The B word

Plenty of folks dig the stuff I dig. If I say “I saw a rocking Hong Kong action film!”, or “I checked out this outta control anime!”, or “I watched a kickass Korean flick!”, then people wanna hear about it. If they hear there’s a cool new one, they’re queuing around the block quicker than you can say Melbourne International Film Festival.

But, if I drop the words “I saw a funky Bollywood flick!” into the conversation, suddenly people get that glazed eye expression that says “Do tell me more Mark, even though you are clearly barking mad, and I have no intention of getting within 2km of either you or a cinema showing a three hour film with songs in it.”

And damn, that’s a mighty shame, because you know what? Bollywood flicks really are funky.

I too was hesitant at first. A three hour film? With songs? No way!

But then I met Abdul Haroon. He loves movies, loves them so much he realised his life-long dream of building his own cinema: the Taj, Melbourne’s best unknown venue, a red carpeted upstairs wonderland hidden above an Indian milk bar in the wilds of Glen Iris. Going to the Taj is like a special, private movie-going experience; if you make the effort, you’ll discover a secret movie house where the sound is always pumping and the samosas are always hot

I first met Abdul at the Chinatown Cinema. “Mark”, he said, “You must come and see this movie, it is a really great movie, Mark, I think you will really like this movie.” The movie was The Legend of Bhagat Singh; the premise seemed interesting (Indian freedom fighter), the poster looked cool (dig the moustache), and I liked Abdul.

So, I gave it a shot, despire my inner cries of “Too long! Three hours! With songs!”. And was rewarded with one of the best nights at the cinema in my life.

Yes, it was long – but there was an interval, so it was just like a double bill, and there were samosas at half time. More to the point, it moved at a great pace (when we think “four hour film”, we think “four hour French film”, and the mental wallpaper slowly begins to peel) – snappy scenes, huge plot, tons of things happening – the time flew by.

Yes, it had songs – but damn, the stirring near-dance themes by A. Rahman really had me grooving. It’s not sitars and nose flutes, it’s 21st century dance music, but with wonderful instrumentation and arrangements. In the cinema, it’s a BIG sound. The songs appear in the films as a kind of MTV moment in which the characters sing about the emotion they are in – so, it becomes a kind of inner monologue, not unlike a novel, but with more sashaying. It’s a great outpouring of music, motion, colour and joy, which gives the film a lot more excitement and warmth to me than a hundred sterilised CGI car wrecks.

Yes, it had melodrama – but great, stirring melodrama, where the Indians were noble, and the British were scoundrels. Who wouldn’t identify with that?

On top of this, it also had great production values, and a truly fascinating story about an Indian history you haven’t heard about, in which Ghandhi was a British stooge, and the real hero (or, erm, legend) was some bloke named Bhagat Singh who has been hung, chopped up and burnt within 5 mins of the film opening.

In short, I was hooked. I’ve since checked some beauties (like Lagaan) and some shockers (like – brrr – Khushi) – yes, every country makes bad movies too, and a three hour bad movie is a whole lot badder; easiest way to avoid is to check some reviews first.

So that’s my Bollywood challenge, to you; gently warm yourself up with a crossover flick like Monsoon Wedding or Bend it Like Beckham, and then square yourself up for the real thing. It’s a cinema-going joy that you are denying yourself.

For three hours! With songs!

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