Have a Question? Ask It Here!

My first Questions post!  Which, okay, is mostly because I am trying to put up extra posts so I can get to a thousand before my first year of blogging is over.  But also because I think it might be a fun way to start the week!

I’ve been writing on Quora for the past few weeks.  It’s fun answering questions there, I remember when I was just starting out in these films there were all these things that everyone else thought were so obvious, no one ever bothered to explain them.  So, it’s been cool being the person who can explain those things to newcomers.  And on the other hand, there are questions from experienced longtime fans which which force me to examine my own assumptions, and dig deep in my knowledge base.  So I thought I would try to bring some of that over here, and see what happened.

If you have a question you want to ask me, ask it here!  It can be about me personally (“what’s your favorite movie?” “how did you get into these films?” “why is Shahrukh your favorite star?”).

Or, it can be about something you are trying to figure out because you are new to watching the films (“how are Kareena and Ranbir Kapoor related?” “what’s Karva Chauth?” “who is Lata Mangeshkar?”).

Or, it can be something really really specific and complicated that you are interested on getting my take on (“what effect has the multiplex explosion had on Indian film?” “why are the top male stars mostly Muslim?” “in Indian film, should autour theory be used in terms of directors or stars?”).

Really, I am happy to answer anything, and there are no bad questions!

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38 thoughts on “Have a Question? Ask It Here!

    • I think two reasons primarily:

      1. The Bombay film industry is a new industry, and an “open” industry, so it is easier for religious and ethnic minorities to get work in it. Easier than it might be to break into other fields. This is the same reason that there are so many Punjabi refugees working in the Bombay industry.

      2. Many of the male stars, going back to Dilip Kumar all the way forward to Shahrukh Khan, are part of the “Pathan” ethnic group, which is mostly Muslim. Pathan’s are tall, pall, with sharper features. They fit the appearance type that is generally considered attractive.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The “flop” “hit” definition in Indian film comes primarily from distributors’ profits.

      In the “olden days” of the 1990s, the money for films was raised through distribution rights. Distribution rights for various territories (Bombay and Delhi are each their own territory, all of Bihar is one other territory, as is all of the Middle East) are sold on a bidding system, based on the projected profits for a film, usually sold even before the film is completed in order to raise money to finish it.

      This began to change a little after the liberalization of the Indian economy and specifically the granting of industry status to film around 2000. Now, there are larger production houses like UTV and Reliance and Yash Raj who handle both production and distribution of a film. But they are only handling the major territories. In most cases they are still selling rights, by bidding system, to smaller distributors within those territories. And the main consideration for the cost of those rights is still songs, stars, and story.

      Dilwale seemingly had it all. Hit songs, amazing cast, fun story. So distributors paid huge amounts for the rights, so much that they only way they could make a profit would be if Dilwale was the highest earning film of all time. And so, even though it made lots and lots of money at the box office, the smaller distributors took a loss.

      What made the media jump on this story a little more is that this was the first film which Shahrukh’s company, Red Chillies, had distributed itself. Red Chillies directly sold the rights to smaller distributors. So while Shahrukh and his company came out of it fine, there were many small businessmen through out India and the world who took a big loss they couldn’t afford.

      The follow up to this story, which I reported her back when it came out, is that Shahrukh and Red Chillies covered that loss out of their pocket. They paid back the distributors losses so they broke even, and they promised them a big discount on the next Red Chillies release. Which is, apparently, business as usual for Shahrukh and Red Chillies.

      Anyway, that’s why Dilwale was a “flop”. And so was Ra.One. It’s not based on the actual box office, it’s based on the difference between the expected box office and the actual box office. That’s also why Bajirao Mastani was considered a “hit”, even though it made less money than Dilwale. Because people had lower expectations for it.

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      • ah!! how convoluted (and Indian). He did well, just not as well as they expected (but still really really well) and they label him a flop and start questioning if he’s past it.

        It’s that whole thing about what is expected from the Khans.

        Ridiculous (and Indian!!)

        (I’m indian, I can say that!)

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  1. A little thing, but it’s been bugging me. What is the story behind that throat (adam’s apple) grabbing gesture made when someone says “I swear”? Raj does it when he tells Taani he loves her in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but I have seen in in half a dozen movies now.

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    • My understanding is that it just means “I swear”. You are grabbing the throat, where the sound is coming out of, to kind of hold onto the words and make them more emphatic. I may be missing some really subtle meaning like “may I choke if I am telling a lie”, but that is my understanding.

