October 10th, 2005

Singing and dancing terrorists

I have friends who love Indian (or, in the popular crass lingo, "Bollywood") cinema. They know everything about it - the stars, the directors, the awards, the box office figures - and have tried for years to enroll me in the sacred cause. They've tried to educate me on the difference between Tamil and Hindi language films, on the "masala" films, on the parallel cinema...

...and I still just don't get it.

I'm just not a fan of Indian cinema, and I wish I could be. Considering how much of the global film product they're responsible for, wouldn't it be exciting to have an entire new world of film laid at your feet? I don't even object to the singing and dancing that permeates all Bollywood; nor do I think the actors lack talent or charisma. It's...well, pretty much everything else that leaves me cold. The stories. The production values. And T H E L E N G T H .

I've had it explained to me that in India going to the movies is typically a day-long affair for the entire family, and that quite simply no one is expected to actually sit through an entire three or four hour long film. They get up and down, come and go, eat and talk throughout these things. Well, y'know...I don't like American miniseries, either.

I've been able to sit through exactly 3 Indian films, all by the director Mani Ratnam. One of these - Dil Se - was absolutely brilliant from beginning to end, with a compelling story (naive young male journalist falls for troubled female terrorist, ends up pursuing her across India), gorgeous photography, and bangup (literally) musical numbers (yes, they really did burst into song and dance during terrorist attacks, and it WORKED). Ratnam's earlier Bombay and Roja also addressed political concerns (Bombay's big final musical number takes place during a riot!) and were beautifully made.

But Ratnam seems to be completely unique in Indian cinema. I've tried to watch probably a dozen other Indian films over the last few years, both older classics like Sholay as well as new releases, and I just can't get into them. Many are very badly shot, with photography that reminds me of the terrible look of the Cannon action films in the early 80s; many are so saccharine that they make American children's television series look like Tolstoy by comparison. I occasionally try recommendations, like the recent horror film Bhoot (so terrifying it caused Indian viewers to faint and have heart attacks! - I'm thinking maybe they were really just comatose from boredom), only to be disappointed.

The point of this is not really to knock Bollywood cinema, but to ask yet again - what am I missing? I know that movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, which I found loathesomely cute beyond words and could only endure 10 minutes of, were huge hits in India, so I guess this is simply a case of cultural differences. The Hong Kong/Korean film aesthetic works for me; the Indian doesn't. I still welcome recommendations of new Indian films, provided you can assure me that: 1) they don't look like they were shot in an afternoon on 16mm ends; 2) they don't star obviously 30something actors as high school kids; 3) they don't periodically insert theoretically comic scenes which have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot; and 4) their 180+ minute running time is actually deserved. Considering that Hong Kong is now generating 40-50 movies a year, European cinema is still too precious for me, and American movies ain't gettin' any better, I could use a new cinema.

My creative spirit is impacted

Yesterday the LA TIMES ran an article on video bootlegging entitled "Piracy Spins a Global Web" which included this fabulous quote from Mr. Dan Glickman, chief executive of the Motion Picture Assn.: "Piracy not only has an economic impact on our industry, but it has an impact on the creative spirit in this country."

So, Mr. Glickman...does that mean if the MPAA were to magically recoup that $3.5 billion they claim piracy is costing them, that you and your exec buds would kick down to those of us who actually HAVE "creative spirit"? Yeah, right. Didn't think so. Enjoy your new summer house, Mr. Glickman; me, I've gotta go take my ten year old car into the shop, and maybe pick up a couple of bootlegs of my own movies, since I can't afford to buy the real DVDs.