Writing for New Media

Saturday, November 28, 2009


All this while I have been blogging about Bollywood specifically while highlighting points where the film industries of the west are similar to the ones in east. However, are the two industries that similar? With the world becoming a flatter place and the cultures converging, artists are bouncing from one industry to another with ease. Examples that illustrate my point can be clearly seen at the end of the movie ‘Singh is King’ when Akshay Kumar (one of Bollywood’s leading and highest paid actor) and Snoop dog are rapping to the beats of fusion music or in the classic case of Slumdog which claimed to be a western movie yet incorporated the dance sequence in the end which gave that final bollywood touch. As the celebrities crawl into one another’s spaces a question arises, Is Bollywood and Hollywood collaborating or are they still competing? So I have researched and decided to jot down a few key points that differentiate the two successful entities.

The first Hollywood movie that came out in 1910 was by D. W. Griffith that made Los Angeles an essential landmark for the western media industry. In the case of India, silent movies were released three years later making Bombay an ideal place for shooting films. In the 1930’s Bollywood was at its pinnacle as the industry was producing over 200 films per year but in the 1940s Hollywood took over by producing about 400 films per year. During the 1960’s, color was introduced into the movies, and a decade later, India followed with the similar concept. The plots in bollywood movies did not originate by accident, instead they provided the viewers a safe haven of eternal happiness as the world was crumbling during the Great depression and the World War 11 era

The first Hollywood sound motion pictures featured slap-stick comedy, western themes (influenced heavily by location), animated cartoons and musicals. But there was one gaping difference between the two entities. Hollywood, unlike Bollywood addressed social issues head on. Since the early times, Hollywood movies have focused on analyzing social, international and political issues, sometimes even metaphorically, as one can see in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and at other times realistically (‘Citizen Kane’, or ‘Gone with the Wind’). This trend flowed into the modern cinematography as the films did not lack the gore, despair, rage and horror. Bollywood movies, on the other hand, with its bright colors and synchronized song and dance in multiple exotic venues, continued the concept of escapism as it veiled the realistic problems. Competition abounds between the two industries, and it is common knowledge that the Indian film industry produces more films annually compared to its counterpart. However, it is definite that Hollywood movies, reliant on special effects, large budgets and subtitles, have more of an impact on the world. Some even insist that Bollywood movies are all knock-offs of recent Hollywood movies, made with a smaller budget, less talented actors, and a few more songs.

Although these topics are up for debate and scrutiny, the bottom line is collaborations between the two industries (Bride and Prejudice, Moulin Rouge, and Bend it Like Beckham) have shown great success, and it is very likely that the world will see more attempts to fuse the two cultures in the future.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Masquerade or Mockery?

For the longest time Bollywood movies have been subject to mockery and criticism for its unrealistic fighting scenes or half baked romantic love stories that inevitably end in a happy union. Hero, with no prior training in martial arts when surrounded with guns and grenades can still beat up the bad guys with his bare hands. The bad guy learns his lesson and begs for forgiveness and the hero being an all merciful character acquits him. The following are rules bollywood follows when creating a plot. Enjoy!

1. Two brothers separated in childhood will always grow on different sides of the law. The law-breaker however will suddenly turn over a new leaf before the very end, kill the villain (who’s the actual bad guy) and be pardoned for all his sins before the last scene family reunion.

2. The number of heroes should equal the number of heroines. The excess heroes/heroines will either
a. Die
b. Join the red cross and take off to Switzerland before the end of the movie

3. If there are two heroes in the movie they will fight each other savagely for five minutes- for no reason. Ten minutes if they are brothers.

4. The hero’s sister will usually marry the heroes’ best friend (i.e.: the second hero). Else, she would be raped by the villain in the first thirty minutes and commit suicide.

5. In a chase scene, the hero will always overtake the villain even if he’s on foot.

6. When the hero fires at the villain, he will never
a. Miss
b. Run out of bullets

7. Any fight sequence shall take place in the vicinity of a stack of:
a. Pots
b. Barrels
c. Glass Bottles- which will be smashed into pieces.

