Money, Love and Intoxication: The Everlasting Influence of the Bollywood Industry

For me, three words summarise the Bollywood film industry - pesa, nasha, pyar (money, intoxication and love).

According to an article published in Statista (a market and consumer research company), on the 30th September 2020, the Bollywood film industry hit a net worth of 183.2 billion Indian Rupees. The top Bollywood actors and actresses are reportedly earning millions of pounds per film and have a loyal international fan following, but with that comes the responsibility to carefully address the social issues of our current times. In more recent years, Bollywood is stepping out of their comfort zones of action-packed movies, with the boy meets girl plotline, and have addressed important social issues in their films such as homosexuality (Ayushman Khurrana in Shubh Mangal Zyadha Saavdhan) and feminism (Kangana Ranaut in Queen).

To summarise, money + addressing real social issues + large social media following = significant influence.

My fascination with Bollywood films started with their portrayal of villains especially Gabbar Singh, played by Anjum Khan, in the iconic film ‘Sholay’ and his portrayal of the character's intensity, flamboyance, sarcasm and dark charisma. More recently I came across Vishal Jethwa’s outstanding performance in Mardaani 2, where he takes on the role of a psychotic killer and a master of disguise - Bollywood films can definitely do thrillers just as well as Hollywood.

Gabbar Singh’s intimidating and mesmerising performance in Sholay:

If you are looking for a more psychological and disturbing performance check out Vishal Jethwa’s performance in Mardaani 2.

To put it simply, I find heroes dull, the villain on the other hand is what makes the film great, from moving the plotline, creating obstacles and shaping the hero. But I’m not the only person with an opinion on the Bollywood industry, here are the views of a few young British Asians and their take on the Bollywood industry.

Simranjeet Kaur Mann is a future trainee solicitor at a top London law firm. She provides free legal mentoring to South Asians looking for training contracts to contribute towards increasing diversity in the legal field.

“In terms of what I like about the Bollywood industry, I love the nostalgic effect some of the songs have on my childhood. I definitely grew up watching Bollywood and it does feel good to rewatch some of the classics. In terms of what I dislike, as I grew up there were a few things that didn’t sit right with me. Firstly, the typical portrayal of Punjabis as drunken, reckless and excessively loud people is slightly disrespectful at times. I think the Bollywood industry likes to use elements of Punjabi culture but does not advocate against problems Punjabis face. I would also say the recent events with the sad alleged suicide of Sushant Rajput has brought to light some clear issues in Bollywood in respect of bullying and nepotism. Unfortunately, these opinions have led me to not admire anyone in the industry, as they are all part of an industry that has clear issues that is yet to be addressed. In respect to the classic Bollywood movies I did watch, I always preferred watching the hero/heroine as it was nice to see their character build as the movie developed”.

Mim Shaikh is a multitalented radio presenter, spoken word artist, actor and documentary filmmaker who is a great storyteller who not only shares other people stories but also his own personal journey. Check out Mim Shaikh’s touching documentary, 'Finding Dad', where he embarks on a global journey to reunite with his father after 26 years.

“Bollywood gives me a sense of familiarity when watching the movies and following some of the storylines. My mum used to watch them a lot when I was younger so that sense of familiarity and references to my childhood are always good. I think sometimes storylines are regurgitated and that leads to watching films that are very predictable. The same cycle of love marriages and a wedding can sometimes be a bit repetitive. I like Shah Rukh Khan, and what he has been able to achieve from humble beginnings and hard work has been good to witness. I love Amir Khan’s humanity, I think the films that he approaches and even creates provides a lot of personal and external value to the world. I prefer watching a story where the hero has defied everything going against him and has still been able to reach his objective. No matter what that objective is, to see someone go against the grain and win is always inspiring to see so I would definitely say I prefer the hero rather than the villain”.

Amardeep Sandhu is a talented law graduate who is currently working in contract management within the oil and gas industry.

