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February 08, 2009

Ramesh on Bollywood 2

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Back here, Ramesh reviewed 2002 in Bollywood. Today, he shares more observations, links and clips about this super-popular movie form.


Ramesh on Bollywood Part II : Bollywood the Show


As a Preview to the Oscars, where a certain "Slumdog" seems to be shaking up the wigs, I thought I’d dive headlong into the stage, trumpet in hand.

This is an R. D. Burman classic from "Apna Desh."

Bollywood is influenced from musicals, whether they be the films of Busby Berkely --

-- or from shows in London’s West End --

-- or Broadway.

Some comparable Indian productions would be


The show tune production has been one of the Indian film Industry’s continuing motifs.

In reality a Broadway chorus line --

-- is very different than the rows of dancers in Indian films:

The former draws from the French revue and New Orleans shows, not to mention the British West End, while the latter draws from Indian folk dances as well as Broadway.


The following is a second generation of Bollywood show tunes. Many of them are post 1990 and reflect a high degree of polish and a sensitivity to the Broadway and musical tradition they draw inspiration from:


A. R. Rahman (who is currently nominated for three Oscars) did this in Mani Ratnam’s "Iruvar" as a period piece about Indian films in the 1960’s.

I thought the other song in the film was more sophisticated if somewhat messily picturized:

Close on its heels was Anurag Basu’s "Murder," a Bollywood take on the Richard Gere / Diane Lane film "Unfaithful." It featured this song:

It was topped only by a yesteryears actress Rekha doing a very Shanghai show tune:

By no means are production numbers exclusively the “let's outdo the west in stairs and choruses” alone. Bollywood has evolved its own logic to doing show tunes. This is from the Shahrukh Khan starrer "Dilwale dulhaniya le jayenge":

Or this lush production of Sharmila Tagore in ostrich feathers. (MBlowhard note: the video is too wide to be embedded in this blog's column, so you'll have to click here to watch it. Recommended!)


We can't conclude a short presentation without Helen, the queen of the Mumbai cabaret, doing a femme fatale -- Bollywood taught me how well cabaret went with Noir:

In her iconic Carvan song:

And in what must be the most popular song in the whole world:

Shout out to A.R. Rahman! My Chennai homie should win two Oscars this year!!!! WooHoooo!!!!!

Ramesh out.


Many thanks once again to Ramesh. Visit Ramesh's blog here.

Fellow Bollywood connoisseur David Chute offers a generous and informed guide to Bollywood for the rankest beginner (that'd include me) here. Print it, save it, and consult it the next time you decide to top off your Netflix queue. Visit this posting of mine for more links to Chute-ian Bollywood tips.



posted by Michael at February 8, 2009


When are you going to develop a set of interesting interests? Instead of wading through hours of melodrama in a cacophonous language with musical scores that set your teeth on edge, why don't you tune to the local Spanish language station for melodrama in an easier to understand and hear language sans the show tunes? BTW, if there were show tunes on Univision at least they'd be within a familiar scale.

Posted by: Shiva on February 8, 2009 11:17 AM

dont listen to this shiva guy!

il pazzo.

Posted by: Ramesh on February 8, 2009 12:34 PM

Shiva -- If you've got some interesting things to say about Mexican melodramas, let me know and I'll run a Guest Posting from you. Some good links clips would be great too. Always love sharing the knowledge.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 8, 2009 3:06 PM

Brazilian soaps! please?

Posted by: Ramesh on February 8, 2009 3:17 PM

Seeing as how Mexican melodramas are easily accessible to anyone who has cable, I won't bother to find videos of it on the internet for you thereby demonstrating my ability to work with videos on website. But, seriously, crap is crap. You can claim a certain amount of erudition from learning the names of bad movies and mediocre talent from a foreign country which will most certainly improve your status among intellectuals, ah, well I can stop right there. This is precisely why you indulge in such a ridiculous pursuit.

Posted by: Shiva on February 8, 2009 3:19 PM

like i said

demente malata mentate ,

what you gonna do?

Posted by: Ramesh on February 8, 2009 4:08 PM

Shiva, it's pretty simple: Anyone who puts something out there, who owns up to what they truly enjoy, is preferable to a person who only sneers and snarks from the sidelines.

