Saturday, July 10, 2010

the Belle of the Bollywood

What movie did you first watch as a child? Miracle on 34th Street? It's a Wonderful Life? Or maybe you stuck to things like Home Alone or something animated and Disney-created. Do you remember your first major film star crush? Some of you probably thought of Hilary Duff while others would dream of Leonardo Di Caprio sneaking into their bedrooms late at night.

Did you ever have a weird fantasy while you were sitting in that boring math or science class, back when you were about 13 or 14, that that film star of your dreams showed up in the doorway and asked your teacher if he could "steal you for a few minutes" or some variation of that? I bet you did, but you don't want to admit it. If you think back to the fantasy of your celebrity heart-stealer, he or she would stand there looking as beautiful as ever, and they were asking the teacher for his or her permission. But really, they were looking at you. They were staring lovingly into your eyes, weren't they? Oh, yes they were!

I can remember my first big teenage heartthrob obsession. But no, he wasn't Leo or Corey or John or whatever. His name...was Shah Rukh Khan.

This is SRK in Chak De! India. What an awesome movie.

He's a Bollywood film actor who stole my heart all the way back when I was about 9 years old. I used to write cheesy letters to him in my diary, praising his dancing and acting talent while begging him to take my away from the world. Yeah, it's pretty embarrassing now, but back then my love for him was real. It was true and it could never be taken away from me!

I was a very melodramatic child. I've said that before, haven't I? But here is some more proof!

I wasn't just obsessed with Mr. SRK. I was obsessed with Bollywood in general. Back when I lived in Oman, I had access to numerous Indian channels like Channel V, Zee TV, MTV India, Music Asia, etc. I watched them all the time, and recorded (with the help of my sister) several video cassette tapes of music videos, promo spots for various Bollywood films, and all kinds of random stuff. I also used a ghetto way of recording songs onto little blank music cassettes so I could perform my little Bollywood dance routines to my songs. I was so glad that I had my own room for that.

I knew about everything Bollywood at the time. I knew which films were copies of Tamil films, I knew every actor and which ones were previously supermodels, I knew who each playback singer was and how they came to fame; I knew everything. I especially knew about Shah Rukh Khan and every single movie he made. I cheered him on even if I knew the movie was terrible (like with Baadshah. SRK, how could you do this?). He was my favourite actor and no one could top him. No one. And he was so handsome.

But even before living in Oman, which had a large Indian and Indian-Omani (i.e. Omanis whose ancestors were from India) population, I knew Bollywood. However, I didn't know these new stars and movies. I knew about the superhits of the 50s and 60s, and maybe the 70s if it was a famous enough film. Due to Mauritius and its Indian heritage, my Mother was exposed to Bollywood forever ago. My Dad picked it up from her, and I as a little baby Khadeja watched whatever movie was in front of me. Some of those films happened to be old black and white Bollywood movies.

Out of all of the movies I watched as a kid that were not Disney animated films, Bollywood is what stuck in my head - especially Raj Kapoor's golden era.

Raj Kapoor is the guy on the right who looks like Charlie Chaplin. Everyone who was grown up with the image of Charlie Chaplin places firmly in their minds sees the connection, but I didn't for a very long time and to be honest, I still don't. Instead, whenever I see Charlie Chaplin, I think immediately of this image of Raj Kapoor. When I see this image, I hear the soundtrack to the movie. I even remember what scene this was.

I could write a whole entry about this man and how much he has contributed to my life, but this time I won't. Instead I will tell you that it is his films and his characters that made me love film and Bollywood in the first place. Shri 420 is a meaningful and beautiful film that shaped my way of thinking (that is where the image is from). That is why Bollywood will always be in my mind. I may not be from India, but mera dil hai Hindustani. Thank you, Raj Kapoor.

Whenever I am here in Saudi, I find myself (usually) with great access to Bollywood films in stores like my grocery store or the previously-mentioned Jarir Bookstore. This year, however, I don't see them anywhere. Bollywood has disappeared. I don't know the reason, but what I do know is that Bollywood is not completely gone from my grasp. Just today, I got a few movies from a friend who knows where to go, probably a place I could never go myself. All I know is that tonight I am going to be watching My Name is Khan, finally! You can try to take Bollywood away from me, but I'll find a way. I am very pleased.

Bollywood is, to me, even more accessible to the world than Hollywood is. Everywhere I go outside of the US, I meet someone who knows the tunes of Shankar-Jaikishan or the films of Hrithik Roshan. Bollywood has reached every end of the world. But strangely enough, only now is Bollywood beginning to become some kind of strange, kitschy fad in the US. They like the music and the movies because they think it is strange and over the top, kind of like a drag show. People have Bollywood parties and take Bollywood-esque dance classes; I find it really belittling. I shake my head and I don't understand how they can get away with it.

I like the films for what they are. I like the charming actors and beautiful actresses and songs and dance routines and colours and melodramatic speeches that seem to come out of nowhere. That is the way I experienced films as a child.

The way that certain people twist Bollywood is not something I ever want to be a part of. I don't take every Bollywood film too seriously, but I acknowledge the meaning and morals that each film is trying to produce. I cry at every tearjerking moment, I laugh at every single joke, and even if most people think it is very unrealistic, I have only once response for you as I wipe away my tears of laughter or sadness:

Yeh hai Bollywood, yaar! What more do you want?

Some movies I recommend, in no particular order:

1. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
2. Mission Kashmir
3. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
4. Dil Chahta Hai
5. Chak De! India
6. Veer-Zara
7. Shri 420
8. Awaara
9. Madhumati
10. Bobby

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