being seen in, say, orange.

Filed by miriam78 at May 9th, 2013 under Uncategorized
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Final Blog Post AB Troen: What happens when you have a female Bollywood Protagonist

AISHAIn looking for a film to write the final Blog post about, I was hoping to find two things. Firstly I wanted to watch a movie that would follow the main story-structure and aesthetic conventions of the films viewed this semester, so that I could apply what I had learned to the analysis. But at the same time I was curious to watch and analyze a contemporary Bollywood film that would break with the conventions I had learned about or reflect on them in a way that would show them in a new light. For although Dil Chahta Hai, Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om are ceniphillic pieces that make reference and pay homage to classic Bollywood – they do not make any dramatic alterations in the story’s development, point of view of the protagonist or the film’s message. When I saw the trailer for Aisha I knew I had found my film. 
For unlike all the films viewed this semester – this is a film told through a female protagonist’s point of view.

Aisha is based on Jane Austen’s “Emma” or a remake of the Hollywood film Clueless (or both – depending which review you read) – and it follows protagonist Aisha, an upper-class Delhi young woman who tries to fix her friends up as a matchmaker, fails, looses her friends – “…learns a thing or two about love…” – and wins them back in time for the entire cast to get married in a classic Bollywood concluding wedding scene.

The fact that Aisha tries to control her friend’s love life is significant since the role of matchmaking, or arranging marriages in Classic Bollywood is often the parent’s role – the parents’ consent to the engagement is crucial for the couple’s happiness. And although this notion has been challenged in some of the more contemporary films viewed this semester – for instance in Dil Chahta Hai where the main male characters fall in love (and do so all the time)– ultimately the parents have the final say in their children’s choice of partner: Sid is told off by his mother for loving an older woman and Akash needs Shalini’s godparents’ approval in order to marry her. Aisha redefines love in a more western way – breaking the notion of arranged marriages and even ridiculing it. This is spelled out blatantly when Aisha’s friend Shefali, who comes from a lower class and rural background, explains that she has come to Delhi from her hometown in order to find a husband. (12 minutes on the timeline) she explains that in her hometown everyone is pressing on her to marry – so she has come to the big city to be wed. Aisha raises her eyebrows at the rural friend’s approach and offers to take control – and be responsible for finding her a match. This is when the moral universe is disrupted – by Aisha’s hubris, her attempt to control love. Her attempts to control love only harm Shefali and push her away from finding a good match.  
Oddly enough for such a modern film, the only one who can help Aisha realize her mistake – is – her father. He explains to her that love is not something one can control. And when Aisha tells him she is in love with a man who may not love her – he explains that
(I hr 50 minutes on the timeline):
“It’s very important to express your feelings… Get up my brave girl – go and tell him!…”

Viewing other more recent Bollywood films shows that Aisha is not unique in scenes such as this, as the supportive father who believes in true love – exists even in films made 15 years ago, such as DDLJ.  The dialogue is almost the same word for word in the scene where Raj’s father tells his son not give up on Simrin. Only in Aisha – “My Brave Boy” has been transformed into “My Brave Girl.” So, while Aisha’s proactive approach to communicate her love at the end breaks away from the shackles of patriarchy, the fact that her mother is absent, and only her father could order her to be “brave” reaffirms these classic family structures and values.

Similarly, when Aisha conveys the film’s modern message in her final – female – voice over “Love cannot be controlled… You cannot assert it on anyone…” it is played over the visuals of a classic Bollywood wedding.

Even though we see an interesting portrayal of female agency in the social realm of India’s elite – (an element found absent in most Bollywood films) and even though the film celebrates westernization, modernity and female empowerment the ending remains conventional, reaffirming traditional structural values. So although I enjoyed viewing the way the film broke from conventions, at the same time I could see how many conventions and values were still upheld.



Filed by abtroen at May 9th, 2013 under Uncategorized
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The Many Faces of SRK

by Radhika Parekh

Shahrukh Khan is definitely an iconic superstar and has starred in a good amount of Bollywood movies. He has also adapted to a plethora of roles. In two out of the many SRK films we have watched throughout the semester, I have noticed that he has played dual characters in Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om. Dual in the sense that he has portrayed contrasting personalities in both films.

In main hoon na, he played a nerdy old college student who had come back to college to finish his education. His dressing, as well his ‘uncoolness’ defined his nerdy charceter. In the second half of the film, there was a comple transformation in his character, as he turned into a fearless, heroic almost superhero, who took bullets in his chest saving others. This selflessness combined with the special visual effects in the film can show him as ‘badass’, a complete 360 from his previous ‘nerdy’ role in the film.

In the first half of Om Shanti Om, he played a struggling junior actor who was almost desperate to attain fame and success and marry the unattainable girl of his dreams. In the latter half of the film, he is reincarnated as a well-known, top notch actor who has a big fan following and girls fawning all over him. Once again, we see a complete contrast of the role he plays in the same movie.

