Jai Ho and Bollywood

Most of the movies I have watched for this class so far have been by myself. However, I watched Slumdog Millionaire with my fiancee, who had expressed interest in seeing the film. The movie was amazing, of course, and we were both captivated throughout it all, but the reason I bring this up is because of her reaction to the end of the movie — where the credits roll to a choreographed song and dance. I didn’t really think anything of it, because all of the modern Bollywood movies we have watched had this element in them, but she thought it was absolutely bizarre that such a serious, gripping movie would end in a cheesy song and dance. Having never seen a Bollywood film before or taken a class like this one, she was surprised to say the least. It sparked an interesting discussion between us.

Of course, Slumdog Millionaire was directed by a British man, and people don’t consider it to be a Bollywood film, but having a dance number to Jai Ho is decidedly Bollywood, even if it is just an homage to real Bollywood films. When comparing Slumdog to something like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, for example, the difference is a lot more clear. KKHH is a fictional story placed in the present where gender roles are not even a matter of discussion because they follow social norms so closely (Shah Rukh Khan being the leader of the household, for example). Films like this are meant to be watched by people who identify with this culture as “the norm.” This, among many other observations, is significant because a real Bollywood film like KKHH (or Lagaan, or other Bollywood films we have/will watch) can give insight into modern, globalized Indian culture, social norms, gender roles, and more. Slumdog, by contrast, is a mostly fictional story that is based on real events that happened in India’s past. It tells a serious story about how bad life was for poorer Indians. Most importantly, it is for an audience that does NOT identify with Jamal (at least immediately), because his dramatic past is sometimes meant to horrify or astound us (something that probably wouldn’t happen if every other day you saw a crime lord blinding children to make more money when they beg). Even in a movie like Lagaan, which is “historical,” the audience identifies with Bhuvan because it is a romanticized version of history. I think this is an important detail to note. It seems that this is a distinguishing feature between a (modern) Bollywood film and a film like Slumdog that is with Indians and about Indians, but yet is still a British film.

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