Happy Birthday Bollywood

Bollywood” is the popular name for India’s major film industry. Bollywood began 100 years ago with the production of India’s first silent film called “Raja Harischandra” (King Harischandra) which was released in 1913. Unfortunatly the film was not preserved, and all that remains are short clips (here is a YouTube example).  However, NetFlix has a 1943 version of the film called “Harischandra”.  Or you can watch  the 2009 film (also at Netflix) called Harishchandrachi Factory which is about the remarkable obstacle producing of the film.

King Harishchandra, like Rama in the Ramayana, was a King who felt obliged sacrifice all he had simply to honor an unwisely made vow (see my post on this theme both in Hindu and Jewish scripture).  The popular Indian press today is saying that the story of Harishcandra is found in both the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.  But from what I can tell, it is only found in the Mahabharata, not in the Ramayana. (Please correct me if I am wrong).  And further, it is the  Markandeya Purana which spells out most the details (source).   I am pretty sure that the Ramayana claim is misinformation found in the wiki article and then spread all over popular news sites today.  Just shows that journalists use Wikipedia as a primary source, it seems.

As you know, I love foreign films.  My Indian film life started in the 1970s with Satyajit Ray’s wonderful Bengali films (The Apu Trilogy & more) when I was still in the USA. When I lived in India I would regularly visit theaters to watch all the popular Hindi films.

Question to readers:  Do you have any favorite Bollywood film recommendations?

Note:  This post is from my Ramayana series.

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6 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

6 responses to “Happy Birthday Bollywood

  1. taslima

    Satyajit Ray’s Apu Triology are Bengali films. Subtitle in English.

  2. A Creator

    Watch ‘Hey Ram’ (kamal hasan)

  3. @ taslima: Thank you, I corrected it. And for me, Bengali is much prettier than Hindi — though they are deeply related.

    @ A Creator: I put it on my list. Interestingly, reading the review, it seems to discuss an issue concerning Gandhi which I hope to post on. Thank you!

  4. TWF

    I haven’t seen many Bollywood movies, maybe on the order of two or three, excepting those which I have seen running in the background of some Indian restaurants.

    I’ve got a repulsion/attraction relationship with them (at least some of them), same as for the Hollywood musicals. I dig the different cultural aspects, and the dancing and singing is kind of neat, but it’s like you’ve got the movie mentally put on hold while everybody is dancing around and singing. Songs are fun and all, but my mind screams THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN! And yet I like it.

    I think this mental schism has prevented me from further pursuing Bollywood films, and Hollywood musicals, even though I usually enjoy them when I do see them.

    Anyway, I recently watched “Delhi Belly” and found it to be quite entertaining, but probably not as deep as the Apu trilogy (which I have not seen, yet). It was a good blend of action and comedy.

    (Yeah, I am sure there are Bollywood films without all the singing and dancing, but that’s really all I have been exposed to.)

  5. @ TWF,
    Like you (unsurprisingly), I am not drawn to most Bollywood films for the same reason. Having lived in India though, watching them for me is often a fun little trip back in time. But there are probably some of great quality — I may look more in the future.

  6. I discovered Bollywood films after my younger daughter became friends with a young woman from India and began bringing home DVDs with titles like Devdas and Kuch Naa Kaho. Later, I took a “Third World Cinema” course in grad school at the same time my older daughter began dating a young man from India, who would later become my son-in-law. So my exposure to Bollywood films became a lot more intense as I became interested in a culture that my daughter would soon be marrying into.

    One obvious problem is that Bollywood films are meant to be pop entertainment, not education: so any hope of learning about the “real” India is dashed there. The romantic dramas and the scenes where the hero suddenly bursts into song can be so silly I have to make an effort not to roll my eyes or laugh while I’m sitting with the Indian relatives. However, what we watch for entertainment can say quite a bit about ourselves. I’m guessing from the movies that family bonds still matter a lot in India, as does marriage and “what will the neighbors think?”

    Answering your question, I still like Lagaan, the tale of a village of Indian farmers playing a cricket match against their British oppressors. Satyajit Ray’s films are excellent, though I like his recent “The Chess Players.” One movie that isn’t actually Bollywood but gives an interesting view of the rise of Indian film in the wake of the British departure from India is Shakespeare Wallah, directed by James Ivory. The clash between the former ruling class’ culture with the rising Indian one is fascinating and sad.

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