Shahrukh Khan is rightly known as the king of Bollywood. He can possible play any role that is given to him and do a good job at it! SRK 3


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The Theme of Reincarnation

By Radhika Parekh

After watching Om Shanti Om, the theme of reincarnation may seem very rare and different. However, there have been quiet a few Bollywood movies with this theme in it, one of them being Karz, which Prof. Anjaria talked about in class. Right from the 50s and till date, reincarnation has found itself in numerous films. I think that this theme is probably best suited for Bollywood films more than any other. Bollywood films are full of glitz and glam, melodrama, over the top songs and dances so why not add such a theme to it? A theme like re incarnation which goes beyond any conventional theme, contains fantasy, magic and mystery, which Bollywood is known for doing. These themes have also been known to grip audiences even more, leading to the film’s success, hence producers and directors are always looking to make films based on them. Reincarnation also has religious connotations attached to it. Three of the major Indian religious sects, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism believe in reincarnation and hence is widely prevalent in India. This is definitely a major factor why this theme is recurrent in so many Bollywood films.

Check out the list of  Bollywood films that have been released so far with the theme of reincarnation in it!

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The Kiss in Kaminey – Miriam Esther Goldman

“Kaminey” is notable for being in the only movie we saw in class in which the leads shared a kiss. The film also dealt explicitly with the subject of extramarital pregnancy, a topic also touched on by Silsila, but without the kissing shown onscreen.

The censors which govern Bollywood decency codes, much like the Hayes Code in the United States, had outlawed onscreen kissing on the lips until the 1990s. Even then, despite beginning to appear with more frequency in films, their presence has mounted over the years.

For Kaminey to contain a Hollywood-style sex scene kiss is appropriate to the values of this movie and what it is trying to impart. It is a movie about being “bad,” about living on the edge and getting some gratification out of a quick life before you burn yourself out.

For such a movie to break ground in this way, and show an act, which American viewers think is benign, in such a “naughty” light, is only to be expected. That a baby comes from it is only an afterthought.


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Farah Khan and Social Commentary posted by AB Troen

Some popular Hindi Cinema, or Bollywood films, such as the classic “Silsila” and the more contemporary “Dil Chahta Hai” focus primarily on elite melodramas, personal intrigues of the very privileged and can be categorized as “glamorous realism.”  Others, for example the 1965 film “Guide”, “Deewar”, and “Amar Akbar Anthony” deal with social and national themes. Each type takes a very different aesthetic approach and portrays a different India as the camera scans the slums and the working class or completely ignores them and focuses instead on the secular wealthy, comfortable lives of the bourgeoisie. 

These two types of films are combined in Farah Khan’s 2004 Main Hoon Na, and in the 2007 film Om Shani Om, as both films allow the narrative to cross the boundaries and limitations of the upper class.  In Om Shanti Om, Om is born in a lower class family where he idolizes the glamorous stars of the elite, but cannot be part of their world.  Only through death – and then rebirth – can he ascend the social ladder and penetrate the world of the rich and famous.  But, even in that world, it is only with the help of his lower-class friends from his previous life that he is able to resolve the film and bring it to a conclusion.  Members of the upper class need the help of the lower class – and only when working together can thy defeat the villains and be victorious.

Main Hoon Na intertwines two dramatic stories, a personal, elite melodrama, and a national epic.  Although for the most part it follows the life of the upper-class – the film reaches a conclusion and the conflict is resolved – only when the members of the lowest class’s needs are addressed – and poor prisoners of war are set free.

In my view, by incorporating social and political themes in her films, Farah Khan elevates both Main Hoon Na and Om Shanti Om from being simple yuppy melodramas (like Dil Chahta Hai) to the level of art and social commentary.farah-itemgirl


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Dil Se and Sexual Aggression – Miriam Esther Goldman

“Dil Se” was, likely, the most sexually charged movie that we watched in class. The dancing is “hot” and close, and the desire that  the characters feel for each other is much less tied to love and marriage as to sex and desperation. While a great deal is made of Shahrukh Khan’s newfound buffness and the sexuality with which he was filmed in “Om Shanti Om,” he is perhaps more objectified in “Dil Se,” with his glistening skin darkened specially for his romp with Preity Zinta on a fishing boat in her sexual fantasy.

Layered on top of that, however, is the film’s disturbing propensity toward sexual violence. To quote from my scene analysis paper from earlier in the semester, “There are [many] moments of sexual violence and ownership in this film…  the rape scene itself, the film’s explosive end, [and] the protectiveness of Meghna’s so-called “brothers.” There is, however, clearly a darkly possessive element to Amar’s desire for and pursuit of Meghna, often in a sexual sphere. It is amazing, and telling, that Amar learned nothing from Meghna’s anxiety attack, clearing himself of any internal guilt, and going so far as forcing her to relive the audio of an episode from that trip. Preeti wants to own Amar in the way he wants to own her, by, somewhat confusingly, having him own her body. That simply goes to show that, in the film’s vocabulary, sexual ownership takes many, sometimes contradictory forms, that make the film one of great sexual energy and tension, to a far greater, and far darker, degree than most Bollywood films.”


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