“I’m just happy to be in Berlin. I love it. If you told me to stand up on a tourist bus and dance, I would do it.”
So says Shah Rukh Khan, India’s most popular living celebrity export. “King Khan”, as he is lovingly known, is an Indian actor whose main stage is the Bollywood scene in India. Yes, that is Bollywood, but don’t go looking to the hills of India for a BOLLYWOOD sign. Based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, Bollywood is the umbrella term used to describe the entertainment industry that produces Indian radio programs, films, theater productions and media. In a nutshell, Bollywood is the Hollywood of India. Bollywood films are narratively on par with western and Hollywood produced films, yet there are a few differences. The first and most obvious difference is the amount of singing and dancing in Bollywood productions.
The second is the melodramatic and emotional tone of many of the Bollywood productions. This is not to say that Hollywood produced films or western films do not contain high emotional narratives. Indeed, because of the amount of whimsy and singing and dancing in Indian films, it has been argued that western films are more realistic because of their reliance on a more serious approach to film and to character portrayal. However, Bollywood films do focus on very serious emotional struggles between their characters, i.e. a father tells his son “Tum mera baita nahi hai! (You are not my son)” and lightning crashes outside. You might think western audiences wouldn’t care for this brand of film-making, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Indian director and producer Yash Chopra had this to say about the German premiere of his movie Veer Zara (A Love Legend):
“I was worried that Germans wouldn’t hang around for three and a half hours; that they would be bored and walk out. But everybody stayed till the end and had tears in their eyes, they were so moved. Such is the power of emotions.” source: http://www.bna-germany.com/interview.html?&L=1
It seems that Germans are drawn to the style of Bollywood films because they are a far cry stylistically from the films that are being produced in Germany and the rest of Europe. Bollywood films make no apologies about their obvious use of sound and situation and lighting to produce an emotional affect on the audience. When you think of obvious plot twists or over-the-top scenarios, you probably think of cheaply made science fiction movies or D-grade horror flicks.
Germans – and Russians also, I found out from a friend – like Bollywood films. Maybe it is because Germans are typically seen as cold, or standoffish, or rudely stalwart that they have been so taken with the whimsical charm of Bollywood films? Or maybe it’s because of Shah Rukh Khan’s washboard abs? Either way, Europeans want to see Bollywood flicks. But the popularity of Bollywood films in Europe is maintained and nurtured mostly by the non-resident Indians who have moved to Europe and Germany looking for jobs and opportunities. Theaters premiere high-budget Bollywood films, and satellite networks beam Bollywood across Europe from India without missing a beat, or note.
Either way, Bollywood has sung and danced its way into the European mainstream on the heels of non-resident Indians living in Europe. We’ll have to wait and see if “King Khan” can continue to satisfy Europe with his next film DON-2, which has begun filming in Berlin.
[ Note: I wanted to call attention to the idea of the celebrity status of Khan presenting Bollywood to the rest of the world. The famous Bollywood style of Indian film-making has been around for decades, yet it is Khan and his films that have become the reflex for most Europeans when thinking about Bollywood films. Hence, his mug (dashing, isn’t it?) appearing numerous times in this article. ]