Author’s note: I use the term Hindi films, in the place of Bollywood films for personal reasons. For more information, check out Margaret Redlich’s blog and her book, that touches on why we should no longer call Hindi films, Bollywood movies. Also, for my non-Desi readers, the term Desi (THEY-SEE) is an umbrella term to describe people of South Asian descent.
I have always loved Hindi films. I stopped watching them for a brief period in my life because there was no one to share my likeness for them and also, at the time, I wanted to “blend in” with everyone else.
As a kid, my step-father had all kinds of Hindi films available in his home. There were literally hundreds of titles in the shelves, but I would catch myself watching a handful of them over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Kabhi Kushie Kabhi Gham (Sometimes Happiness Sometimes Sadness). For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about a young man discovering (after ten years) the story of his elder brother getting kicked out of the family and journey to bring him back in.
When I got a little older, like 13-14, I no longer had access to Hindi films and thus, forgot how much I liked them. In fact, I abhorred Hindi films during this time. My siblings would tease me for how much I loved Shahrukh Khan as a kid and found it ironic. I just couldn’t deal with the musicals and the cheesiness. Now of course, this wasn’t monolithic, but I fed into that stereotype of how Indian movies were portrayed and I just did not want to be a part of it.
I remember when Slumdog Millionaire came out. All my friends were telling me how much they loved the movie, but it wasn’t because of the deep message, it was because of the freakin’ musical at the end. It probably sounds silly, but I couldn’t help but find it frustrating that of all the things for people to remember about the film, it’s the song “Jai Ho!” Not the protagonist’s troubled past where every answer to the question they asked was because of something dark happening to him. Like how he knew Samuel Colt’s name because his elder brother pointed a Colt-45 revolver at him. It was the Pussycat Dolls singing Hindi.
It wasn’t until I was 18 years old and was working at an Indo-Pakistani restaurant in the summer before I left for college, that I was inspired to watch another Hindi film. My boss made a joke that involved a movie reference to the classic film, Sholay. He was astonished when I told him I had never seen the movie and only further exacerbated their perceptions of me as an ABCD (American born, confused Desi).
I went home that night and watched Sholay (Ember) on YouTube and was hooked again. It was a quarter to midnight when the film was over and I had an early morning shift at my second job. I should have slept but when I saw the title for another Hindi movie, Jis Desh Main Ganga Rehta Hai (In The Village Where Ganga Lives) I recalled the movie reference my boss made for that film. Now I had seen that film too (a number of times) but because it was so long, I decided to watch it instead of sleeping. Boy, was it worth it. The next day I remembered another Hindi film I enjoyed, Munnah Bhai, M.B.B.S., I watched this film countless times with my step-father but it wasn’t until I was an adult, that I truly appreciated the film.
I still can’t fuck with the musicals in Hindi films though. I fast-forward through them every time. This isn’t to say that some of these films don’t have great songs. I just don’t think it’s necessary to watch. But then around the same time I was falling back into my likeness for Hindi films, is when my brother-in-law showed me the film, Earth: 1947. There were songs in the film but no scenes of people lip-syncing or dancing around in unison. And it was such a powerful movie. The drama and the imagery I witnessed was like no film I had ever seen before. It changed how I viewed Hindi films from then on.
When I got to college though, I stopped watching Hindi films. I did have Sholay, Munnah Bhai and Jis Desh Mein… in my movie collection, though. But they would only gather dust cause I had no one to show them to. And the people I did have to show them to, didn’t want to watch it. Something about watching a foreign film to them, seemed weird. Whatever though, they aren’t in my life anymore anyway. It was also around this time that I lost touch with my culture. That feeling of wanting to “blend in” came creeping back. I was no longer a confused Desi. I was well aware that I didn’t want to be considered Desi. I remember having a conversation with someone about the film, Don, with Shahrukh Khan. It was early 2014 and I was in a really bad place, emotionally and financially. And to ignore my problems, I’d watch re-runs of old shows on Netflix. But I decided to check out the film, Don, and I remember becoming annoyed with its cheesiness. But then something happened. A plot twist that I didn’t see coming. I was intrigued and when I got to the end of the film, all the pieces were connected but the ending even had a twist that completely changed everything. I lit up when I heard about the sequel. I watched it immediately afterwards and at the end, had the same reaction.
But that excitement went down when I tried showing the movie to my girlfriend at the time. She was never interested in Hindi films and this film was no different. I hated myself again for being desi.
It wouldn’t be until I met the woman I’m with now, before I re-discovered (again) my love for Hindi films. This time, because I got to share my interest with her. Scratch that, I get to share that interest with her. I’m marrying her 😉
It was October 2015 and I came across a radio station where Arjit Singh was singing the song, Sajde. The intro to the song where he vocalizes before getting into the first verse was magical to me. I started listening to the latest songs from Hindi films on Pandora, religiously. I was hearing all these new songs that I had been missing out on and then, a familiar song came: Bole Chudiyan, from the film, Kabhi Kushie Kahbi Gham. I remembered how sad the film was and began crying profusely. The film touches on the importance of family and not breaking familial bonds and it was just so powerful. My siblings and I don’t have a perfect relationship, but I couldn’t imagine being away from them for 10 years.
I watch that movie now and I bawl every time.
I still don’t have many desi friends I can relate with on Hindi films, but the ones I do have that talk about them, I look forward to them. And graciously, I now have friends that aren’t desi but will still humor me when I mention Indian movies. There are some that are cheesy, of course. But there are some that are definitely worth watching. And then there are some that are good, but they’re so damn formulaic. There is one film however that I watched recently and it’s a classic film. Personally, I feel like it’s one of the greatest Indian films of all time because of its dark ending. Many more contemporary Indian films are romantic comedies where a guy likes a girl and they come from different social classes but then they wind up together in the end. In that film however, they don’t end up together in the end. And the film ends (snap) just like that. It’s tragic, sure, but it leaves the viewer going, “Whoa. Even after all that? They don’t end up together.” Cause sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try to maintain some things. Like my love for Indian movies, in the end, I realized how much I truly loved them. But having that desire to have other people to just accept me as I am, I won’t always get that. There will be some people who will just not understand why I like Indian films, for example, and will probably judge me for it. It happens. It doesn’t always have to have a happy ending. It can be a melancholy ending too. As long as it’s a powerful one. Honestly,that was supposed to be for this blog, but I’ll save it for the next entry.
Written on the 19th of November, 2018 at 4:41 P.M.