What Bollywood Means to Me

My favorite movie, and by favorite I mean I have watched it with alarming frequency for the past 10+ years or so, to the point where the DVD is worn out and skips scenes, is Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (KKHH). For those of you who have not witnessed this cinematic masterpiece, it’s essentially a story about how a side chick becomes the main chick and features the undeniable chemistry between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol (I refuse to believe that they are married to Gauri and Ajay, respectively).

KKHH was where my Bollywood obsession started. It began as a love for the dramatic storylines, the outfits, the item songs. Over the years, however, it’s become more than that. 

My friends have fond childhood memories of watching Disney movies or Nickelodeon. Their ideas of romance and love were framed by Cinderella and Snow White, Jasmine and Sleeping Beauty. My dream romantic scenario will always be the in-the-rain, pagoda, dance-with-n0-music scene from KKHH where you’re desperately waiting for Kajol and Shah Rukh to passionately kiss (of course, they never do. This is 90s Bollywood people, you’re going to have to settle for an enthusiastic and prolonged hug).

Celebrity-crush wise, I’ve had a low-key obsession with Hrithik Roshan ever since I saw Dhoom 2. It was the dance moves that got me, but the 6 pack that looked like it was carved by the gods themselves didn’t hurt either. My love only wavered slightly when I found out about his extra thumb, but I’m confident I will be able to overcome it. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated in this trying time.

But one of the key features of my love for Bollywood was the fact that the films, no matter how silly and drawn out they might be, were filled with people that looked like me. Albeit way more attractive, but still, they looked a lot more like me than Angelina Jolie or Blake Lively ever would. They spoke like my parents, they ate the same food, they could have been my distant relatives.

I know that Bollywood is problematic. It upholds colourism and is extremely sexist, reflecting the still apparent backwards attitudes of a supposedly “modern” India. But nothing these days is without its flaws, and I can appreciate these imperfect works for what they are.

While Bollywood is my form of “representation” it’s also a direct line to my culture, and one area where I don’t feel “too American”. I may not speak Hindi, and I can’t make biryani, but I can break down the Roshan-Ranaut drama with the best of them. When I’m watching a Bollywood film, my competing identities somehow come together. Yes, I need subtitles, but I appreciate these films and the culture that surrounds them wholeheartedly. And when life becomes stressful, as it does when you’re a culturally confused 20 something college student with the weight of her future on her shoulders, I know I can always disappear into the fantasy world of Bollywood, multiple outfit change item songs and all.

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