Bollywood movies! And more generally, anything “oriental,” like nose rings, henna, and embroidered slippers. I know a lot of people complain about America’s cultural imperialism, but I think it’s fairly obvious that the U.S. is profoundly influenced by outside cultures, and by that, I mean we appropriate things w/ little or no appreciation of their value to others. Americans love exotic-sounding products…which is why all our soaps and shampoos are named things like “Tahitian Mist” and “Moroccan Musk.” I’ve never seen any advertisements offering to reveal the ancient beauty secrets of South Dakota. I think it’s actually one of our more endearing qualities–it’s an example (albeit rather superficial) of America’s friendly curiousity and openness towards the rest of the world.
Recent events aside, I think most of us still cherish a vague yet romantic idea about the East, in which windswept palaces occupy the oases of vast deserts, and veiled belly-dancers flit around while men in turbans smoke hookah and drink chai. This is all nonsense of course, and no more accurate than the outlandish ideas I’ve had to try to debunk about Americans (like that we’re all super rich and pal around w/ celebrities). But it’s hard to shake the idea, especially since it’s such an appealing one.
Bollywood movies tap into this fascination. The actors wear glittery jewelry and traditional costumes. The stories are colorful and happy and also overdramatic and cheesy. I’m definitely a fan. Beyond that, they’ve helped me gain insight into a culture I am largely ignorant of (knowing Indians in America is a far cry from being in India), to see the customs and daily lives and realities of people who are thousands of miles away. So here, on behalf of smitten gori girls everywhere, I’m offering up a list of some of my favorite Indian (mostly Bollywood, though not all) movies.
1. Monsoon Wedding. Of course. This Mira Nair film is vibrant and touching and beautiful. It is also particularly friendly to American audiences, since it’s almost entirely done in English.
2. Water. Not surprisingly, water features prominently in this poignant movie about the injustices that Indian widows face. It’s completely mesmerizing.
3. Lagaan. As my Indian friend Jay said, “White people love this movie.” It’s true. Think of Little Giants or The Mighty Ducks, except that this time our underdogs are fighting against snotty British men. Also a good way to pick up on the rules of cricket.
4. Saawariya. One of the few Bollywood offerings I’ve seen that doesn’t have a happy ending. Still a beautiful movie though. Reminds me of Moulin Rouge.
5. Satte pa Satta. This campy movie is a great example of old Bollywood, complete w/ villainous villains and heroic heroes. It’s a sweet story about a man w/ six unruly brothers who falls for a beautiful young nurse (who conveniently has six single friends…).
6. My Faraway Bride. Speaking of globalization…more movies are beginning to explore interracial romances…although only btwn. Indian women (who admittedly are gorgeous…I mean, have you SEEN Priyanka Chopra?) and white American men. Baby steps.