Bollywood. The word means a million different things. For some it’s a world where nothing is impossible. For some it’s the ever-hungry monster that won’t stop at anything. This is a place where reality is escaped through dreams - this is a place where the rules are the same for everyone till they become someone.
Hindi cinema has indeed come a long way in its first century. It has become the world’s biggest film producing industry on its own terms and remains one of the few cinemas of the world that hasn’t bowed to Hollywood. In fact, it lovingly embraces the tag of Bollywood, a derivative that could be seen as nothing more than a debased version of its more illustrious namesake. It has gone from strength to strength, its famous sons and daughters have more fans and followers than any most stars across the world, it evokes frenzy and passion which filmmakers can’t even dream of and yet it remains cocooned in some sense of the word.
In other parts of the world, making movies may be a business or high art but in Bollywood, cinema is nothing less than a religion. It’s custodians are gods and goddesses who don’t age or do anything wrong. What is it about Hindi films that makes them so unique? Starting on similar grounds as it did across the world, the moving image got a life of its own in India. Our films were sacred and scary at the same. People took actors portraying gods for real. Legend has it that once during the filming of a reel snake, a real one ran amok in the darkened movie hall. The slithering creature was pacified by the mesmerising sound of the been from the soundtrack of the film while people paid obeisance. Even though everything about the trade has been turned on its head, not much has changed in the passion people have towards films in India. Cutouts of actors large enough to be viewed from outer space are bathed in milk before audiences make way into the theatre to see the first-day-first-show at 4 in the morning. Those who can’t manage a ticket sometimes fly across cities to watch the new release.
In a nation like India where hope means more than anything, cinema plays a different role. People don’t mind going hungry in order to see a film and escape into a world where everything is all right or at least would be by the time they come out. Many a times filmmakers like Manmohan Desai (Amar Akbar Anthony, Naseeb) made films that defied any logic only in the name of entertaining the nameless viewer who’d rather spend his last rupee on a ticket than a roti. This is what defines the men and women who make dreams come true every Friday. Sajid Khan (Housefull, Housefull 2) continues to be a happy custodian of this legacy and doesn’t care about anything else.
Anywhere else in the world, cinema perpetually strives for some kind of a global acceptance. For the longest time Bollywood believed that the expats were its ‘global’ audiences and never cared a hoot for anyone else. In the mid 1980s when Hollywood discovered Hong Kong, other cinemas of the world too tried to enter the local business and were even welcomed to some extent. Not in Bollywood. Here no one cared for the firangs and their money. The only thing it craved was taking their stories and Indianising them, many a times not even bothering to credit the source. But it worked. It worked to such an extent that Hollywood studios came calling and set up shop here. They mocked the singing-songs-and-dancing-around-the-trees routine but ended up financing films like Saawariya that, well...celebrated the same. What could be a bigger testimony than one of the recent Hollywood success stories, Slumdog Millionaire, being nothing more than Bollywood talking in English. For once, no one seemed to mind the accent.
If the filmmaker’s passion makes him/her stake everything for the entertainment of the everyman, the common man too displays uncommon zeal when it comes to films. The modes of transport might have changed but the fervor with which Bollywood continues to attract millions remains the same. For every success story like Shahrukh Khan, the proverbial outsider who became the Baadshah of Bollywood on his own terms, there are a million failures, yet the numbers keep increasing.
The audiences love watching films and some of them are willing to forsake everything to live a dream. Divided between the sad truth, fabled myths and the fine line called Friday that divides the two, Bollywood continues to turn the wheels and live the dream.