Monday Morning Question Post! On Rajnikanth’s Birthday!

Please don’t ask me any questions about Rajnikanth!  I can’t answer them.  But it is a big day, and I thought it should be recognized in my Question heading.

Same deal as usual, you can ask me any question you want, from the personal (“what’s your favorite movie theater experience?”) to the general fact based (“why aren’t Indian movies shown in more theaters?”) to the discussion starters (“what’s better, seeing a movie in a theater or at home?”).

Oh!  And one more thing, since I keep forgetting to mention it.  I put these up on Monday so they will be there aaaaaalllllll week.  Feel free to come back to it any time this week if you suddenly think of anything.

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29 thoughts on “Monday Morning Question Post! On Rajnikanth’s Birthday!

    • I put that in as an example, and then realized I didn’t have a really good answer. Oh! Wait, I said “experience in a movie theater”, not specifically watching a movie, right? Then I do have one!

      A few months back, I went to the local all Indian theater to see Akira with a group of friends. So we were really noticeable in the lobby, 4 white girls. And this little old desi woman came up to me and complimented me on my hair, saying that “Even in India it isn’t this long any more!” And then she started to ask if we had seen any other Indian movies, and stopped herself and said “I was going to ask if you knew the movies, but you have a Surraiya bag!” And my friend promptly said, “that’s nothing, look at this!” and pulled out her phone with the homemade 70s Don cover. And then the nice lady’s son called her away.

      And then we went into the theater (it wasn’t that crowded, Akira wasn’t exactly a massive hit) and she was sitting there with her son and gave us a big “hello!” and then came over to chat and made her son bring his phone to take a picture of her sitting in front of 4 white girls in the movie theater. And during intermission, she came over to chat with us too, and ask how we were liking it.

      It was just the nicest experience! That’s what I love about seeing movies at the All Indian theater. Very occasionally I have this awkward feeling like I walked into someone else’s home without being invited. But most of the time it is like I am an honored guest in their home. People are delighted to see someone who is clearly an “outsider” watching their movies, they chat with us and ask how we know the films and are just thrilled to learn that we really do like the movies, we aren’t just there for “kitsch” or whatever. Very similar actually to what it was like in traveling in India. Sure, I got ripped off a little a couple times, but most of the time people were just delighted to make me feel welcome in their country.

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        • I used to go to the movies alone all the time. When I first got into them, it was something I would do alone on the weekends while my college friends were home for the weekend. And then later it just never occurred to me that anyone else would want to come.

          My first movie with a group was Ra.One and it was so much more fun with friends that it spoiled me for going alone. Now I almost always try to go with other people, especially if it is a show at the all indian theater, because that way I have company on the drive.

          But you should definitely go alone of you want to! People are really nice, and I’ve never felt awkward about it. It just more fun with friends to share opinions and hold hands during the scary parts 🙂

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  1. So what is the story of Salim Khan’s two wives (obviously, I know that one is Helen)? I mean I understand that culturally it is permissible, but how did it play out? Do they all live in the same house?

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    • From what I can piece together (a lot of this is from Jerry Pinto’s Helen biography, which is a great read if you can find a copy), it was a bunch of people trying to do the decent thing in a really complicated situation.

      Helen had been abused and exploited for years by her “manager/producer” who took charge of her career back when she was a teenager. He is the reason she was in basically every movie from 1960-1980, he never let her take a break or try a more challenging role, or transition to acting, just kept her going from set to set doing item songs for almost no money (and of course he took all the little money she made). And then when she got older, he dumped her. Salim, Salman’s father, had known her for many years from around the film sets and felt sorry for her. He started writing in a dance numbers for her in his scripts (like “Mehbooba” in Sholay) to help her out, and they slowly became close.

      Helen had already done the “mistress” thing, and it was horrible and disrespectful and she had no security, so it would have been terrible of Salim to ask her to live like that again. But on the other hand, Salim had eloped with Salma when they were very young, she had left everything for him (including her religion, she converted from Hinduism after marriage), and they had 4 kids together. So it would also have been terrible for him to just divorce and abandon her. And I suppose he could have broken up with Helen, but the poor woman had no protection and security, it would be pretty sucky to just abandon her too.

      So the best solution was to have a second marriage. Everyone lives together in those same small apartments the boys were describing in this interview, and Helen is fully integrated into the family. Salman refers to her as his “mother” and so do all his siblings. She is front and center at all their public events, often sitting with Salma.

