Bollywood films reflect culture

By Stephanie Moran

Correction: A previous version of this story contained an incorrect spelling of Manish Patel’s name.

As the Indian song, “Paathshala (Be a Rebel),” blasted over the speakers, a crowd shuffled into the room and the smell of curry filled the air. Audience members dined on vegetable samosas and chatted in Hindi and English in between mouthfuls.

The lights dimmed and a hush came over the room as the film “Rang de Basanti,” played for about 50 students. The International Carnevale screening in Ell Hall Feb. 22 was part of a three-day international film series sponsored by NU Sanskriti, Northeastern’s Indian graduate student organization.

For about two hours the audience was introduced to a world of bright colors, music, dance and Indian culture.

Welcome to Bollywood.

“Rang de Basanti” is a drama directed by Rakesh Omprkash Mehra and features Bollywood movie star Aamir Khan. It follows Sue, a young English woman, who travels to India to film a documentary about her grandfather’s diary from the 1920s during India’s fight against Britain for independence. Working with a minimal budget, Sue recruits students from Delhi University as the cast for her film. During filming, the characters’ experiences change their perspectives on life and values.

Like most Bollywood movies, students said “Rang de Basanti” combines drama, comedy, visually enticing scenes, music and dance. Manish Patel, NU Sanskriti’s events coordinator said Indian cinema also reflects core Indian values.

“[The film] is connected to our culture. What happens in the plot is hard to believe in America, but Indian culture is different,” he said.

India’s film industry, Bollywood, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Unlike American cinema, Bollywood films incorporate almost every genre, from drama and comedy to music and dance into one film, providing a different form of entertainment, said Kumi Silva, assistant communication studies professor.

For some students, Bollywood serves another purpose. For “diasporas,” those forced to leave their native country, Bollywood is a way to culturally connect with their roots while adjusting to life in America.

“[Although] Bollywood is not 100 percent accurate in portraying India, it is seen as so Indian,” Silva said. “It becomes a representation of home and offers a way for diasporas to connect with one another and their origins.”

Silva, who is Sri-Lankan, said, in South Asian countries, specifically India, watching movies is a cultural event. Instead of going to the theatre to watch a film, people in South Asia go to the movies expecting to mingle and connect with others.

“Everyone goes to the movies [in India],” she said.

Patel is an avid fan of Bollywood films and said he watches Indian movies on the Internet. However, watching a film online will never compare to the interactive atmosphere of movie theatres in India. Gathering to watch a movie is special, and creates a connection within the crowd, he said.

Because Bollywood movies use colorful sets, upbeat music and graceful dance sequences, the audience will typically leave the theatre feeling positive. That’s why Indian films are so enjoyable, Patel said.

Patel said choosing between Bollywood and American cinema is a tough decision.

“After being in the U.S. for two years, it’s 50-50,” he said. “But I love Bollywood, that’s for sure.”

Like Patel, MBA graduate student Deep Dharamshi, appreciates Bollywood for its signature dance sequences and elaborate set and costume designs. He said he also admires the film industry because it portrays aspects and values embedded within Indian culture.

Dharamshi said Bollywood depicts India’s current situation, specifically the country’s attitude toward women and family. Indians have more respect for women and family than Americans, he said.

Dharamshi said he hopes Bollywood will become prominent in America because it will provide the United States with insight to Indian culture.

“[We live] in an age of globalization,” he said. “I hope more Americans watch Bollywood movies just to get to know India better and see where it is going.”

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