New to Bollywood? Appreciating its artistry is just a matter of understanding India’s unique way of filmmaking. Our primer explains the basics:

What’s Bollywood?

Bollywood is really a term that refers to the Hindi-language film industry based in the Indian city of Mumbai, which was once called Bombay. Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood. The word is believed to have been coined with a Western journalist in the 1970s. Many Indians take problem with the word because it means that Bollywood is really a lesser offshoot of Hollywood, when actually, India produces a lot more films annually that attract far greater audience numbers globally than the U.S. And, the Indian film industry is more than Hollywood-by one year. bigg boss telugu vote

Are all Indian films made by Bollywood?

No. Bollywood is just one of several film industries in India. Imagine if the U.S. had a thriving Spanish-language film industry that gave Hollywood a work because of its money, or regional film industries in Chicago, Atlanta, and Seattle that rivaled L.A.’s. That’s how it’s in India. The different Indian film industries are generally language- and location-specific. They include Kollywood, which refers to Tamil-language films manufactured in the Kodambakkam district of the town of Chennai; Mollywood, that will be Malayalam-language cinema from the state of Kerala; and Tollywood, which refers to both Telugu-language films from the state of Andhra Pradesh and Bengali-language films manufactured in the Tollygunge neighborhood of Kolkata.

While Bollywood and India’s other film industries primarily produce commercial movies, India also includes a strong and respected art-film tradition, that will be known as “parallel cinema.” The delineation between commercial and art film in India is stronger than it’s in the U.S. However, that line is beginning to blur as Bollywood is delving into artier projects and Indian art films are aiming for broader appeal.

Are all Bollywood films musicals?

Most Bollywood films include musical numbers. Today’s movies generally have fewer musical numbers than older films. While 10 musical numbers in a movie wasn’t unusual previously, four to six are more typical today. And more and more Bollywood movies don’t have any musical numbers at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that Bollywood films are not musicals in the American sense. Bollywood has more in common with opera than with Broadway. The main function of musical numbers in Bollywood films (and operas) is to express emotion. Broadway musical numbers, on the other hand, primarily drive the plot. While Broadway musical numbers are built-into the narrative, Bollywood musical numbers tend to be not. Rather, they’re metaphors, taken off the plot, that report how a character feels, not what the smoothness is really doing.

Do the actors sing the songs?

Very rarely. The great majority of film songs are sung by playback singers, that are famous in their very own right.

The movie and music industries in India are inextricably interlinked. Almost all Indian pop music originates from movie soundtracks.

Why do so many Bollywood actors have the exact same last name? Are they all related?

Nepotism is common in Bollywood and many actors and filmmakers originate from family dynasties which were in the movie business for generations. However, there are many celebrities with the exact same common surnames, particularly Khan and Kapoor, that are not related.

How come there’s no sex in Bollywood movies?

Two reasons: social and artistic. Onscreen physical intimacy is frowned upon in India-even kissing is rather rare. But most importantly, Indian filmmakers are masters of the art of seduction. There may not be any sex in Bollywood movies, however they sure are sexy. Actually, it’s precisely because there’s no sex that they’re filled up with so much incredible tension, that will be missing entirely from Hollywood movies these days. In the language of film critic Roger Ebert, “it’s less erotic to snoggle for 60 minutes than spend 60 seconds wondering if you should be going to be snoggled.” He was discussing Bollywood.

Sometimes Bollywood musical numbers act as an alternative for sex, depicting it not in any crass, overt way, but implicitly, even metaphorically. The characters are often so overly enthusiastic with passion they suddenly come in exotic locations around the world-the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Venice, the mountains of Switzerland-places which have nothing to do with the plot but have everything to do with the limitlessness of fantasy.

Why are Bollywood films way too long?

For starters, Indians are used to longer kinds of entertainment. Cricket matches work for days. So do Indian weddings. A three-hour movie isn’t long at all in comparison. Also, Indians are generally value-conscious. They expect a full afternoon or evening of entertainment for the buying price of a ticket.

But the largest reason Bollywood films are long is artistic. The full time commitment required of the audience heightens their emotional investment in the story. (The same is true of operas, which can be as long or even more than Hindi films.) The result can be powerfully moving, even for Americans accustomed to shorter films.

Bollywood movies are getting shorter, though, mostly because there are fewer musical numbers than there used to be. While three and a half hours was once typical, three hours or less is now the norm.

What’s the largest artistic difference between Bollywood and Hollywood?

In a word: “masala.” The concept of masala is key to understanding Bollywood films. It’s a culinary term meaning “spicy mixture.” Masala filmmaking combines more than one genre in the exact same movie, blending elements of comedy, romance, action, and drama. The goal would be to attract as many folks as possible. That way there’s something for anyone in most film-the grandparents, the parents, the teenagers, the small kids-because Indians often visit the films as a family.

Hollywood filmmakers do the opposite-they do super-narrow niche marketing to a target the demographic groups they think are probably the most profitable (and then ignore everyone else). One exception to this might be the James Bond movies, which were enormously successful for decades. There’s action, of course, romance, some campy comedy, and even only a little melodrama when James feels bad about his companion betraying him or his latest lover dying in his arms.

That’s not to say that Bollywood films are masala. Many strictly fall under one genre or another, but even then, there’s often a splash of masala thrown in.

Do Bollywood actors work in Hollywood?

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is the first Indian actor to significantly crossover in the West. She appeared in The Mistress of Spices (2005) with Dylan McDermott, The Last Legion (2007) with Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley, and Pink Panther 2 (2009) with Steve Martin. She in addition has garnered more high-profile publicity in the West than every other Bollywood actor, having appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Late Show with David Letterman, and 60 Minutes.

Two Bollywood actors appeared in the Oscar-winning British film Slumdog Millionaire (that’s right, it’s a British film): Anil Kapoor, who played the sleazy game-show host, and Irrfan Khan, who played the police interrogator. Kapoor has since appeared in the hit American television series 24, which stars actor Kiefer Sutherland. Kapoor played a Middle-Eastern leader in the show for starters season. Ahead of Slumdog Millionaire, Khan appeared in the English-language films The Namesake (2006), A Mighty Heart (2007), and The Darjeeling Limited (2007).

Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat will star opposite Avatar actor Laz Alonso in the upcoming Hollywood political comedy, Love, Barack. Sherawat will play an offer coordinator on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, who falls in deep love with her counterpart on John McCain’s campaign, played by Alonso. Sherawat can also be appearing in another upcoming Hollywood film, Hisss, along side Irrfan Khan.

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