Can Bollywood beat Hollywood?

From LA Weekly, a long, amazing overview of the past and future of Bollywood, which has conquered the "half of the planet that Hollywood doesn't care about" and is trying to gain western legitimacy by adapting some of its conventions to Americo-palatable standards.

Even more damaging to perceptions of Hindi cinema than various technical shortcomings are knee-jerk responses to the idiom itself, to characteristics that will seem inherently outlandish to most Westerners no matter how adroitly they are executed. Take the one thing that almost everybody knows about Bollywood movies: that by rigid convention they all contain five or six (or more) elaborate song-and-dance sequences. The split between native and tourist is especially wide on this issue. Indians regard the film song (and the decades-old tradition of the pre-recorded "playback singer") as the crowning glory of their cinema. For many Westerners, though, the songs are the deal-breakers — which is why they are often the first element a Bollywood go-getter thinks about removing when plotting a crossover to the "mainstream" (read "white") audience in America or Europe.

The problem is, in well-integrated examples of the Bollywood style, major issues of plot and character development are worked out as often in the song lyrics as in action or dialogue — the music, in other words, can't be skipped without gutting the narrative. (This would be much more obvious to Western viewers if the theatrical and DVD distributors of Hindi films dropped the frustrating practice of subtitling everything but the song lyrics.) Bollywood movies are "melodramas," and not only in the sense of heightened conflict between characters who are embodiments of social forces, but in the root sense of "music dramas," operas (or operettas) in a glossy pop format, achieving a range of emotional effects that, at their best, can be scalp-crawlingly effective.



(via The Schism Matrix)