8. Any movie involving lost and found brothers will have a song sung by the
a. Brothers
b. Their blind mother ( who will regain her sight at the end of the movie)
c. Family dog/cat


Once the basic concept of an Indian movie is understood, one should also familiarize themselves with the unexpected hero stunts.

1. In a fighting scene the hero is confronted by three gangsters but unfortunately has only one bullet left in his gun, guess what happens?

a. Answer: He throws his knife at the middle gangster then shoots. The bullet splits into two and kills the other two gangsters while the knife stabs the gangster in the middle.

2. Scenario 2: Hero has an unloaded gun with no bullets and is chased by the villain. What can he do?

a. Answer: Wait for the villain to shoot then catches the bullet… puts it in the bullet compartment then shoots… Bang! Viallian dies.

3. Last Scenario: The hero and the gangster are separated by a high wall. The hero has to desperately kill the gangster because it’s the climax but he has two guns but only one bullet. How can he kill him?

a. Answer: He throws one gun in the air and when the gun is at the perfect angle facing the gangster, he shoots the trigger of the first gun and miraculously it fires killing the villain.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is prettiest of all?

Ever since the green colored wide eyed princess walked the ramp and won the title of Miss World in 1994, people couldn’t stop wondering how high she will rise with her beauty, brains and brand. Born in a small village in South India to a simple humble family, Aishwarya Rai managed to work her way up the bollywood ladder after receiving critical acclaim in her groundbreaking performance in a South Indian movie ‘Iruvar’ in 1997. Once again she mesmerized her critics by winning best actress in the movie ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and ‘Devdas’ which was a major box-office success and earned her the Filmfare Best Actress Award. With the movie attracting attention overseas, Rai received a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival. It was during this time that she garnered the attention of the West as an Indian actress and went on to appear in a few Hollywood projects. As her name gained popularity in the West, she was chosen by "Time" magazine in 2004 as one of the World's '100 Most Influential People' and in 2003, appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine, Asia Edition (TIMEasia). She was the subject of a "60 Minutes" profile on January 2 of 2004 and soon she was asked to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman. In addition to her appearances in the American media she was also featured on "Oprah's" 'Women across the Globe' segment. According to the Times of India article in 2005, Aishwarya Rai has been the only bollywood actor to have appeared in the above three shows.

When questioned about her accomplishments she claimed she was just warming up and one could clearly see this because she continued adding accolades to her resume. In 2003, she acted in the critically acclaimed and commercial success Bengali film, Chokher Bali, an adaptation of one of Rabindranath Tagore's novels by the same name. In October 2004, a wax figure of Rai became on display in London's Madame Tussaud's wax museum and in the same month, her first foreign film was released: "Bride and Prejudice". The film was an Indian version of Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice. The film did well commercially in the U.K but not in India. Her next overseas venture, "The Mistress of Spices", was critically acclaimed though not commercially successful. She then appeared at the closing ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, as part of a performance showcasing Indian art, on behalf of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, to be held in New Delhi. In between her overseas acting stints, she appeared in the Indian film "Bunty Aur Babli" in a hugely popular seven minute dance sequence for the song 'Kajra Re'.

In 2005, Rai signed a three-year contract with L'OrĂ©al, as a spokes model for the cosmetics company. Apart from her outstanding filmography and her modeling career, she has also been compared to Angelina Jolie. Aishwarya Rai, known as the world’s most beautiful woman, has now walked away with another coveted title of having the ‘sexiest eyes’ in US TV E!’s Sexiest Body Parts List Aishwarya’s dazzling eyes have been voted the most sultry, beating the likes of Hollywood superstars Angelina Jolie. She has also been successful in her personal life especially her marriage into Amitabh’s family. After much speculation of her relationship with Big’s B’s son, in 2007 she finally came out and told the media of her secretive marriage.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Actors in Bollywood

Professional Actors in Bollywood... Really?

To become a professional and accomplished actor in the Hollywood industry, one must follow an array of steps. The time, training, dedication, passion and patience applies to those who aspire to become an actor. The steps might include taking acting classes, registering yourself in professional acting schools, hiring acting coaches, taking a series of headshots, increasing your credibility by acting in small-time theaters before hitting the big screen and then hiring agents who would help place you in the appropriate roles. However, in the Bollywood scene, the methodology used here is slightly different. India has been known to run on bribes and shortcuts, much like the Bollywood industry.