      From a couple of comments I have heard from Salman in interviews, it sounds like it was a pretty rough transition at first (he said something about his mother crying for a year). And I do wonder, when I see interviews like this recent one where the brothers are so close and Salman is so clearly the pillar they all rely on, if it comes out of that time when Salman was the oldest child and sort of had to hold the family together for a bit.

      But today, it really is all fine. Everyone lives together, loves each other, acknowledges each other, and is happy and respectful. I am especially impressed with how Helen is treated by her stepchildren. She could so easily have been turned into a joke, for all her sexy dances and now being a second wife, but instead she is treated with utmost respect and love by all her children, and the industry has followed suit. I don’t think anyone would dare to even whisper a comment behind her back.

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      • Thank you so much for this synopsis! I have to admit that until last night’s KWK I did not realize that he was married to both. I just assumed that he was a widow or divorced. I can see now why Salim Khan is so beloved and why the family is so close-knit. Once again, I also have a new appreciation for Salman. I really should be reading more of these industry bios…I will try to get a copy of this one.

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        • I just finished the new Rekha bio which is completely unreliable, and delicious. Well, it is unreliable if you are reading it for “facts”. It is very reliable if you are reading it for “this is how the star narrative shifted over time and why”. Which, thank goodness, the author acknowledges several times, how what Rekha says in interviews and her version of events shifts in reaction to her current status in the media and most recent role and so on. Anyway, it’s a fun view of the 70s-80s era of film, and took me about 2 hours to read start to finish.

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      • I always thought the biggest credit for making the situation work goes to Salma Khan, Salman’s mother. I have read in several places that Salman became his mother’s main emotional support during this trying period (which lasted several years), and this event was the main reason for serious father-son conflict in his teenage years. Remember that he was only around 10 or 11 when the catastrophe happened.

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        • I also wonder sometimes if this is the reason Salman has avoided marriage. It would be fairly normal for a kid who took the main emotional weight of his parents’ marriage problems to be skittish about getting married.

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          • Oh, you don’t have to “wonder”, his witnessing his mother’s emotional breakdown over the entry of Helen has been given as the reason for his not marrying by many, many people, some times his friends, others in the industry, journalists, and even fans and non-fans. Clearly it was an event which had a major impact on him for the rest of his life. I used to wonder why it didn’t have a similar impact on the other children in the family, but I guess his mother didn’t latch on to them as much as she did with him at the time. Plus, being the eldest, and the eldest son, in an Indian family comes with a huge responsibility, emotional and otherwise (financial, certainly), for those who feel a sense of responsibility that is.

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          • That’s the other thing I think about with Salman, if he has no real drive to start his own household, because he already has a household. He has his nieces and nephews, he is responsible for the well-being and strength of the whole family, it’s not really a “carefree bachelor” situation, it’s more of a “already has more responsibilities and concerns than the usual married man has, maybe doesn’t want to take on any more.”

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  2. Hi, I’m a 35 year old man from Canada. I stumbled across your blog about two months ago and have been reading it pretty much daily. I’ve only been watching Hindi film for a little over a year. After watching some Satyajit Ray films last year, I checked out some other Indian movies on Netflix (Hum Aapke Hain Koun, DDLJ and Dil to Pagal Hai were my first three) and I was hooked! For the longest time, I just read the Bollywood section of the India Express website for news and watched videos on Film Companion. I didn’t really realize that there was a community of non-desi fans until I inadvertently found the Bollywhat board, your blog and MovieMavenGal’s blog- all of which I love.

    My wife and I went to our first Hindi film last March, Kapoor and Sons, and we’ve been trying to see as many as possible. The closest theater that shows them is over an hour away, so we really have to pick and choose. Kapoor and Sons didn’t really have any full fledged dance numbers, they were woven into the film as party scenes. Our second film at the theater was Baar Baar Dekho. When Nachde Ne Saare, the first song, came on I had an extremely emotional reaction. I had watched the video many times on youtube but seeing it on the big screen, with the huge sound of the speakers, almost knocked me back in my seat! I had chills running down my spine, my heart began pounding, pure joy washed over me. It was a profound experience. I tried to explain it to my wife and she of course thinks I’m ‘pagal!’ It has happened several times since with Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’s songs and, to a lesser extent, Dear Zindagi (although the songs are montages.)

    What was the first full-on song and dance number that you saw in a theater? Have you ever had a similar experience of being so affected by a Hindi film song on the big screen?

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    • I am so glad you found my site and thank you for commenting! Please continue to comment or question or anything any time you have something to say.

