Thursday, November 26, 2009

How I found Bollywood.

A story I might've linked to but never posted on this blog: how I got into Bollywood in the first place. The story was written for's series of discovery stories and originally posted here. Written by me and edited BollyWHAT?! founder Meredith.

This story took place in October/November 2003. It marks the discovery of Indian films for me, but not the beginning of a more active obsession; the first year after this, I didn't watch all that many movies, less than ten in fact. It obviously describes the feelings I had as an utter newbie, not how I see Indian films nowadays (or even how I see K3G nowadays!).



It all started in music class - the only compulsory music course we had in high school. It was a Friday morning in autumn; the mornings were dark and getting colder. I remember thinking about staying at home, to skip the morning class. Music class was pretty pointless, since there was no exam; missing a lesson would hardly harm me.

But skipping lessons is bad and so I dragged myself to school. Our lessons were held in the school hall, where there was musical equipment, a video projector and a screen. Our teacher told us that since we'd been learning about Indian music, and Indian classical music at that, today she'd show us "Indian film music", which was basically Indian popular music. The lights went off and she started the film, using the video projector and the screen.

What appeared in front of our eyes was a scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: a woman and man speaking about family values. The quality of the film wasn't the best; it seemed to have been taped from some TV network because there were these odd commercials at one corner of the screen. They bugged me for the first 10 minutes, then I focused on the story.

To be honest, it made no sense. First they show this guy, who's really good at cricket and then he visits some grannies and then there's this other guy, who comes home and meets his family, makes fun of his fat brother, the usual. I heard snickering around me. This girl I was sitting next to was really amused at people dancing. I guess I was pretty amused at that point, too. During the scene where Kajol dances after finding out India has won the cricket match, she whispered in my ear, "What pills have these people taken?" I don't think I'll ever forget that, because it describes so well what people who see Bollywood for the first time and don't fall in love with it, think.

I'm not sure if other people have certain scenes that were turning points for their Bollywood obsession - something that kicked it off, that made them think, "I want to see more of this." For me, however, it must've been all the Kajol/SRK scenes in the first hour of K3G. They could create these unforgettable scenes that were hilarious, cute, romantic, hot, anything really. It was like nothing I'd seen in any romantic film ever. The character interaction just stunned me. I didn't even care when the narrative became suddenly and completely illogical - abruptly transitioning to Egypt for a song, with Kajol's sari colour changing nearly every time I blinked.

Our class ended in 75 minutes, so I had no idea what the cricket player had to do with the plot, but I knew I had to get more of it, see the end of the film. I raved about this clip to all my friends during lunch. By the same time next week, I had seen all of K3G. I hadn't liked the ending so much, the disco scenes and everything were kind of boring to me, but by that time I had already found and read the site's list of recommendations. So by then I wanted to see Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (and the list goes on and on). Since this is Bollywood, I've still got loads of films to see - loads of crucial, classic films and plenty of new ones to look forward to.

It's funny, to think though, if I'd just stayed in bed that morning...


One of my eventual goals is to give the music teacher a Bollywood DVD as a thanks and to make sure future students won't have to watch as crappy a copy as our class did! Any tips on what films you think would a) showcase Indian popular filmi music really well and b) hook future fans?


Anonymous said...

If I had to pick a movie that sparked my love for Indian film music, it would be Shankarabharanam (Telugu). I watched it as a kid and couldn't get the songs out of my mind. As it was set in a classical musician's family, it also got me interested in Carnatic classical music. The other option is Saagara Sangamam (Telugu, by the same director), which features both classical and non-classical music, fabulous dancing and a performance by Kamal Hassan that I would rate as among his very best.

Trouble is, these aren't average movies, so while they might hook some fans, they might leave them inadequately prepared for the horrors of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and the like :-)


veracious said...

You do know you're talking to a hardcore JBJ fan? ;)

I meant more popular music, not popularized Carnatic/otherwise classical music. The teacher showed us Northern Indian classical music on one lesson, the teacher clearly had access to classical Indian music; the next lesson was Bollywood ie. Indian popular music. So something that is mainstream filmi music. I love Sagara Sangamam soundtrack but it's not exactly pop.

I was thinking something like modern, good ARR, Vishal-Shekhar, S-E-L, Harris Jayaraj, these types. Currently I'm considering Dil Chahta Hai or Bunty aur Babli.

Pessimisissimo said...

Veracious, I'm glad to find someone else hooked on Bollywood by SRK and his chemistry with his co-stars (for us the gateway drug was Kal Ho Naa Ho).

My favorite soundtracks from the past decade are from Devdas and Veer-Zaara, but I think neither film is probably the best introduction to Bollywood for most high school students.

Perhaps an anthology of song clips from different movies would best showcase the wide variety of Indian film music. But if your teacher wants to show how songs work in the context of a film, your suggestion of Bunty aur Babli wouldn't be a bad choice--the movie is contemporary and funny, and the instrumentation includes everything from sitars and string sections to synthesizers (there's even--egad--the "B n B" rap over the closing credits. At least you can't say the music's not varied...). And although I thought the movie had its weaknesses, I think you could do worse than Jab We Met.

Good luck with your choice!

Anonymous said...

Ah, okay. In that case, my vote would be for Roja, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Jab We Met. More on the list later.


ajnabi said...

JBJ is one of those films longtime Bollywood viewers love to hate on, but I adore it--and it's a newbie favorite for the music as well as the screwball. I'd also second the rec for Jab We Met. Pritam lifts good stuff. :-)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story!!! I also got hooked by SRK in Devdas! But anyways movies with good sound tracks that might hook younger audiences: Dil Chata Hai, Jab We Met, Rab ne Bana di Jodi, Jaane Tu ya Jaane Na. Ahh all that I could think of on the top of my head.

bollywooddeewana said...

I'd recommens an Oldie like Teesri Manzil it was one of the movies that made me a bollywood deewana

i would also recommend Gumnaam (1965) i think everyone knows the classic jaan pehchan ho

i'd also recommend Om Shanti om i t was one of the soundtracks i couldn't stop humming

Also an oldie like Shagird had a hip kicking soundtrack like Duniya pagal hai'

You could also exeriment with some 80's disco via a film like star (1982) below are my favourite gems

Donna Summer would have actually killed to record this one

I hope all this helps

bollywooddeewana said...

I forgot to add a modern favourite of mine BACHNA AE haseeno all the songs from that movie are top notch

veracious said...

Pessimissimo - I doubt we're alone in being goras/goris hooked onto Bollywood through SRK. :)

A song compilation DVD might be a good way considering the lesson is not 2½ hrs long so you can't really show a full movie. Thanks for that suggestion!

Ramsu - Thanks!

ajnabi - Both fine films, I agree, and lovely soundtracks.

Anon - Good picks, all-around. I'll consider them!

bollywooddeewana - Thanks! :)

Celeb said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Somebody learns about Indian music and BW in music class, others learn to play Tom Dooley poorly on a guitar......

I do like my oldies, so I would rec. Sharafat for some intr. music, but for the younger audience perhaps DBH, DDLJ, KKHH, JWM