Thursday, May 31, 2012

Culture Corner: Bollywood

Several times in my life have I heard someone say: “What, you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie? You simply have to! They’re great!” The best of intentions never panning out, being in India seemed like a good time to take up their suggestion. And so, on a 42 degree afternoon (f#%^ hot for the Celsius impaired), a companion and I bought tickets for a blessedly air-conditioned cinema in downtown Varanasi. Jannat 2 our afternoon’s entertainment, my first experience with Bollywood was in a context as it was meant to be. But like the heat and chaos waiting outside, I left in shock.

Want high-school romance? Check. Want Tom Cruise action? Check. Want chase scenes? Check. Want slapstick humor three red balls short of a clown? Check. Want nasal singing? Check. Want choreographed happy people dancing like Jim Carrey? Check. Want choreographed happy people dancing amidst graphic death? Check. Want unending slow-motion glamour shots of Indian stars made to look as Eur-american as possible? Check. Want highly predictable plot outcomes of the wink-wink variety? Check. In short, it’s all like stewing MTV, Lethal Weapon, and any Jennifer Aniston romance into one big pot of ugliness.

Enough said. Here is a rough breakdown of Jannat 2 as proof.

Scene 1 Boy is shown joking with friend at night on bridge. (I say “boy” because of his metrosexuality. He was not a convincing “man”.) Fellow gangsters appear who know boy. Friend runs away. Gangsters threaten boy by holding him over bridge abutment. Gangsters smile. It is a joke. He will live. Gangsters slash boy’s palm.

Scene 2 Boy goes to doctor’s office for hand. Sees beautiful goddess actress and it’s love at first sight. (Viewers become aware of the love thanks to the subtleties of slow-motion hair-flipping on the girl’s part and the “holding-cucumber-in-mouth” look of the boy.) Boy acts shy while girl doctor (only in the movies in India!) tends slashed hand. Saccharine dialogue ensues. Girl refuses boy’s advances, so boy slashes other palm with scalpel. Blood flows. Boy smiles. Girl smiles.

Scene 3 Men sit in bar drinking and smoking. They are off-duty detectives. One man, a real man, drunkenly leaves and attempts to call wife. No luck because she's been dead for a year. Man lurches back into bar. Philosophy ensues over cigarettes.

Scene 4 Boy walks down street in daytime, talking with friend, no bandages. Stops at shop to make a deal. Off-duty detectives from previous scene witness deal and give chase. Charley Chaplin scenes ensue, complete with such tricks as: boy hides behind car only for car to drive away, exposing boy to otherwise hopeless police. Chase continues. Attempting to escape, boy accidentally jumps into same rickshaw as female doctor. Ooh. Dialogue ensues. Boy acquires phone number. Police catch boy and boy loses phone number. Girl drives away.

Scene 5 Boy is convinced by detectives to go undercover and infiltrate a gun smuggling ring. Simple.

Scene 6 Street at night. Boy and group of friends discuss boy’s bad luck at having lost girl’s phone number. Song breaks out. Boys dance in choreographed fashion while boy sings. Images of he and girl wearing beautiful clothes and being beautiful people spliced into song and dance routine. Everyone feels better.

Scene 7 Same night, maybe different street. Obvious bad guy sits at table (later to be revealed as #2). Boy and friend approach. Clever dialogue ensues. Boy dismantles and reassembles pistol in record time, thus passing bad guy’s test. Boy welcomed into gun ring with friend.

Scene 8 Restaurant. Boy and friend eat (with hands, shoveling food into mouth like animals). Girl enters with friends. (What a coincidence in a city of 13 million!) Boy and friend banter about speaking to girl. Boy ultimately talks with girl, convinces her to go on date.

Cut scenes Boy goes on date with girl. Scenery is luxurious and dirt-free, coconut palms, architectural wonders, etc. Song breaks out. Everyone is happy. Many slow-motion glamour shots showing beautiful people. Girl is convinced. There is hand holding at the end. (All the middle schoolers giggle.)

Scene 9 Luxury SUV enters underground storage area with various guns scattered about. Man exits vehicle. Obvious is big boss. #2 introduces boy to boss. Boy afraid because boss’s piercing eye stare seems onto his undercover status.

Scene 10 Boy shown secretly meeting detective to pass info about gun ring. Bro moment occurs.

Scene 11 Boy goes on second date with girl. Love is decided. They go to a civil office and are married the next day. Love scene ensues. No nudity. Only glamour shots of girl wearing 17 different saris.

Cut scenes Boy shown at various stages of dealing and storing weapons, and generally sneaking around. Does good job. Boss approves of boy and friend. Wife waiting at home for boy. Life is good. Manly detective watches from wings, bottle of booze always in hand.

Scene 12 Boy and girl’s new home. Girl welcomes father for a visit. Father turns out to be gun boss. Ooh. Plot twist. Another ooh. Boy scared.

Scene 13 More bro moments occur between manly detective and boy. Boy afraid father-in-law/boss will discover he works for police and kill him.

Scene 14 Boss gathers crew and tells them he knows a rat exists in his crew. Everyone scared except #2.