“My interest in the Bollywood industry has for a long time been minimal, and the reason for this is three-fold: the presence of nepotism, the misrepresentation of women and the prejudicial beauty ideals. The first word that springs to mind when evaluating the Bollywood industry has always been ‘nepotism’. The stars on our screens have more often than not been the sons, daughters, nieces or nephews of even bigger stars, reinforcing the notion that the Indian film industry has consistently promoted the ‘silver spoon’ route discrediting the value of work ethic or ambition. When there are hundreds of thousands of talented hopefuls trying to crack this biased industry, it is no surprise that Bollywood actors and actresses with an ‘uncle in the right place’ have often been criticised for their lack of talent and real drive to succeed in the creative arts. I believe success belongs to those with drive, ambition and work ethic – when assessing the Bollywood industry, these values appear to be scarce, questioning the integrity of the trade as a whole. Another key factor of contradiction present in this industry is the representation of women. Heroines in Bollywood films are lusted after for their dance sequences in revealing outfits, yet in the real India women are shamed and attacked for embracing their femininity. The narrative has always been, and continues to be, that the role of the Indian woman is to be the subject of the male gaze. Of course, this does not apply to every single film that the Bollywood industry has produced, however the trends are undeniable. This leads into the toxic consistency of the ideal heroine figure, a tall, slender, fair skinned woman. India is a nation with hundreds of sub-cultures, religions and ways of life, and this includes skin tone, skin type, body size, shape etc. Yet there are no dark-skinned heroines on screen continuing the vast turnovers for the Indian cosmetic giant, ‘Fair and Lovely’. The prejudicial attitude of the Bollywood industry and blatant racial bias perpetuates a system of racial segregation and to see the women of this nation reduced to a single image of western-driven beauty is heart-breaking”.

Omar Mehtab is a guy with brilliant comic timing who is currently a broadcast assistant at BBC Click which has an audience of over 330 million viewers. He has produced great social media content for BBC Click and reported on topics such as the power of social media influencers in modern society.

“It's great that the Bollywood industry exists because it's able to showcase the creativity, imagination, and talent that South Asian artists have. When it's more difficult to break into the industry in other parts of the world, having our own world of film helps us show off what we can do. I dislike the incredible amount of nepotism that exists in the industry, and how racism, sexism, and an obsession with light-skinned actors is still prevalent. There are still many problems within Bollywood, that are also seen in Hollywood, so they aren't incredibly unique - but still very much align favouritism with the most powerful. I admire Aamir Khan quite a fair bit - he is talented, and he doesn't really embroil himself in any controversy. His acting style is varied, which is the sign of someone who can truly become more than just an exaggeration of themselves. I know that the hero/heroine will succeed eventually in most, if not all Bollywood films. So instead, I'll focus on the villain and see how they go about things. Although, the best Bollywood films for me don't really have a hero/villain. Dil Chahta Hai, Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots - some of my favourites, and films without a clear antagonist. We don't always need a typical love story or hero/villain dynamic to have a fantastic feature”.

Bhav Kaur Sian is a very astute young woman who works in the business legal affairs department within BBC and a great blogger who writes about relatable taboo subjects in the South Asian community.

“I’ve grown up surrounded by a family who love and live Bollywood which has been heavily passed onto me from a young age. It was always a Bollywood film that brought us together unexpectedly, it got us all to the cinema together, got us all having movie nights mixed in with the excitement of watching a Bollywood film. But thinking about the industry specifically, I like the creativity and picturisation -being able to see our culture and relating with certain parts, the efforts behind the dance choreography, the music, the fashion and the experiments that Bollywood does with different storylines as the years have gone on has been eye opening and refreshing for the industry alongside all the actors and actresses as without a doubt Bollywood does have some real talented cast. However, I dislike the unrealistic perception Bollywood can bring about love, relationships and stereotypical matters. I admire the late Sushant Singh Rajput who was an amazing actor with great talent and did such touching and some needed films in the Bollywood industry. I’m a huge fan of Deepika Padukone from day one, obviously with recent news about her it’s been shocking but focusing on her talent she’s been one great and graceful actress in all her films from my personal opinion. I’m going to be a softie here and say I would prefer a hero/heroine in Bollywood films”.

As you can tell Young British Asians have some strong opinions about the Bollywood film industry and are able to distinguish between the nostalgia and childhood memories that come with it, as well as address the nepotism, colourism and sexism within the industry. The Bollywood industry will continue to grow and adapt because of young talented actors and actresses and the international audience who are willing to question and push the boundaries.

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