|The world's most prolific dream factory is not
located in Hollywood, as Americans might assume,
but in the western Indian city of Bombay, or Mumbai,
home to a sprawling, ramshackle production center
known as "Bollywood."
When Anjan Bacchu migrates to the United States
in The New Americans, he keeps a little
slice of home close to his ear—an audiotape
of his new bride, Harshini, singing karaoke songs
from her favorite Bollywood musicals.
India's film industry is a relentless machine, cranking
out epic romantic fancy at a breakneck pace.
Bollywood turns out as many as 1,000 movies a year—more
than twice the output of Hollywood's—and boasts
an average daily audience of 14 million.
Bollywood productions, also known as masala films
for their spicy blend of elements, are eminently
recognizable in their formulaic nature—romance,
melodrama, action, villains and most notably, spectacular
music and dance numbers. The films often clock in
at over three hours and sex scenes, taboo in India,
are nonexistent save for the occasional "wet
Often made to give poor Indians maximum value
for their rupee, Bollywood films are known for their
kitschy, escapist qualities. Ironically, it's the
hip intellectuals in America who have latched onto
their appeal and who track down masala films in
South Asian community video stores and movie houses.
For years, zeitgeist watchers have predicted an American Bollywood invasion, similar to the recent influence of Hong
Kong thrillers. But while Bollywood films have been
entertaining the Indian masses for decades, they
have yet to catch the fancy of the average
Still, a hint of masala fashion is bubbling up into
the American cultural stew, even as world-famous
Indian megastars like Amitabh Bachchan remain virtually
unknown. GQ magazine, fashion arbiter and
finder of the next big thing, was early on the Bollywood
bandwagon with a profile of Indian “It boy”
Hrithik Roshan in their March 2002 issue, dubbing
him "the most famous person you have never
And Bollywood references have been increasing in
American cinema. The Oscar-nominated Moulin
Rouge and 2002's The Guru have given
American audiences a taste of lavish masala-style
music and dance extravaganzas. Some film critics
even point to the success of Chicago as
evidence that a Bollywood influence is bringing
back the musical genre.
But as Hollywood latches on to the escapist aesthetic
of Bollywood, Bollywood is attempting to turn out
sophisticated fare. The success
of films like Lagaan (nominated for an
Oscar in 2002) has spurred the Indian film industry
to look past the local audience for international
distribution and success.
While the predicted summer of Bollywood never really
surfaced in America, a slow wave of influence, on
both sides of the film world, is building.
a taste of masala. Check out Bollywood and its influence
on American cinema >