NOTE: I wanted to update some of my Bollywood materials and examples, so here is a fresh post with some old and some new material.
I generally show the following clip from Bollywood musical Mohabbatein in class as a way to get across the idea of what the masala or “spice” movies are like. (Though you don’t really need them, you can turn on English subtitles if you like.)
The masala movies feature several musical numbers, a strong male hero, a coy heroine, and an obvious villain. The movies have as many as ten separate storylines—in contrast to American movies, which typically tell one or two stories.
One reason for the musical numbers in Indian films is that they help break through language barriers. India alone has more than twenty-five languages. Anupam Sharma, who works in the Indian movie industry, says that Bollywood movies touch people throughout the world: “Because of the distances and different dialects in India, music is the universal language.”
When it comes to romance and sex, Bollywood films tend to be far more conservative than American films. “India is still clinging on to its social values, which explains Bollywood’s success everywhere but in America,” said Priya Joshi, an Indian cinema scholar. “Bollywood films don’t have any kissing in them or tend not to. Warner Bros. used to make movies like this in the past. . . . If it’s ready to return to its roots, then it’s ready for Bollywood.”
Bollywood films have had a big influence on American films (and Western films in general). You can see this through a wide range of examples – I’ll give you just a few:
Scott Pilgrim v. the World – The battle with the first evil ex.
Moulin Rouge – Silly Love Songs
(Moulin Rouge is essentially a Bollywood movie made in the West with Western stars)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
(MI:GP features Bollywood star Anil Kapoor)
And then there is Slumdog Millionaire, which is British director Danny Boyle’s tribute to Bollywood that closes with a large scale dance number.