      The bigger way to swear, of course, is to swear on someone else. As in, “I swear on my mother I am telling the truth.” And then you would make a gesture towards the other person instead, or put your hand on their heads. I always found it really sweet in Maine Pyar Kiya when towards the end, Salman casually swears on Bhagyashree, like obviously she is the biggest thing he could lose in his life and he has the right to make swears on her. Also, in Baazigar, Kajol and Shilpa’s father swears on Shilpa that he won’t betray Shahrukh’s Dad again. Which is why Shilpa has to die.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Disclaimer to start, the British pushed hard on the regional stereotypes as part of their “divide and conquer” policy, especially the idea of “martial races”, that is groups that would make natural soldiers and who they recruited from heavily for the British army, which of course turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy as now those groups have a long history of military rule. A lot of these stereotypes come from that era, some others come from times before and after that when groups tried to stir up nationalist/ethnicist emotions by the use of stereotypes. So everything I am saying is only “real” in the “we are trained to see people in this way, and they are trained to behave in the way expected” kind of terms. (I mean, I am pretty sure you understand that, but in case someone else stumbles on this comment later). With all that in mind:

      Punjabis: Loud, cheerful, put “ji” at the end of everything, and always ready for a fight. The Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab, so almost all Sikhs are also Punjabis, and a lot of Punjabis are Sikhs. Sikhs wear a turban or, if they are children or doing something less formal, a little handkerchief tying up their hair. They also wear a steal bracelet and a ceremonial knife. And a TON of people in the film industry are Punjabi, so a lot of Punjabi cultural things (like big weddings, Karva Chauth, mustard fields) are just considered the norm in Indian films.

      Bengalis: Intellectual, non-physical, very strong women. Think Vidya in Parineeta or Kahaani. And if you see a Bengali guy, he is probably going to wear glasses and be a little timid. The Punjabis end words with “ji”, confusingly the Bengali’s often have names that end in “ji”

      Gujuratis: Merchants. Very money-minded. Very big on showing off their money. Often with the last name “Patel”

      Those are kind of the big ones in the Bombay-based industry, which is sort of strange considering Bombay is actually located in Maharasthra and there are no Maharasthrian stereotypes in most films! But there are a ton of Punjabi and Gujurati immigrants in Bombay, and Bengal/Calcutta has a massive influence in both Indian culture general and on film in particular.

      All of these are North Indian stereotypes, south India has it’s own particular stereotypes which I’m not savvy enough to fully understand yet. But in Hindi films, all southerners tend to be grouped together as people who eat a lot of rice and yogurt, have curly hair, speak with strange accents, and are way way into their cultural traditions and history (think Shahrukh in Ra.One, or Deepika’s family in Chennai Express). It’s really not a pretty stereotype.

      Oh! Two more!

      Rajput: Very brave, very honorable, very strong women, the type who would kill themselves rather than be captured by the enemy, or fight to the last breath to defend their honor (Aish in Jodha-Akbar was Rajput)

      Pathan: Noble sort of desert warrior types. Tall, strong, pale, ride horses. Shahrukh is a Pathan in real life, every once in a while you will run across a character saying proudly “I am a Pathan!”, meaning that they are quick to anger and will fight bravely and all that kind of stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I woke up this morning and went “darn! I forgot to mention one important thing!” Gujuratis dance “Garba”, which is the dance with sticks. Punjabis dance “Bhangra” which is the dance with drums and the “lightbulb” dance move.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you agree with the statement that Ranbir Kapoor is the next Aamir, Varun Dhawan is the next Salman, and Ranveer Singh is the next Shahrukh? Also who out of the younger lot of actors is your favorite and who do you believe has a brighter future?

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    • Isn’t it interesting how the 3 top stars always fit 3 personality types? I’ve heard the same thing with Aamir and Raj Kapoor, Shahrukh and Dilip, and Salman and Dev. One is intellectual, one is physical, and one is emotional.

      I would agree that if we limit it to Ranbir, Varun, and Ranveer, they match up like that, Ranbir is intellectual, Varun is physical, and Ranveer is emotional. Although, at other times, I can also see similarities between Ranveer and Aamir, for instance, in how committed they can be to preparing for their roles and devoting themselves to one character at a time. Or between Varun and Shahrukh, in how they can manage to play the “bad boy” who is a “good boy” at heart.

