Monday, July 9, 2007

Bollywood extravaganza!

Television in Pakistan was (and still is, I assume) an odd beast. By default, you were provided with a constant stream of public access TV, which is much like its American equivalent but with more religion and without the budget. (A prototypical example of said programming would be a background image of pleasant nature scenes -- flowers and oceans and whatnot -- and images of religious texts, constantly cycling as an audio track of an imam reciting Quranic verses played. For five hours straight.)

If you wanted something a little less spiritually nourishing, you had to result to a satellite dish. A satellite dish, of course, gave you access to Indian television program. And sure, that included such worthy channels as BBC and CNN. But the real joy was in the entertainment channels: MTV and StarTV and Channel V. MTV (and Channel V, the homegrown equivalent) of course adapted to their target market: while they carried their fair share of Britney and Backstreet Boys (and Take That, catering to the more British sensibilities), there was an enormous quantity of Hindi dance music as well. If you have never seen a Bollywood musical (or dance number), you really owe it to yourself to check out this movie so that you have a better idea of what I'm talking about.

At the time, these music videos were endlessly annoying: they were in a language I couldn't understand, catering to musical sensibilities I did not share, and followed a very small number of thematic variations (beachfront dance number, snowy mountain-top dance number, urban dance number, and village dance number, all featuring the male and female dance leads accompanied by location-appropriate backing dancers). If you didn't follow my earlier link, imagine watching (say) a Nirvana video, immediately followed by a Gilbert & Sullivan musical number. In Swahili.

Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised to find myself setting at a friend's house Saturday night, watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a classic Bollywood romantic comedy. And, as much as I would have liked otherwise, I actually enjoyed it. Quite a bit. Sure, the plot was obvious (and ridiculous). Sure, the acting was ludicrously over the top. And, despite my somewhat tenuous expectations to the contrary, the dance routines didn't really fit into the plot at all (a conversation about love at an Indian prep college somehow morphed into a frolicking dance number at a Scottish castle. No, I'm dead serious.) But somehow, the over-the-top kitsch, when hammered into my head over a three hour period, was enormously fun to watch. It didn't hurt that the particular movie I watched happens to star Shahrukh Khan, the quite attractive and enormously charismatic individual featured at right.

I'm not sure if my taste for kitsch has just been augmented with my growing age, or if it was the pure overwhelming sense of spectacle I was assaulted with. Either way, I loved the hell out of it. The fact that there were subtitles and I could actually understand what the hell was going out was presumably entirely irrelevant to this development...

Also, check out this awesome, Little-Richardesque dance video:


  1. I fully expect you to do that whole dance number (in the first video) at our reception.


  2. Umm, wow. Hanging out with Indian kids all day does kinda distort my view of this, but that still sucks. It's only funny because their clothes are different from our clothes.

  3. I think that explosion I just heard was Busby Berkeley ejaculating in his grave.
    Awesome, sir. The world would be a sad and tasteful place if it weren't for kitsch like this.

  4. Sydney: It is my understanding that the only circumstance in which the non-groom is the lead in a dance number is when the marriage is ill-conceived and the bride realizes the error of her ways and marries the dancer, rather than her fiancee. So, I can start working on the dance steps if that's really what you want... Not sure if I'm ready to settle down yet, but I guess I could make that sacrifice for you.

    Eric: Sorry that you can't appreciate the glory of kitsch, as can our merrily tasteless companion Sonic. Personally, though, I think that some of your beloved Dante would be livened up a bunch by a rollicking dance number, though...

  5. Wow, I'm so flattered! I had no idea the dancing was so expressive. With all that thrusting and gyrating, I figured it was all about sex. I guess, like the hula, while it can be enjoyed by a layman, it is best appreciated by an initiate. :)

    Eric, what the hell? Did you mistype "awesome" and spell it S-T-I-L-L S-U-C-K-S? Frankly I think it would be MORE hilarious in clothes that are the same as our clothes! I love that each "scene" is dominated by a different color. And that she has magic hips.

    Also: can anyone tell me what that was about? Was it an ill-conceived marriage? I kind of thought that she was like the Hot Girl On Campus and had two choices of men to date and that they were having some kind of pelvic thrust/gyration duel to win her fancy.

  6. Dante with Bollywood style dance numbers? My god, that would be brilliant...
    I can imagine scores upon scores of gyrating harpies using the trees in the Wood of the Suicides like they were stripper poles. Or, an huge chorus of traitors all breaking into song on Satan's lap, with all of the people who are frozen up to the neck in the traitor's lake harmonizing. Or at the end of Purgatorio Beatrice and her entourage could do this number about how crazy-sexy she is.
    But Vita Nuova would benefit the most.
    I can imagine a leather-clad Dante standing amidst a throng of similarly forlorn backup dancers as they thrust and croon over how crazy-sexy Beatrice is. Meanwhile, Beatrice and her girls obliviously shake their hips in an offhandedly sexy fashion, causing the throng of luststruck Dante-led guys to salivate in with musical lust. Yeah, it would be pretty awesome.

    I look forward to your moves at Syd and Pete's wedding, Joseph. I'm sure you'll look stunning in the various costumes.

  7. Sign me up for the Divine Comedy New Delhi style! That sounds awesome! I have to say, I would actually pay to see that. You have to get the right producer, director and choreographer, though. Straight from Bollywood. I mean, you don't want to end up with "Carmen: A Hip Hopera."

  8. Wow, thats 4 minutes of my life I am never getting back... Maybe its just the tool in me, but I have to side with Eric on this one.

    That said, I would pay cash money to see Joseph perform that number. I wonder if you can get your hips limber enough?

  9. So that particular video comes from Main Hoon Na, in which Shahrukh Khan (individual in picture above) goes undercover in a college to foil a terrorist. In this particular dance number, I believe that he and his brother (with the long hair) are extolling the aesthetic virtues of the chemistry teacher. So, no, this one is not specifically a wedding dance. But I think my earlier interpretation is the only reason I could do such a dance at a wedding, Sydney. Sorry.

    Also sorry to hear that you've joined the hordes of the tasteful, Beau. I had such high hopes for you.

    I'll start stretching out my hips as soon as I can.

    Man, that sounded dirty.