Those Amoral Folks in Bollywood!
If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film, you should. Every year Madrid celebrates a Bollywood festival in Lavapiés, with films shown in one of the Plazas. Last night’s film, My Bollywood Bride, was actually much more morally ambiguous than previous years: penis innuendo, erotic girl-on-girl dance scenes, and a woman who actually considered giving up her virginity before marriage! In the end she didn’t do it… But you could tell she wanted to.
The most striking part of the film, though, is the message that it’s better to follow your heart and marry the man you love, rather than following your family’s wishes into an arranged marriage.
One of the films shown at the festival last year had the opposite message: it’s better to be faithful in your miserable marriage than to go out looking for true love. The characters ruined their lives and the lives of their families by looking for true love outside of their arranged marriages. My Bollywood Bride turns that quaint Indian puritanism on its head.
Only Ganesh knows how India, the land that produced the Kama Sutra, has become so puritan. But maybe they’re getting over it. There is still very little kissing between romantic partners, though there is a bit of hand-holding and hugging.
The overarching theme of the Bollywood films I’ve seen seems to be: work hard, follow your dream, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Be somebody! Most of the films remind me of a Horatio Alger novel in that sense—usually the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the hard-working attractive people who know how to dance manage to move out of the slums and start new lives as famous actors. It’s all a metaphor, I think, of India’s rise to become a more modern country with an important role in the global economy.
If you want a slightly less optimistic picture of India, I recommend Aravind Adiga’s book The White Tiger: A Novel, which depicts the ugly underbelly of Indian life, as a humble driver has to kill and steal to fulfill his potential as an entrepreneur. It won the Booker Prize, and is really a great novel.