We’ve all been exposed to it in some way or another—whether at a friend’s house, or at a restaurant in Little India. Most of us recognize it for its dance numbers: the hero and heroine chasing each other across the Swiss Alps followed by background dancers carrying bouquets of flowers.
However, other than that, most of us don’t really know much about Bollywood. We find ourselves puzzling over the plot, not quite sure what to make of what we’re watching (usually because the subtitles aren’t on). Well, never fear, for I am here to help you through this ordeal. Welcome to A Newcomer’s Guide to Bollywood. Within mere minutes, you will become a Bollywood expert.
In order to understand the plot structure of a Bollywood movie, think back to ninth grade English when your teacher taught you the dreaded plot diagram. Pretty much every Bollywood movie succumbs to this plot format. To better see this, pick a Bollywood movie, any Bollywood movie. You will find that each begins with an exposition of a hero and heroine (the protagonists) and usually something is wrong or missing in their lives.
For example, in the 2006 movie Khabi Alvida Naa Kehna (English translation: “Never Say Goodbye”), we learn within the first ten minutes that the hero Dev feels resentful of his wife’s success as a fashion editor while the heroine Maya is having second thoughts about marrying her childhood friend Rishi. The rising action (Dev and Maya become closer and closer) leads up to the conflict (they try to resist their feelings for each other) which leads to the climax (they sleep together—no pun intended) which leads to the falling action (their significant others find out), which finally leads to the resolution (they end their respective marriages and get together and everyone lives happily ever after).
Of course, every movie has to roughly follow this format. But Bollywood follows this so stringently that you can literally predict how the movie will end within the first five minutes of watching it. Why continue watching it, you ask? For the dance numbers. Duh.
Character development is quite interesting in Bollywood movies. I think Bollywood screenwriters purposefully write characters’ developments in a way that makes viewers jealous. I, too, would like to start off as a girl who shies away from love only to have a hot guy pull me out of the brinks of my own fear and help me blossom into a butterfly, as is the case for Naina in the 2003 movie Kal Ho Naa Ho (English translation: Tomorrow May or May Not Come).
The development of Bollywood characters mirrors that of characters in sopranos or romantic comedies, where literally every obstacle ever dreamed of is overcome and everybody’s dreams come true. It’s hard not to feel resentful when watching Bollywood movies. So here is my little tip for you: never watch a Bollywood movie sober.
Now, you all know that Bollywood is famous for the dance numbers. But have you ever wondered why? Historically speaking, Bollywood dance originated in Indian folk dances, and continued that tradition because of the huge box office success. But I think the real reason why Bollywood features so many dance numbers is because we Indians are a dramatic lot. It doesn’t take much to get us excited and start dancing.
You seldom see this in Hollywood today, except in musicals. When Harry finally conquered Lord Voldemort, he didn’t chase Ginny across Hogwarts throwing flower petals at her. When Jack died after the Titanic sunk, Rose didn’t launch into a depressing song about how her heart has broken into shreds and her soul has evaporated into a cloud of agony. Even in the cheesiest of Jennifer Aniston movies, I have yet to see her coyly hide behind a tree while her man pretends he can’t see her. But us Indians sing and dance over anything under the moon. We’d probably create a flash mob and block an entire street over our Starbucks barista getting our order right. It can’t be helped; it’s in our DNA.
And here’s another little shocker for you: most of us don’t go and see a Bollywood movie to marvel over the plot or witty dialogue. We go to see a film solely for the singing and dance numbers. In fact, how good the songs are can make or break a Bollywood film.
If you’re a woman and having a bad day or feeling particularly self-conscious, I would highly recommend not watching a Bollywood movie. Because if you’re already feeling terrible about yourself, it will be nothing compared to how you will feel after looking at the gorgeous Bollywood actresses prancing across the screen. Seriously, it may make you want to crawl under your bed and never leave your room ever again. Take it from me.
You need to be having a great day and feeling very confident about yourself in order to stomach the inhumane beauty of these Victoria’s Secret-esque bombshells. Or be completely plastered.
This is the most important bit of all. If you plan on skipping most of this article, read this, at the very least, as it will profoundly change your life.
For those of you who have Indian friends, you may already recognize this face. His name is Shahrukh Khan (ten points if you can pronounce the name) and he is considered the God of all things Bollywood. Seriously, Indians worship the path this man walks on. He is our version of George Clooney, the ageless handsome King of all things right in this world. You may recognize him by his title: King. Seriously, that’s his title. He is like a mixture of Johnny Depp, Robert De Niro and Hugh Jackman. With a splash of that Will Smith charisma. Basically, if you value your life, never, ever insult this man in front of an Indian. Seriously. Don’t even think about doing it.