The industry as we see today is saturated with old actors who still try to play the hero 'macho' roles. Plastic surgery and hair dye have made a tremendous difference and has transformed the actor's image and appearance on-screen. With technology advancing and the 50year old actors are still acting in the new and upcoming movies passing off as 25 year old or worse, as college students making the lives of new, upcoming and fresh actors extremely difficult. Even if the heroes of yesterday retire, their family members (sisters, brothers, sons, daughters etc.) soon take their place as leading actors and actresses. A classic example would be Amitabh Bachachan- The Big B. When he retired as playing the hero roles in movies, his son soon stepped into his shoes. Directors immediately casted him in roles that didn't even suite him which ironically lead to his downfall. His movies soon failed solely because the public, playing the non biased partisan, booed him and his performances in movies.

With old actors or their family members dominating the industry, the fresh new ones find it challenging to penetrate the film family. Maliaka Sherawat is one of the classic examples for this case. Coming from a family that had absolutely no ties to the industry, she paved her own way to break through the glass ceiling. By stripping on screen and making controversial statements, she left an unforgettable imprint on people's minds. Her movies became a blockbuster success among the masses for her stripteases and her infamous kissing scenes. Initially, to gain more publicity, she would also pass indecent slurs to provoke professional actors. However, although she has given her best effort and has tried to mark her territory in the industry, her film career would only be limited to side roles playing mistresses or 'item' girls as the majority is run by the film fraternity or the film family.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Brokeback Mountain comes to India

Any other kind of sexual orientation other than the standard man and woman relationship is considered a taboo in India. Homosexuality in particular has been outlawed by the Indian civil society and the government since the 1860s, condemning any one who in involved in this kind of ‘activity’. According to the government, homosexual intercourse is a criminal offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which made it an offence for a person to voluntarily have "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." Even though the legal issue is a subject of debate, the attitude towards gay couples has changed drastically over the years especially because of the cinematic perceptions. Initially many of the Indian movies used homosexuals or the act itself as a sidekick or a comic relief to break tension. The gay or lesbian character usually plays the stereotype as the protagonist’s friend or a dress designer but with the time and acceptance of the viewers, Bollywood is opening up and making an effort to deal with such sensitive issues. Page 3, a movie released in 2005 was known for being one of the initial movies that came very close to depicting a gay character with some semblance of sensitivity.

Today, Bollywood movies are giving more importance and respect to that particular category by basing the entire movie on them and not portraying them as inferiors or limiting them to just the comedy scenes. As discussed in the previous blog, Deepa Mehta with the production of the movie ‘Fire’ is one of the first directors to take the bold step of discussing this type of sexual preference in a serious tone. Even though some of these movies don’t make it to the big screens due to censorship board or do not receive similar accolades and popularity as the mainstream movies, one can still see the difference in the way the majority of the movie watchers broach this subject.

Recently, the younger generation, students in particular, have contested against the abomination of homosexuality after the release of the movie Dostana (friendship). The release of this movie opened the gates and encouraged gays to finally come out of their closeted relationships and celebrate their sexual orientation. According to the Times of India (notable Indian newspaper circulated throughout the country) "This is a defining moment in the history of free India. No state has the right to tell its citizens when or whom to love. The only 'queer' people are those who propagate hate," filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said. Another prevalent director in the Indian cinema, Onir told the Time of India, “It is a very important judgment; it sends the correct signals across. It was not a overnight change. People will now be able to live without any fear, fear of being blackmailed or anything. The law was never a part of our culture, it should have gone away with colonialism. It only applies to Delhi jurisdiction, but I hope it has a greater impact. It is a step which the rest of the country should follow."

The Indian and American Music

The musical theater of India

The concept of the Hindi song and dance is gradually paving its way in the regular scene worldwide. Initially popular in India and for Indians overseas, the lyrics and style are now leaning more towards addressing a much wider audience especially after the production of the infamous movie Slumdog Millionaire with Jai Ho stealing awards for music. The basic concept of song and dance is actually the synthesis of formal and folk Indian traditional music and dance with an infusion of western rap and the hip-hop moves. Since they are mostly group dances, the music is usually more energetic and lively.