      I am always ready to make bets on the next big thing, and I am almost always wrong! I thought Imran was going to be huge after Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, and Shahid after Jab We Met, and Viviek after Saathiya. Right now, I think Varun is the most promising, which probably means he is about to crash and burn within the next year, based on my track record 🙂

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      • That’s an interesting point about the 3 personality types. I have only seriously followed Hindi cinema for the last 3 years so I don’t know much about the history. I do agree that there are similarities that we can find if we do try to match up different generations of actors.

        Yeah, I feel that Varun is the most promising too but I’ve been disappointed in his choices lately. Dilwale was a disappointment and Dishoom wasn’t very exciting either. Add Judwaa 2 into the mix and I just feel as if he’s doing too many action comedies. Badrinath Ki Dulhania is very exciting but he hasn’t announced anything else after that. There have been rumors that Sriram Raghavan decided to make his next movie with Sonam Kapoor’s brother instead of Varun too. Anyway, I hope he announces some interesting films soon!

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  3. Why did child actors (boys) were credited as “Master” [Name]”?
    It’s more or less clear with girls “Baby [Name]” but why the word “master” was used for boys?

    Thanks! )))

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    • At first I thought “huh, I don’t know the answer to that!” And then I thought “wait, I think I know like 5 different answers and could go on and on!” So, I am going to try to limit myself and keep this as short as possible.

      “Master” is a traditional British term for the male child of the household. Before he is an adult and called “Lord” or “Squire” or whatever, he would be called “Master” by the servants (I only know this from reading old English novels). So I suspect it is something that Indian-English borrowed from British English as an honorific for a child.

      The bigger answer is that Indian languages use name additions as nicknames, often relationship terms, or age indicators. So Salman’s nickname is “Salman Bhai” and Dilip Kumar’s is “Dilip Sahib” and so on. I suspect “Baby” and “Master” are an attempt to recreate that kind of diminutive-which-is-actually-an-extension sense, but in English instead of Hindi.

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      • I never noticed that “Master” honorific in titles! It is also used in America, not for screen credits, but as a super formal honorific for children. Like Miss. If you were writing out a super formal wedding invitation for instance, you would list the children under the parents like that on the envelope: Mrs. and Mrs. So and So, Miss Emily So and So, Master James So and So.

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      • Thanks a lot for your answers!
        The first one seems very logical.
        Interestingly, I knew about the “master title” for boys in BE, but it never occurred to me to make a connection. So, I guess, you nailed it!

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  4. I have a question — spurred by the question about the throat swear gesture. What does the gesture mean that is like a waving of the hands near the ears. It’s done usually by a woman or aunty about a handsome young man or beautiful girl. In Jewish culture, it almost looks like the warding off the evil eye. (Kina Hora!)

    Sort of like a blessing, but I’m not sure that’s what it is. This is it:

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    • That’s exactly what it is! “You are so beautiful, I am pulling evil omens away from you” At least, that’s my understanding of it. You know, it’s kind of amazing that northern European culture doesn’t have a tradition like that, it seems like most other cultures do, some kind of suspicion about evil being attracted to beauty.

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  11. There is this film, the lead actor name is ‘obi’ he fell in love with a girl and promised to marry her, she lost her memory and didnt remember if she ever loved him.. please i cannot recall the name of the film, please what is the name?

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    • Hmm. I can think of a couple of options. Salaam-E-Ishq with John Abraham and Vidya Balan had a similar story, but they were really married, not just engaged. And his character in the film was Ashu, not Obi.

      Sadma/Moondram Pirai is probably the most famous with a plot like this. In that case they fell in love, or at least built a connection, while she lost her memory. And then she regained it and didn’t remember their time together.

      Dil Ka Rishta, with Aishwarya and Arjun Rampal, has a slight twist on it, she is married to someone else, but loses her memory in the same accident that kills her husband, and ends up falling in love with someone she had rejected before.

      Are you thinking of a non-Hindi film maybe? Premam, which was a big hit last year in Malayalam and was just released and remade in Telugu has that plot. Also an older Malayalam film, Innale.

      I am sure there are many more possibilities, do you remember anything else about this film? About what year it came out, what language it is in, if it is in the city or the country, anything like that?

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    • No idea! Well, except for her brother Bobby who used to be the red chillies CEO and died a few years back. Come to think of it, the coverage of the funeral somehow made me think Bobby was her only sibling?

      No idea if he had kids or who they are. There is a rumor that Kiara Advani is related to her, but that looks to be a distant relationship, maybe only by marriage.

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