Posted by: David C on February 8, 2009 8:06 PM

I sneer and snark at plenty of people, and Im pretty superior too...Im not superior because I sneer and snark, i sneer and snark because Im superior...

So if there's a lesson el loco needs to learn , it's that if you wanna suggest mexican fare, be sure to know the mexican fare before suggesting it, or you come off looking rednecky and trailer trashy ignorant in your rejection of "these foreigners with mediocre talent".

Posted by: Ramesh on February 8, 2009 8:49 PM

These are Bollywood MUSICALS. There is no reason to write a dissertation. Adult filmmakers making musicals for supposed adults in this day and age, unbelievable. Mexican soap operas are automatically better just because the dialogue is all spoken.

And to intensify my redneckiess, I'd suggest that grown men being entertained by musicals are, er ...

Why don't you go practice a few dance moves and stop promoting this tripe? Verbosity about a topic doesn't = quality. I don't have to endure hours of aural torment to prove that hokey plots set to music make for bad cinema nor do I have to expand my experience of Mexican cinema much past El Mariachi to prove that the Mexicans have left the Indians in the dust artistically.

If I were to mention Almodovar and his peers, I'd hope you'd have the decency to blush at the puerile inferiority of Bollywood.

Posted by: Shiva on February 8, 2009 11:09 PM


I have one question for you. when was the last time you stepped on the continent of north America?

Ask because you make some fundamental errors about geography and culture.

Musicals, for instance, are watched by grown men and women.

Almodovar is spanish...different country...uh...continent.

Posted by: Ramesh on February 9, 2009 12:48 AM

This is one of the stupidest paragraphs I've ever read:

"These are Bollywood MUSICALS. There is no reason to write a dissertation. Adult filmmakers making musicals for supposed adults in this day and age, unbelievable. Mexican soap operas are automatically better just because the dialogue is all spoken."

Posted by: David C on February 9, 2009 1:19 AM

Sorry I didn't cue that I was leaving Mexico for Spain. I was too busy laughing at Bollywood's productions of what amounts to nouveau Sinbad being seriously compared to the likes of Belle Epocha or even El Mariachi (yes, different continents but overlapping cultures).

As for the justifications for watching musicals, very few worthy films are musicals. In fact, I can't think of any in the past 20 years.

So I guess you guys are fans of "Cats", "River Dance" and any number of Disney flicks. Sweet.

Posted by: Shiva on February 9, 2009 2:12 AM

Please don't overload posts with Flash video like this -- it causes Firefox to hang (at least on this Linux system) and makes 2Blowhards functionally inaccessible to some of us.

Posted by: David Fleck on February 9, 2009 8:11 AM

Its ok shiva,

you're allowed to like spanish mexican TV serials you know very little about, and hate disney musicals (like riverdance).

Posted by: Ramesh on February 9, 2009 8:11 AM

Movie musicals, comedies, noir, classical tragedy and, interestingly, good documentaries all share a strong element of stylization and reductionism...and as a consequence are of greater interest to me, personally, than any form of psychological or realistic drama.

Just saying...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 9, 2009 8:40 AM

Yes, Senor von Blowhard, I can see how viewing Ramesh's Bollywood favs could help you study him like a bug. But there's no need to insult classical tragedy, comedy, noir or the documentary by equating them with musicals, is there?

Signing off from this thread, Ramesh. Now that I'm recalling Antonio Banderas in El Matador and Desperado, I've decided to dedicate the rest of my life to him. Why can't the average Indian actor or programmer for that matter look like Antonio? No doubt it would greatly improve Bollywood's chances of getting foreign film awards.

Posted by: Shiva on February 9, 2009 12:49 PM

Frederich, you've hit the nail right on the head. The Bollywood aesthetic is all about stylization, and not only in the musical numbers.

Posted by: David C on February 9, 2009 1:31 PM


bye, keep the indian flag flying.

i'll meanwhile it here and let freidrich von blowhard study me and make bollywood movies that will enslave india, anew,


Posted by: ramesh on February 9, 2009 3:26 PM

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