Songs from Bollywood movies are generally pre-recorded by professional playback singers, with the actors then lip synching the words to the song on-screen, often while dancing in huge groups. Playback singers are prominently featured in the opening credits and have their own set of fans. The dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modeled on the different style of Indian dances, some of them might include; classical dance styles and dances of historic northern Indian courtesans. Today in the modern and most recent films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles though it is not unusual to see Western pop and pure classical dance numbers side by side in the same film. Usually, the hero or heroine will often perform with a troupe of supporting dancers.

One of the many unrealistic aspects of the song-and-dance routines in the Indian films is the instantaneous shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. One moment the heroin could be in the fields of India wearing the traditional Indian saris and in the very next minute she would be in Switzerland dancing to the tunes of fusion music wearing a totally different set of clothes. One of the key elements in establishing the success of the movie is the songs that it incorporates, hence not placing heavy emphasis on the plots. This element is one of the biggest differences with the American musicals and the Indian cinema.

Unlike the latter, the musicals place equal importance to the plot, song and the lyrics generally focusing on the spoken dialogue. However, the Indian and the western musicals share numerous similarities. Musicals are mostly moving and emotional because of the different themes it incorporates. Such themes include love, betrayal, anger and empathy. Another similarity between the American musicals and the Indian cinema is the way the complete ‘performance’ is broken down. Musicals and generally broken down into several acts, however, the modern ones just have two acts which are separated by an intermission which is very similar to the Indian cinema.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


One of the more common and logical ways of putting out fire is using water. Well, that’s exactly what Deepa Mehta (affluent Indian born Canadian film director) did for her next movie. After receiving endless accolades for her last two movies (Fire and Earth) she took up the task of completing the elements of her trilogy by directing Water. Set in 1938 when India was under the rule of the British Raj, the story throws light on a group of widows condemned to spend their entire lives in seclusion and reclusion due to the rigid system of the Hindu Law. Shot on the banks of the holy river, the Ganges, the movie incorporates themes that are relevant even to this day as India finds herself torn between conflicting ideas of Hindu traditions and modern attitudes. The director divulges the atrocities widows are subjected to due to the age old Hindu ideologies that decent from the Holy texts.

Mehta’s movie constantly refers back to the rules of widowhood during the pre-independence era that mostly revolves around economic, social and cultural deprivation: restrictive dress codes, detachment from worldly pleasures (materialistic things, fried food, music and dance) and sexual exploitation. India’s reaction to Water wasn’t that different from their reaction to her former movie Fire.

The film was beautiful, shot by the cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, who has worked with Mehta on "Fire," "Earth," and also on an episode of "Indiana Jones chronicle." Canadian composer Mychael Danna ("Monsoon Wedding") provides the background score, while Bollywood’s top musician A.R. Rahman composed the songs for the film. Unlike most Bollywood films, the songs in "Water" are not jarring; instead, they help in the progression of the story.

The movie had been sold in 57 countries and released in 25, with close to $14 million in worldwide ticket sales. It was finally scheduled to open theatrically in India on March 9 2007. Mehta had originally intended to direct Water in February, 2000, however, just two days into the shooting the movie, rioting Hindu nationalists in India shut down her set by destroying and burning the main film set and throwing the remnants into the Ganges. According to an article in the New York Times published a day after the riots, Rick McCallum, co-producer of Star Wars was quoted saying, "This is a problem of people acting fanatically – not sitting back, taking a deep breath and trying to figure out what the real issues are and what the film is about." Finally, the director was able to resume making the movie but to avoid any additional problems; she used an entirely different cast and a false title (River Moon) taking her a total of 11 years to direct the movie and weathering an endless barrage of death threats and lawsuits.

All in the movie did well worldwide receiving awards such as Golden Kinnaree Award at the Bangkok International Film Festival for best film and the Silver Mirror Award at Festival Films from the South in Oslo for best film. Additionally it was nominated for best foreign language film, making it Canada's first non-French Canadian film to receive a nomination in that category and an NBR (national board of review) for freedom of expression.