Hooray for Bollywood

Hooray for Bollywood

Here at The Honey Partnership, we’re always looking to new cultures for inspiration – the world is such a varied and colourful place. On a recent trip to Mumbai the Bollywood film industry provided plenty of this, not just thanks to its fascinating aesthetics but also the ingenuity and history that feed into producing the perfect Bollywood film.

Mumbai is a prime illustration of how the traditional and the contemporary can produce a creative spark when they meet – and its Bollywood industry is the ultimate example of success.

The Bollywood work ethic will blow you away

Most of us assume that Bollywood is based in Mumbai but it is not a location in the same way that Hollywood is. Although a significant proportion of its production and support facilities are located in Mumbai, ‘Bollywood’ actually describes the broader Indian film community.

But, wherever you find it, this is big business – a billion dollar business to be precise and one that accounts for 85% of all movies released on the sub-continent. Output is phenomenal with 1,827 movies in 10 languages made in 2015 – that’s around 35 releases a week. A pretty impressive work ethic by anyone’s standards.

TV vs film

Not all Bollywood films are theatrical releases, some go straight to TV. But in India TV is important – a necessity even – and satellite dishes decorate virtually every home, even in the slums.

So, a straight to TV (or DVD) release doesn’t have the same stigma outside Hollywood. A rapid rise in fast broadband has seen impressive growth in streaming services, such as Netflix India (launched in 2016) and these are supplemented by 100s of TV channels and every conceivable language.

Bollywood secrets

While in Mumbai we were lucky enough to meet Nishant Radhakrishnan, a veteran of the film industry who has worked in the USA and now India. Nishant is best known for his work as an editor for Dhobi Ghat†, Ghajini and Frontline.

He shared his deep love and passion for movies, as well as what makes Bollywood so important to contemporary Indian culture. He explained how each movie functions – Bollywood movies work to a template structure and while there are all the recognisable genres – from romance or comedy to horror and sci-fi – what we in the west don’t recognise is how carefully structured the scripts are.

The nine emotions of Bollywood

Bollywood movies are very different to a western three-act structure film. The plots are based on a traditional myth or fable, with a protagonist vs. antagonist in a battle for good to win over evil.

The protagonist generally represents the anxieties and fears of the era, while the hero echoes the social undercurrent – perhaps someone who is incorruptible. What’s fascinating is that there are nine emotions that flow through the story and these are often represented via dramatic hand gesture and body stance. These are:

  1.      Hasya – humour
  2.      Shringar – love
  3.      Raudram – fury
  4.      Karunyam – compassion
  5.      Bibhatsaam – disgust
  6.      Bhayanakam – fear
  7.      Veeram – heroism
  8.      Adbhutam – surprise
  9.      Shantata – peace

Interestingly, the song and dance set pieces in Bollywood films that have become so famous often have nothing to do with the story – they’re unconnected to the previous or future scene and so often seem to appear totally at random.

Bye bye Disney

Just like Leonardo di Caprio or Jennifer Lawrence, Bollywood stars, such as Hritik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan are demi-gods who stop traffic wherever they go and guarantee the success of a film.

However, while Bollywood stars are paid considerably over the odds compared to the rest of the population, the salaries don’t compete with Hollywood, particularly as the average production budget is a modest 70 to 80 Indian crore (around £9 million).

The Indian film industry has some serious dominance – Bollywood is so powerful that even giants like Disney have pulled out of the country because it can’t compete. By contrast, independent films account for only 15% of cinema going.

There are plenty of lessons to learn from this colourful and sometimes controversial industry, from the importance of cultural tradition in the modern world, to the way that Indians get things done, regardless of budget or resource.

Already one of India’s most famous exports, Bollywood has a lot to offer in terms of insight into a fascinating culture, its traditions and its modern day hopes and fears.

And as a creative industry, with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the future, its progress will be fascinating to watch.

Mark Terry-Lush