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Indian Films: An Outsider's Tour

by Julie Fox

"Hollywood blockbusters, imported and dubbed, are taking increasingly larger shares of revenue away from native (Indian) productions, and that’s causing some panic."

I became interested in movies from India because I became friends with an Indian actor who's very nice and very talented, so I thought it'd make sense to watch the movies and try to learn something about the business so I know what the heck he's talking about once in a while.

This situation makes me a groupie but not, I hope, a dishonest one. My only real agenda is to bring awareness of Indian films into the American consciousness.

I'm a slob viewer; I watch movies for entertainment, not enlightenment, though I do award extra points to any film that is affecting AND manages to be good popcorn. However, I don't recommend a second-rate movie I happen to find enjoyable to other people unless they're the same kind of easy-target audience I am. I like to think I know the difference between a "fun movie" and "good cinema."

Most of my friends would argue that I do NOT know the difference. That's their problem.

This column will essentially be aimed at novice Americans who learned everything they know about Indian movies from that satellite-TV commercial. (You know the one I mean.) Bollywood–and Tollywood too, for that matter–ain't Hollywood. The Indian film industry operates within a different culture, has censorial restrictions on it, produces for an audience whose expectations are different from ours in many ways, and does not pump the obscene amounts of money into their films that Americans do. Given all that, is it fair to hold up the results to Hollywood standards and still find them lacking?

Sure it is, given that the Indian filmmakers themselves often lament the state of their own endeavors. Hollywood blockbusters, imported and dubbed, are taking increasingly larger shares of revenue away from native productions, and that’s causing some panic. In fact it's changing the Indian film industry, which is now experimenting with "going Hollywood." They've begun creating costlier films, taking more time and care with ambitious projects, delving into sci-fi/fantasy stories, and learning the ropes of high-tech special effects. If this revolution succeeds and extends to other aspects of filmmaking, such as tighter scripts and better film editing in all genres, a push toward Hollywood standards can only benefit the Indian movie business both at home and abroad. It's not as if they don't have the TALENT to please Western audiences; there are plenty of Indian actors and actresses who could give some of the most popular Hollywood stars a run for their money.

Before anyone screams that it would be horrible if Indian movies began losing their native flavor, I hasten to say that 1) I agree; and 2) don't worry. The Indians have no desire to abandon their cultural heritage onscreen or off. The goal is to adapt the best practices of other film industries to their own, not to be absorbed wholesale by the Hollywood way. DIWALI THE 13TH won't happen in your lifetime. (Or anyone else's. Cross your fingers.)

And does Hollywood have anything to learn from India? You bet. Start making musicals again, guys. They're a blast.