Alarmists and concerned parents around the United States are growing increasingly worried about the state of entertainment in the United States. It’s becoming more and more difficult to go to see a decent film without worrying about seeing heaps of violence and acts of moral depravity, they say. Drug usage is rampant and viewed in a positive light. Everyone and their cousin sleeps with everyone else – and their cousin. The complaints are many and the studies could fill a library, but the solutions are few. Enter my proposed solution: watch more movies made in India.
It’s the Time to Disco?
The beginning of the history of Indian cinema can be pinpointed somewhere around 1912 with the release of the time-stop film The Birth of a Pea Plant. Since then films have gotten decidedly more complicated and have involved considerably more music, but this film was just about the right thing to get financing for Dhundiraj Govind Phalke to get into films such as Raja Harishchandra. There have been thousands of films made since then, and now over one thousand films are made annually in India. Hardly any are made about pea plants anymore.
The majority of the films made are musicals, and nearly all of them are chock-full of moral goodness, as it were. When my girlfriend and I went to see the great film Swades (“We the People”) a man told us that one of the main purposes of a lot of Hindi films was to be educational to the large number of people who simply are uneducated and illiterate, for the most part. Just about every Hindi film that comes out now has some sort of moral or lesson to be learned. Some of the most important ones are the importance of loving relationships, love for ones country, and respect for ones parents.
My Personal Interest
It happens just about every single time I go to see a Hindi film – someone asks me how I got to start watching Hindi films in the first place. I tell them it all has to do with my girlfriend and a girl I dated while I was in college. She was South Indian and had a strong dislike for all films from India. She told me that just about every Hindi film had a guy chasing a girl around a tree and, with a simple touch, impregnating her. There were too many bad songs, she said, and too much chasing around trees. There was one occasion when my brother asked her to translate the title of a song for us – the song happened to be the main song from the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, in my opinion one of the best films ever made.
It was one day in the summer of 2001 that I noticed that there was a cinema near where my parents lived that played Hindi films from time to time. I asked my brother if he would be interested in going to see the movie playing at the time, Lagaan: Once Upon A Time In India. It was a period piece, and it was going to be nearly four hours long – would we even like it? It turns out we weren’t even able to find out immediately, because by the time we got to the head of the long line it turned out that the screening which was to begin in half an hour was already sold out. We had to therefore go to the midnight screening, which meant that when we got out (and I ran to the restroom) it was about four o’clock in the morning. Despite technical problems which put the subtitles off the screen up until the point that my brother went and complained to the projectionist, I was really moved by the movie and wanted to go and see more. Amazing what a nearly four hour film involving cricket can do to a person.
Since my ex-girlfriend had been from South India, it was only natural that we were thinking of getting a film made in the region. We went to a small store where we picked up some toothpaste, a few spices and baked goods and a classic Tamil film from the early 60’s. My brother went on to get some other movies and “Greatest Hits” song compilations. We would also go from time to time to see the latest movie at the theater that was near my mother’s house.
A couple of years later I was living in New York and was able to see Hindi films in the lovely Loews Theater down below the Virgin Megastore near Time’s Square. That was where I got to see Kal Ho Naa No and a number of other films. Kal Ho Naa No was actually one of the first films that really made me cry while watching it. That was nothing, however, to how much I cried when I saw Waqt recently. One of my reservations of moving to West Seattle was the lack of a place to see Hindi films. That was quickly put to rest when we found Totem Lake Cinemas, situated in peaceful Kirkland, a short forty minute drive away from Seattle.
Favorites in Film
Over the last four years I have seen not nearly as many Hindi films as I probably could have seen if I would have put my mind to it, but I am still quite satisfied with that which I have gotten the opportunity to see. As I mentioned above, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is in my opinion one of the best films ever made. I turn to it sometimes when I am feeling sad or down, even though there are some sad moments in the movie itself – quite a few, actually.
In general, the production company Yash Raj Films makes some of the best Hindi films. It was Yash Raj Films that made Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kal Ho Naa No, and is soon to be releasing Bunty Aur Babli, which looks to be simultaneously hilarious and thought provoking.
I often wonder why it is that the same parents that complain that there is no good music for their children to listen to walk past the 1983 Glen Gould recording of Goldberg Variations or even something more contemporary but nevertheless not grossly offensive. Similarly, it is possibly the lack of awareness of the availability of these wonderfully thoughtful, funny, sometimes tear-jerking films that leads to my girlfriend and I to be asked how we got to be there to begin with.