When Bollywood Movies become more... Hollywood.


What things cross your mind when I mention Bollywood movies? Some of you probably have no idea but those who had watched Bollywood movies will be reminded of a young Indian lady in her colorful sari, singing high-pitch notes and dancing along with a muscular and dreamy gentleman in a courtyard, accompanied by countless background dancers.

Well I must admit that all Bollywood movies I have watched possess this dancing and sing along part. They're  Bollywood trademark. At some point, these merry-go-round sequence seem a little tiring, but as I watched more Bollywood movies, it became clear to my understanding that they're unseparated part of Bollywood movies.

There are lots of articles in the internet discussing the difference between Bollywood and Hollywood movies. If you like to dig deeper into aspects like budgeting and actor performance, you could simply Google for it. However I will not discuss it in this post.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan starring Salman Khan
and Kareena Kapoor.
Image source: media247.co.uk
I had a very graceful experience when Jerio referred me a Bollywood movie called Bajrangi Bhaijaan, starring Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Salman was the main character in 3 Idiots, a very well-known Bollywood movies thanks to its mind-blowing storyline. Kareena, on the other hands, is a veteran actress with long list of movies she has starred on. At first I was reluctant. The movie lasted almost three hours. One of my consideration in watching movie is, if it lasts over than two hours, it must be extraordinarily incredible.

The opening scene which presented a breathtaking panorama of the Himalayas near the Pakistan border immediately stole my heart. At that moment I know that this was a good one. I decided to carry on. In the end, I must say it was three hours worth spent for.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan opened my eyes about major shifts taking place in modern Bollywood movies. Here are few things I noticed.

1. Visual quality. Clean, sharp, and very pleasant. The kind of image quality you can only find in Hollywood big-budget production. Yes, I'm talking about true high definition here. This indicated upgrades in film-making equipment which I give credit for.

2. Variation of shots and angles. Indian films in the past using the "standard" variety of angles in big scenes like the dancing and singing parts. What I called "standard" is a wide shot, with medium shots of the actors. What I saw in Bajrangi Bhaijaan are tracking shots and all kinds of shots that could only be taken using drones. This is very refreshing and sophisticated, adding lots of dynamics in the dancing and singing parts.

Dancing and singing are unseparated parts
 of Bollywood movies.
Image source: thedailyindia.in
3. Very rich visual elements. This is one of my favorite part in Indian movies. Culture is densely involved in the films. All the women wear colorful sari - traditional dress of Indian women. Tons of flowers everywhere. The buildings, ah, they're another magnificent part. Religious ceremonies also have their special bits. The amazing thing for me is, the integration of culture in the story is not something imposed or counterfeited, but it blends naturally. I was quite confused whether to categorize this as change or not, because it almost always appears. Probably it could be called as "change" because it stays in the movies even in the present where modernity gradually gets bigger influence in films. 

4. Current issues. As Bollywood producesmore films than Hollywood, I can see the urgency of creativity to provide fresh plots. As I recall, Indian films in the past mostly had the soap-opera kind of plots. Issues like religions, political views, terrorism or racism were rarely touched. As masters of drama, Indian filmmakers somehow found an elegant but powerful method to bring these issues up. Bajrangi Bhaijaan discussed the contrast between Islam, which is practiced by major population of Pakistan and the Hindu of India. This is a very sensitive plus interesting topic. I salute one particular film which pioneered this brave uprising, My Name Is Khan (2010).

These points are the most striking progress of modern Indian movies. For me, they prove that Bollywood is trying to catch up with Hollywood in the matter of catching bigger audience. I'm not saying that Bollywood movies are less-good compared with Hollywood. They have different scopes and audience. It is absolutely okay for Bollywood to fish in the bigger pool.

Indonesian movies for instance, also aiming the same goal: to go international. However, I think the method is less elegant, as they seem to forcing "international" element into the movies, causing weird results. Like the over-usage of modern techs and English slang. Lately, many Indonesian films also doing productions in "international" cities such New York, London, Paris or Singapore.

I don't think they should go like that.


Bollywood movies set a very nice example here. Just because we're aiming international audience doesn't mean we have to completely strip down our movies' personalities. Losing these "exotic" parts may cause bigger lost: the identity itself. I think identity is an important part in branding process. Imagine what will happen if local movies become very similar to Hollywood movies. How can we identify them? What's the differentiating elements? Afterwards, what if it turns out that the quality is far below Hollywood's? Will it not backfiring?