I’ve seen quite a few Indian movies over the years and I always struggle with them. I want to like them, I want to embrace the spirit, and I certainly love the brightly coloured saris and the beautiful dance. But. There’s just something about them that rubs me the wrong way.
Cinema Axis recently inspired me to give it another go, having recommended 3 idiots in quite glowing terms. If you’re looking for a straight up review of the movie, please read his. He’s able to be fair and he judges from a more knowledgeable and even-handed place.
Me, I’m still confused. I’m confused as to whether I feel condescension toward the movie, or if it’s condescending to me. The silliness of Bollywood just grates on me. Even when the story is dead-serious, like soap opera serious, there’s always a comedic character bumbling around, literally doing prat-falls and practically honking horns. Even in this movie, there was that slide-whistle sound alerting us to a good joke – a joke that wasn’t good enough to be served up without some sort of signal, but a joke nonetheless. The actors will be smouldering away, negotiating yet another impossible love scenario when someone cracks large – and then puts his hand over his lips like a little Hello Kitty fan on a Japanese game show. While they are quite capable of moving, stirring acting, they often eschew it in favour of the kind subscribed to by the hosts of children’s morning TV.
This movie is called 3 Idiots, and is about a class of engineers trying to make it through an esteemed trade school to make their parents proud. There are teen-comedy-like antics, but there are also suicides left and right due to the enormous pressure. It seems to be trying to say something very serious about the education system in India, and about the importance of following your own dreams and passions versus those of your parents, but every time they get too close to having a serious moment, they break out into an absurd song and dance that dissolves anything they might have earned before it.
I’m trying extra hard to be generous here. I want to respect their culture and their ways of story-telling, but it all just feels very juvenile to me. Perhaps it’s a case of wanting to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but it just feels like an extremely extended episode of Yo Gabba Gabba, particularly with nonsensical lyrics like “zoobi doobi” which went on for far too long. Granted, this from a website that just reviewed a movie where a car flies from one building to another not once, but twice, pretty favourably. Bollywood movies clearly exist to make money, not art, but that’s true of every studio over here as well, and the net result isn’t a product that assumes the complete idiocy, incomprehension and nonexistent attention span of its entire audience.
I kind of wanted to like this one, particularly near the end, but the slapstick got in the way – not to mention the abhorrent sound effects, the fart gags, and the about-face plot changes. Is this is a screwball romance? College hijinks movie? Social commentary? Buddy roadtrip movie? If Three Idiots doesn’t know the answer in 2 hours and 44 minutes, how should we?
So, looks like I still have a problem with Bollywood, and I’m not the only one. The Indian film industry is the second largest in the world, producing over 300 films every year, but they’ve only garnered 3 Oscar nominations for best foreign film since 1956. Canada, by comparison, which has only a skeleton movie production, and has only been submitting since 1971, has still managed 7 nominations and 1 win. Domestically, Bollywood films do incredibly well. There’s a huge audience looking for some escapism, and the movie industry keeps churning them out. But those movies have no traction with box office overseas. Maybe with time, Indian audiences will come to demand more from their film industry, but until then, I’ll be a very reluctant audience member.
Does Bollywood appeal at all to you? What’s your favourite Indian film?