What a fun game/way to express our irritation! I am sure as Indian film fans (desi or non-desi) we have all dealt with the scornful outsider who thinks they know everything but really knows nothing.
Indian film is a particular kind of artwork, I don’t just mean Hindi film here, I mean all Indian film. It grew up almost in isolation from the rest of world cinema thanks to India’s import-export laws and developed it’s own film language, industry standards, even ways of delegating authority on a film set. As the decades rolled by, more and more Indian film specific traditions were layered on top of each other, and then the language industries broke off and started having their own traditions building up and up, until there is this whole massive complex world in place.
And outsiders, those who have only seen a few popular Indian films (of any language) or even just those easy internet memes of films, make gross assumptions and try to reduce everything to myths instead of the slightly more complex truths.
I can’t even unpack all the myths, partly because I find them so irritating I have started closing my ears when I hear them, but I can make a start and maybe you can help in the comments.
Myth: All Indian films have family plots
Truth: All Indian films have large casts of characters as part of the Indian film style and, in romance films, it is natural for those characters to be family members since romance is considered a family affair. On the other hand, in a police drama or heist film or so on, those family members would not be involved and instead other characters would fill out the large cast.
Myth: All Indian films are romances
Truth: In the 90s and early 2000s when Indian film first became available on the world stage thanks to DVDs, shifting laws in India, and the internet, the romance genre was enjoying a temporary period of popularity. Because of this international “first impression”, the idea that romance has always been and will always be popular stuck around.
Myth: Rajinikanth is ridiculously famous and beloved and makes over the top ridiculous films
Truth: Rajinikanth is one of several beloved film stars in the Tamil film industry, not the most beloved of all time, simply the one whose fans are most vocal at the moment. And while half his films are ridiculous and over the top, his career was founded on complex roles in deep serious films and he continues to make such films to this day.
Myth: Everyone in India loves Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan
Truth: While everyone in India is probably aware of those two people, they are particularly popular among the Hindi cinema audience. Even within that audience, there are subgroups who prefer other stars. They may be the most famous and popular stars in India, but that does not mean everyone in Indian loves them by a long shot.
Myth: All Indian films have songs
Truth: All Indian films have moments of visual spectacle reflecting character emotions. Often those are in songs, sometimes they are in fight scenes, or beautiful scenery, or watching elephants.
Myth: Indian film actresses are refreshingly “normal” looking
Truth: Indian film actresses still fit a particular beauty ideal and always have. It is just an ideal that seems more attainable to a western viewer. In India (especially India of the past) where malnutrition ran rampant, the “normal” looking actresses reflected a comfortable well-fed upbringing that was not available to the majority of the population, and western style imported clothes that were similarly unavailable. Today, as that nutritional goal becomes more and more available in India and so do western consumer goods, the Indian film actresses now look more like Western actresses, impossibly thin and flawless in sexy high fashion.
Myth: Indian films don’t have kissing
Truth: They do. Kissing scenes have been in Indian films since the start. Because of different modesty standards in India, they are treated more seriously than in American films, but they still exist. And in the past 15 years or so, as the films increasingly aimed at a western audience, those modesty standards on film have shifted (not so much in real life) and kissing is increasingly considered no big deal.
Myth: All Telugu films are ridiculous over the top action spectacles
Truth: Telugu cinema has excellent fight technicians who do spectacular work. And it is common for the “spectacle” part of a film to come from the over the top fight scenes. However, along side those movies with fight scenes, there have always been a large number of smaller character based relationship stories that are popular and successful. Just less likely to be turned into memes.
Okay, that’s all I can think of for now! What do you disagree with? Or what myths/truths can you think of?
Or what myths have you heard and feel aren’t true but can’t fully figure out what the matching “truth” would be?