A Westerner’s Quick Guide to Bollywood Movies

Bollywood movies (films from India’s movie industry) are an exciting genre unto themselves, lovable for many quirks and virtues. Start by memorizing four words: willing suspension of disbelief. You will see things in a Bollywood movie that don’t exist in Hollywood or anywhere else. Embrace the following special differences, and enjoy.

Colour, colour, colour! Bollywood has never met a colour it didn’t like. Forget “does this shade go with that one?” Colours run riot, from flowers in the background, to building decor, brilliant Indian clothing and glittering jewellery, and most of all, the extravagant musical productions.

Everyone dances! Is there a festival, wedding, or religious holiday in the plot? Then you’ll see at least one (but rarely just one) strenuous dance number featuring the romantic leads, backed up by 20 or 30 others — all colourfully-dressed, of course — singing enthusiastically while apparently doing gynmastics.

Romantic singing! The lead characters sing several lavishly romantic songs, in music video style, as their relationship progresses. In a single song, they may start beside a street fountain, suddenly change scene (and clothes) to twirl atop a snowy mountain, and end up running through a field (again in new clothes). Whatever romantic imagery you want with your love songs — slow-motion running, wind-blown hair, shy gazes, flower-strewn paths, billowing white curtains — you will see it eventually in some Bollywood movie.

Love at first sight! Across a crowded square, shaking hands in a business meeting, colliding in an airport: the young couple’s eyes meet, and They Just Know. But the course of true love never runs smoothly. They must overcome obstacles such as a gangster father (who almost always reforms in the end), differences in class and wealth, religious objections, or even political upheavals. But in most Bollywood films, love overcomes and the star-crossed couple finally unites.

Graphic passion — not! There is no kissing. Only a few rare, and recent, Bollywood movies allow the star couple to kiss onscreen, never mind anything else. Don’t worry, though, they more than compensate in their singing numbers. These are wildly romantic, and sometimes downright erotic. A Bollywood couple is hotter with clothes on than most Hollywood couples naked.

Melodrama! If you love it, these are your movies. The word “subtle” is nowhere in Bollywood’s vocabulary. You will never miss the point. If the abrupt zooming close-up of an actor’s suddenly troubled/shocked/ecstatic face doesn’t clue you in, the blare of dramatic music will. And when Our Hero, inspired by love, fights off 20 heavily armed attackers with his bare fists (not to mention acrobatic back flips and leaping kicks), you will think, “Well, of course.”

Bollywood movies are a rollicking adventure, enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide. Embrace their special quirks and join the romp.

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