Scene 15 Detective’s office. A mole exists. Manly detective discusses situation with police chief. Detective instructed by chief to find mole. Leaves to drink.

Scene 16 Newlyweds highly westernized luxury penthouse (no rubbish in sight). Girl prepares candles and spreads roses over whole apartment in 21st century Betty Crocker attentiveness. Boy shown in wife-beater grinning like pervert on bed. Slow motion love scene ensues wherein the only flesh exposed is shoulder and a hint of couple’s backs. Sexual congress is implied amongst many slow motion glamour shots--no pimples, wrinkles, or other imperfections to be seen.

Scene 17 Boss gathers crew again and points to friend as rat. Tense dialogue ensues. When friend’s life is threatened, boy attempts to admit he is rat. However, friend gives life for boy. Blows out brains in graphic detail. Nobody is singing.

Scene 18 Manly detective confronts random co-worker about potential status as mole. Detective destroys conveniently worn cast on right arm to test if any listening devices are located inside. None are. Chief calls detective in for another meeting. Something must be done.

Scene 19 Boy drives with boss and #2 in luxury SUV to big gun deal. Manly detective suddenly appears, stops SUV, and threatens everybody with arrest. Group escapes on legal technicality. #2 eyes boy with look “I know you’re the informant.” Detective drinks as SUV drives away.

Scene 20 Boss instructs boy to leave town for a big deal. Boy breaks news to girl: no honeymoon. I must work. Girl sad. Slow motion tears and sadness ensue.

Scene 21 Boy and detective secretly meet in back alley at night. Boy expresses pains of life. Detective drinks. Bro moment with heartfelt dialogue. #2 suddenly appears and utters the Hindi equivalent of “Ha! Gotcha!” to boy. Chase ensues. #2 caught and tortured by detective. #2 dies.

Scene 22 Grand climax. Boy returns to gun lair. Numerous young men enter cavern behind him. Nobody wants to sing. Or dance. Boss confronts boy as informant. Shooting breaks out. Boy performs various slow-motion rolls and flips returning fire to numerous bad guys, killing all. Boss runs away. Boy chases. Police chief appears and points gun at boss. Boy relaxes, thinks all is well. Chief shoots boy. (Surprise!!) Chief and boss laugh and start to walk away. Manly detective appears and shoots all bad guys. (Surpr—oh wait, that’s not a surprise, those bro moments…). Detective hoists boy on shoulder and drives pell-mell to hospital.

Scene 23 Boy, looking as handsome as ever, lays in hospital bed. Detective leans over, listens to profound words. Boy dies. (About time!) Detective sullen.

Scene 24 Girl, as usual, waits at home for boy. (Her career as a doctor appears to have been abandoned after her marriage as her only role after is to wait at home dressed sexily.) Detective appears. Breaks news. Slow-motion tears. Makeup remains immaculate. Detective leaves.

Scene 25 Smoke filled bar from opening scenes. Manly detective, sober, goes to pay phone to call wife. Lifts receiver but decides better not call a dead woman.


As can be seen, the producers and directors of Jannat 2 have sold their soul to the devil. There is a less than subliminal message being flashed throughout the film: “We want money, and we want money badly. We want to appease the lowest common denominator. We don’t care about anything else. Thus, our film is crap of the most impure variety.”

Suffice to say, I now understand the appeal of Bollywood: unintentional humor


  1. Bollywood's a massive film industry that produces in excess of 600 films any given year, 80% of which are bad. Your experience here is the movie-going equivalent of walking into the science fiction shelf of your local bookstore, picking up James S.A. Corey's latest, and judging the entire science fiction genre based on the crap contained therein.

    1. Is 80% of science fiction published today crap? I would say somewhere around 50%, the majority of the remaining 50% average, and about 10% good to great.

      You may interested to know that after Varanasi, my wife and I watched three more showings, i.e. James Corey didn't throw me entirely off the scent. One showing was in an ancient New Delhi cinema that was as much an experience in itself as the film. But it wasn't until the last of these three (on the plane ride home) that we discovered a film worth the time. The title I unfortunately forget, but it was an 80s (or 90s?) film about a woman caught in a cultural Catch-22. A husband, who had been arranged for her, runs away in the early going. In his lengthy absence, she falls in love with another man, and of course, once the husband returns, conflict ensues. Throughout the film the woman, coming from a very poor neighborhood, fights for independence and position in society and a company, but is continually limited by her gender. The whole story told in a very realistic setting (i.e. not the nirvana of Jannat 2, rather the real poverty of India), it was a touching film that raised major issues that I'm not sure have been addressed in the 20-30 years that have passed.

      But you're right, perhaps I should find the title and write about that film to balance the injustice?

  2. Bah, too much trouble, especially if you can't remember the name, or the actors. Odds are thr folks that were recommending you Bollywood were referring to stuff like this anyway. When I saw how you laid out this post, I had a good laugh about it with my sister; its typical formulaic Bollywood. Nice to see you gave it a few more shots! The last one is more in keeping with the sort of movies that make Bollywood watching, from time to time. The older stuff tends to be better, before they got so Westernised.