inkwell.vue.459 : State of the World 2013: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky
permalink #46 of 48: Bruce Sterling (bruces) Fri 28 Dec 12 11:28
@bslesins, you shouldn't have gotten me started on recommending Bollywood movies.
It depends on what you want from the experience. Bollywood flicks are definitely an acquired taste. I'm not really a cinema guy myself, so I watch them like a global media analyst – “Hey look, this Tollywood studio has hired a New Zealand production firm! And they got Amitabh Bachchan's daughter-in-law to do the female lead!” Only farangi Bolly-geeks have that kind of fierce enthusiam.
Most foreign people who want to dabble in Indian movies want to see something that's all really, truly Indian, so for that purpose, you can't beat the original Rekha version of “Umrao Jaan” from 1981. A great date movie. It's all about a lovely and sweet-tempered 19th-century Indian girl who is kidnapped and forced into gold-spangled courtesanship with some really handsome and dashing clients. The soundtrack is great, the costumes are awesome, the diva Rekha is in absolute top form here. It's one of the great Indian movies about being Indian. If you're not somehow moved by this movie, Indian cinema is not for you.
That being as it may, Umrao Jaan never made a fraction of the cash from the big-budget India pop rubbish of 2012. Indian films have never made this much money, or had this much crowd response, ever.
“Umrao Jaan” of 1981 is a film that most any film critic would have to respect for its formal qualities, but scarcely any of these 2012 hits are much “good.” They're professionally made Indian action films, comedies, and romances, made with bigger budgets, more lavish production values and more technical skill than any previous ones. If you want a taste of that, go sit through “Dhoom 1, 2, 3,” or “Dabangg 1 & 2,” or maybe “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” if you like dancing.
“Gangs of Wasseypur” and “Shanghai” are two indie art films where energetic Indian cinema intellectuals are being very “cinema” and very “committed.” I'm hugely interested in those new Indian art-cinema guys, I dig them totally and dote on all their doings. They're auteurs, they're not the mainstream; intellectuals like 'em, they're not a big deal.
Pretty much any Aamir Khan film is gonna be okay. Anything directed by Karan Johar is gonna be a well-crafted crowd-pleaser. Farah Khan is a female director whose movies are extremely funny if you know enough about the Bollywood tradition to get her in-jokes.
I'm more interested in the industry itself than I am with the movies per se. Thanks to Twitter I'm closer to that Bollyworld than I ever was. It's like an allegiance to any other overcrowded soap opera – if you get emotionally invested enough in the goings-on, it doesn't much matter that it isn't actually drama. It's a soap. But it's a soap on an Indo-Global scale.
Oh, and if you like science fiction, watch “Endhiran the Robot.” Every colleague who watches this Tamil sci-fi movie is mind-blown by it. You think I'm kidding here. Go try it, I dare you.