      I absolutely have had that experience! Several times. Most recently in a theater would be, let’s see, I think the songs from Mirzya. The movie itself is so-so, but the song sequences were enormously moving. I got that kind of shivery feeling in my stomach and cried a little from the beauty of it.

      I hate to plug my book, but I have a whole section in it about how the audience experience is, and always has been, different for Indian films. And also how people come to these films most often through this kind of life changing experience, not through a logical “well, I am intrigued by learning about other cultures” kind of thing.

      My Masters thesis involved partially studying this experience, actually. I got responses from about 130 Indian movie watchers, all non-desi (so not raised with the films). And the moment they really got into the films was fairly consistent with what you described. There was one woman who ran across DDLJ on cable at 3am and couldn’t turn it off, another respondent got Om Shanti Om from Netflix, watched 5 minutes, and then stopped the movie because he knew it would be so life-changing he wanted to wait until his wife got home and share it with her. It’s not always the first movie they see, but there will be a moment when their mood is right and they are paying attention, and suddenly it all clicks into place and it is this profound life-changing event. (if you want to read more about this, just search “Margaret Redlich DePaul University” and my thesis should pop up)

      This is how Indian films are supposed to function, if you read interviews with filmmakers the goal is always to evoke a pure emotion in the audience, not to build up a good plot or realistic drama or blah blah blah. It goes back to something called “Rasa” theory, which is an ancient Indian philosophy for drama (when I say “ancient”, I’m talking a couple thousand years BC). The idea was that ideal drama takes the audience through a series of discrete emotions, that is the goal. And this is why Indian films use song and color and emotional speeches and all of these things that Western films have left behind in a search for “realism” rather than “emotion.”

      In terms of the first full-on song and dance number that I saw in a theater-Indian division, it would be Lagaan. But it didn’t have much of an impact on me. I saw it as part of our local art film festival in the town where I grew up, I had already seen the movie on DVD where it also didn’t have much of an impact on me, so I enjoyed the songs but I don’t remember “shivers”.

      The first time I got that profound feeling from an Indian movie was the second one I saw in theaters, DDLJ. It was when I was in college, I just went to it because it was playing at the local art theater and I was curious. I enjoyed the film a lot but it wasn’t completely over-whelming for me until the moment when Shahrukh and Kajol are saying good-bye at the train station, and he says “No, I won’t come to your wedding” and walks away. I remember literally bursting into tears in the theater, because I was feeling so much and I didn’t know what to do with it all. And that’s why I switched my Miner to Moving Image Arts, and went on to get a Masters in film studies, and wrote a book, and have the friends I have now, and live where I live, and basically every aspect of my life goes back to that moment. (boy, that makes me sound crazy, doesn’t it?)

      When I think in terms of songs in theaters, the first that I remember really over-whelming me was “Ajnabi Sheher” from Jaan-E-Mann, I burst into tears when it started in the theater, and even watching it on DVD or youtube now will make me cry. But since then, yeah, it’s about every 3rd or 4th movie I see, there will be some song moment that is just so lovely it takes me to a different place. Which is why I am at the theater every single Friday for every single release, because I am a junky for that feeling.

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      • Ryan, welcome to the wonderful world of Hindi film fandom! There are certainly a lot of us non-desi fans out there. My first film in the theaters was Love Aaj Kal and I remember a similar feeling of joy when the first song came on. My first Hindi film was Jodhaa Akhbar (on Netflix at the time which I tried after it was recommended on a costume drama blog). Talk about emotional experiences…the music and visuals in that film still give me chills.

        If you like podcasts, I highly recommend Bollywood is for Lovers, hosted by a non-desi Canadian couple, which tracks their first two or so years immersed in the films.

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        • Thank you for the warm welcome as well, filmilibrarian! I actually just started listening to Bollywood is for Lovers a few weeks ago. I have been working my way through the older episodes and absolutely loving it. I wish that I had discovered it last year, when I first began navigating the world of Hindi film- it would have been very helpful. They actually read my iTunes review on the podcast last week. I was very excited!

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      • Thank you for the very thoughtful and in depth response! I actually just finished reading your thesis- such an interesting topic and piece of writing. I particularly enjoyed chapters four to six. I will order your book from Amazon in the very near future.

