'Bollywood' Produces Real-Life Drama

Film mandarins the world over look to stars to "carry" a film, but according to Ganti, the nature of an Indian star's hold over his or her fans is unheard of in the West. "You simply cannot compare the nature of celebrity in India with that of industrialized countries," said Ganti. "In India, movie stars are rock stars, sports stars and film stars rolled into one. A Hindi film hero has to cry, sing, dance, fight and be a good son."

For the most part, no Hollywood film can match a Bollywood film in terms of emotional pitch and variety. "Hollywood films still have to show consistency of voice, logical plot development and some semblance of realism," explains Suketu Mehta, co-scriptwriter of the hit film Mission Kashmir and author of a nonfiction book on Bombay, forthcoming from Knopf. "In Bollywood, logic is not essential or even desirable."

Often, Hollywood hits are an inspiration for Bollywood films, but only after the scripts are adapted to Indian tastes. Film critic Jerry Pinto calls the process "Indianization" and describes it as: "adding songs and dances, scooping in hot splashes of rage and large helpings of tears and clearing out shades of gray."

The one film that sent shivers down the spines of many Indian producers was James Cameron's Titanic, which was dubbed in Hindi and released in 1998, grossing more than $2 million with its Indian release. But Titanic, as Pinto puts it, "was just a Hindi film in disguise."

Since individualism and social alienation are not themes that sit well with Bollywood audiences, "Indianizing" films often mean stripping characters of their individualistic personae and adding dense kinship patterns.

With the average Hindi film running 90 minutes, the more complex the plots, the greater the chances of box office success. "We can hardly have a Speed where all you have is a bomb and a bus and you have to get rid of the bomb and the bus," said a Bollywood screenwriter. "Here, it could work only as a climax scene. We need multiple tracks: the emotional track, the comedy track, the action track. Western audiences can appreciate such a basic plot line, but Indian audiences would simply reject it."

And while there are vast gaps between audience tastes in the developed and developing world, some experts believe the two are meeting. The recent success of director Ang Lee's Hong Kong movie-inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the U.S., they say, could be a sign the West may just be ready to welcome Asian cinema.

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