25/06/2013  -  10.18

Pritpal Sembi


This year is the 100th anniversary of the first Bollywood movie.

I was never a fan of Bollywood as a kid. In fact, I hated it. We had one TV and video recorder in the house (not like today) and the last thing I wanted was such dull competition for its use.

In my house, Bollywood also provided nostalgia for the Non-Resident Indian diaspora that was my parents, and it also doubled as cultural re-education for an increasingly Westernised younger generation. But there were no subtitles, so I could barely follow the plot, and the films were normally three ‘boring’ hours long.

My only exception was the films of Amitabh Bachchan, and his contemporaries, consistently voted one of the most popular stars on the planet. His films were the stuff of legends for young men looking for a ‘cool’ violent action flick that they could watch with the blessings of their parents.

The extraordinarily popular Sholay (1975) cemented his early stardom and he is still going strong today, albeit with more sedate roles. This particular era of Bollywood was also something you could laugh at (ie poor production values, physically impossible stunts, glaring continuity errors) and, trust me, we often did!

But then something changed in Bollywood.

It started to invest more in production, script and distribution to the point where films like Dil Se (1998) made it into mainstream UK Box Office top ten. Taal (1999) had its worldwide premiere in Leicester Square and Devdas (2002) became the first Bollywood film to be shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival.

The new Bollywood started to bring edgy scripts, new audiences, and even hybrid films like My Name is Khan (2010) which tried to entertain those from either side of the ocean.

Bollywood has evolved in confidence and chutzpah to the point that it can now poke fun at itself in the wonderfully self-referential pastiche that is Om Shanti Om (2007) and in the tongue-in-cheek Dabangg (2010). In short, Bollywood became fashionable and it was infectious.

But I also changed as a person. I started watching the odd Bollywood film on DVD, with subtitles, and found it most accessible. I went to the cinema to watch other Bollywood films and found that there were plenty of non-Indian members of the audience taking pleasure from a genre that I spent years distancing myself from.

Bollywood had moved on and I had been left behind – and I don’t like being left behind! Nowadays I can easily sit through a whole Bollywood film with my own family, I just hope I am not imposing it on them in the same way as it was imposed on me!