        I related so much to a lot of the experiences described within. The ‘drug’ metaphor is very apt. Hindi film does produce a sort of high, an elation, that once experienced, becomes extremely addictive. I understand that desire to share such euphoria with others. I had a very similar reaction to the one that John described while watching Om Shanti Om. I had watched a dozen or so films, but when I came across Band Baaja Baaraat one night, I instantly felt the need to stop it and show it to my wife. Fifteen years ago, we had initially bonded over a mutual love of lighthearted and often wonderfully over dramatic romantic comedies. In the years since, Hollywood seems to have strayed away from the genre altogether. That film definitely had that feel to it and, as a wonderful bonus, songs and dances! We are also fans of Broadway musicals, so it seemed perfect. We absolutely loved the movie and I had “hooked” her! She doesn’t care much for anything pre-2000s, so I save those ones for when she’s on evening shift.

        It is wonderful to know that there are other people out there that have had a similar experience. For over a year now, I’ve been playfully mocked by friends and family when the topic comes up. It has become a bit of a running joke. I’ve been a fan of world cinema for most of my adult life, since my college years, so I think they write it off a bit as “Ryan’s weird taste in movies.” The “Real Life Aladdin” comment isn’t too far off the mark. I find that uninformed people tend to use the term “Bollywood” in a derogatory and insulting way. I’ve stopped mentioning the movies and attempting to explain the allure that I find in them. Unless I can get someone to sit down, with an open mind, and watch, it is almost an impossible endeavor.

        There is that great scene in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, where they check into the Parisian hotel, and Ayan is talking about the feeling you get from eating paratha and eggs. He sits on the bed and says that it feels “like my heart is full.” In the theater, I turned to my wife and I said THAT is how Hindi film makes me feel!

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        • I am so glad you enjoyed the thesis!

          The analogy I sometimes use is jalabis versus American sheet cake. Jalabis are kind of too much the first time you eat them, but once you get a taste for them American desserts just seem bland and pointless. That’s how I feel about Indian films, they are “like” a lot of other things, but once you get used to them, all those other things just feel bland and powerless.

          Of course, I have often failed to win people over to both jalabis and Indian film 🙂 It’s just too much for some people’s taste.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, here’s another one for you! I’ve only read a few books about Hindi films and only a couple are on my keeper shelf. I know there’s tons out there in the academic cinema studies realm, but what would you consider the must reads for true Hindi film fans? And a related question, have you read Anuja Chauhan’s novels? All of them are really, really fun reads.

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    • Hmm. In my book (another plug! My publisher would be so pleased) I recommend a whole bunch of books at the end, for religion, history, and film. But the biggies for film writing are Anupama Chopra, Tejaswini Ganti, and Barnouw and Krishnamurthy.

      Anupama Chopra started out as a casual film journalist in Bombay, then came to Northwestern (2 blocks from my office, so I feel like she is a hometown friend!) and got a masters in journalism. So she has the contacts and friendly relationships with stars that film journalists used to have back in the early 90s (plus she’s now married to a super powerful producer/director), and also has training from one of the best journalist programs in the world. Her books are a master class in research and analysis, combined with unbelievable access. And also really really well-written! King of Bollywood is of course great, her Sholay book teaches you everything you need to know about the production process, but her funnest one to me is First Day, First Show, which is just a collection of old articles and interviews from the past 20 years, giving little brightly written stories about all of today’s major stars from back in the day. (you can skip her 100 Films and Front Row) She also wrote the British Film Institute book on DDLJ, which is great, but a lot of it ended up in King of Bollywood. And film analysis isn’t necessarily her area as much as industry reporting, so while I love it, it’s not my favorite of her books.

      Tejaswini Ganti wrote The Guidebook to Indian film, which you can find everywhere. It’s a great fun little read, with annotations and an index and all that. My favorite part is the last section, where she just puts in random discussions of filmmaking from people like Rakesh Roshan. The Guidebook was actually just the beginning of her work, she was really working on this massive ethnographic study which finally came out a few years ago, called Producing Bollywood. It might be a little too heavy for you (and last time I looked it was still being sold at textbook prices), but if you read the Guidebook and want something like that, but way more in depth and long and analytical, you should check out her other book.

      Barnouw and Krishnamurthy wrote THE book on film history in 1960 something. Because they were the first ones to really care, so they had access to some people that have now died, and some documents that have now disappeared. Back in the 1960s, after Satyajit Ray’s movies came out in the West, Barnouw was a western film scholar who wanted to do a real history of Indian film. He met up with Krishnamurthy who (I am sure) provided the Indian context and respectful tone that makes the book so great. And they combed through everything from newspaper archives to government reports to interviews, and put together this massive heavily annotated history. It was revised in the 1980s, but hardly changed, so don’t worry if you can only find the original edition. It’s not really a “fun” read, but it is the place to go if you want a completely reliable factual source for early film history. Most other histories are just citing Barnouw and Krishnamurthy.

