Anne-Hélène Dupont - April 4, 2019

Bollywood movies: A true delight!

Long before video streaming was even a possibility, I used to rent VHS tapes of Bollywood movies from shops in Parc-Extension. With one dollar, I could escape for a few hours into a vibrantly hued, musical world where love conquers all.

When I came to Montreal in the early 2000s, Indian culture unveiled itself in bits and pieces. My boyfriend and I found a place to live on the fringe of Parc-Extension, the city’s “Little India.” When we moved in, the walls of our apartment were yellowed with turmeric and the odour of spices permeated everything—souvenirs from the previous tenants. At the nearest metro station, I’d cross men and women returning from a temple, dressed in brightly coloured garb, their foreheads marked with pigment and ash.

Discovering India through the senses 

It wasn’t until later that I discovered Bollywood films, thanks to an anthropology professor specializing in South Asian studies. He insisted that India was best discovered through the senses, and took his students to Hindu temples, Indian restaurants and sari stores in Montreal’s West Island. We spent an entire class watching the Bollywood mega-blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (in Hindi, “Something … something happens”).

Close-up shots underscored the emotions of our hero Rahul (Shahrukh Khan), torn between his desire to remain faithful to the memory of his late wife, and his reawakened feelings for Anjali (Kajol), his friend from university, now back in his life. And the dancing! Flawlessly executed choreography, dozens of dancers surrounding the heroine, the wind in her hair… I left the classroom grinning. And the movie’s theme song ran through my head for days!

Music and dance above all

Bollywood films owe a great deal of their charm to their songs, as traditional North Indian sounds and melodies are given a pop twist. These catchy pieces are the foundation for massive dance numbers, performed with contagious enthusiasm.

I was hooked. Back then, the idea of streaming films online was an unimaginable possibility; so the corner stores of Parc-Ex became my dealers for Bollywood films, rented for just one dollar a week.  With these video cassettes, I discovered the film where Shahrukh Khan first shared the screen with Kajol, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, then I found India’s sweethearts (now my sweethearts, too) again, in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…

Though I am especially fond of Bollywood melodramas, with their exaggerated romances and slightly campy musical numbers, I occasionally foray into other genres : Indian action films, with clear Hollywood influences (Om Shanti Om, for example), and historical dramas like the acclaimed Lagaan, whose powerful soundtrack by A.R. Rahman is considered by many to be the composer’s best work, though in 2008, he received two Oscars for the soundtrack to Slumdog Millionaire.

Today, to my great joy, online video streaming has made it easier than ever to dive into this vast motion picture universe, which is still relatively unknown on this continent.

And I know, of course, that Bollywood is to India what Hollywood is to the United States: a seductive illusion, with brief glimpses of society’s fears and tensions. But I’ll be honest: these intellectual concerns fall away as soon as the film begins and I hear the first few notes of an irresistible Bollywood theme song.

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