      Oh! And Madhu Jain’s book, Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Film is super super fun! And, because it’s the Kapoors, you get to have the whole history of the film industry. It’s a little out of date now, it came out right around Ranbir’s launch so it missed Kareena’s marriage and the other recent events in the family, but it’s still great.

      In terms of Journal articles, if you have access to Jstore, there are two that you MUST read. Sheila Nayyar’s “Invisible Representation: The Oral Contours of a National Popular Cinema” and Rosie Thomas’ “Sanctity and Scandal: The Mythologization of Mother India”. Both articles have now been turned into books, Nayyar’s book is okay but mostly just an expansion on the article. Thomas’ book is really excellent and mostly new research. I also have a soft-spot for Priya Joshi’s “Bollylite” article from the Journal of South Asian Popular Culture.

      Hmm, what else? Oh! I have a massive mind-crush on Rajinder Dudrah. His Sociology Goes to the Movies is great for sort of opening your mind and making you look at the films in a new way.

      But if we are talking “must reads for Hindi film fans”, then Anupama Chopra’s Sholay, King of Bollywood, and First Day First Show, Ganti’s Guidebook, Barnouw and Krishnamurthy, and of course my book 🙂

      (If you have already done some reading and are wondering why certain names are missing, I don’t like Rachel Dwyer at all, she comes off as patronizing to me. And so does Ashis Nandy. And “Temples of Desire” I find well-nigh unreadable).

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      • Have you seen/read Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen? It’s a bit out of date (though Amazon seems to have a revised edition from 2008, which is later than the one I read), and isn’t exactly a “book” in the narrative sense, and it also has a heavy political bias (everything interpreted through a Marxist ideological lens). Still, when I was just trying to catch up with the current crop of Hindi films after Lagaan came out, it was a useful reference. Of course, it also suffers from a very heavy Hindi bias, despite having “Indian Cinema” in its title.

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  4. Is there a certain singer that you always associate with an actor? I don’t know why but whenever I hear an Udit Narayan song in any language, I tend to imagine Shahrukh singing the song.

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    • Udit Narayan and Shahrukh, sure. And Asha Bhosle and Helen. But it’s not a real strong connection, mostly because I have such a truly terrible ear for music, I honestly can’t hear the difference between one voice and another most of the time. So it’s not so much that I will hear it and immediately associate it with an actor, it’s more on the level of watching a song sequence and finding it more “natural” because subconsciously it is the voice I always associate with that actor.

      What I really really notice is when there is a dramatic shift in voices! “Gerua” freaked me out, because Arjit Singh’s voice is so distinctly different from the usual sort of melodious tenor I think of with Shahrukh. Which is really more just because of his era, you know? The 90s was all about those rich tenors, Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan and all the others. And now we’re in a post-Milka Singh world and suddenly these deeper rougher voices are coming in, and any time I hear one of them coming out of the mouth of one of our 90s heroes, it just seems odd!

      It’s the same with heroines, I love Neeti Mohan’s voice (so you know it’s remarkable, if even I’ve noticed it!), and what’s her face who did “Baby Doll”. And it feels “normal” for, like Anushka Sharma. But hearing that kind of voice come out of Rani or Madhuri or Sridevi would just seem odd, because I am so used to them with the high Lata-type voices!

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    • Oh boy, that’s tough! To me, “favorite” doesn’t say “best” it says “movie that you would be happy to watch over and over and over again”. There were a lot of really good movies this year (Airlift, Neerja, Fan, ADHM, Dear Zindagi, probably others I am forgetting). But I don’t know if I can think of one that I really wanted to watch over and over again, which made me happy. I think maybe Kabali? It’s funny, I only saw it once in theaters in comparison to Fan and ADHM and Dear Zindagi and Sultan multiple times. But it’s the one I would most happily re-watch, and the one that made me happiest when I was watching it.

      Of the ones I watched this year, hmmmmmm. This is the year I got serious about Telugu and Tamil and Malayalam films, so I kind of got to watch the cream of the crop all in one year. But out of all of them, if we are talking movies I could watch over and over, I think Ohm Shanti Oshana and Manam. They just make me happy!

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  5. Pingback: Monday Morning Questions Post! One Week to Christmas!!! | dontcallitbollywood

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