Bollywood VS Hollywood

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While in India, talking to filmmakers and stars, I realized that Bollywood as an industry was completely different from Hollywood. Since then, having done more research on it here are somethings I realized.

Every story has been formed by a person, a person definitely belonging to a religion which has in many ways defined his story. One of my greatest findings has been that the stories or plots of Hollywood films are heavily based on redemption as Lisa Dethridge mentions in her book – ‘How to write a screenplay’. But where does the concept of redemption come from? Christianity. But if that theory is true, what would Bollywood films be based on? I believe that Bollywood stories come from the concept of Karma which comes from the Hindu religion. This makes the plots of both industries completely different.

India is a country of poverty, illiteracy and abundance of population, where the earning is limited, the infrastructure on the rise but still poor, and Indian have a hard life. The last thing they want is a serious movie outlining hardships without a way to overcome it. What is welcome instead is the dance, the music, the emotion filled drama the plots have to offer and magnificent international backdrops that most Indians will never see in reality. They need an escape and Bollywood is the industry that provides it. Where most Hollywood films are like short stories, Indian films are like novels that have a lot of characters, a theme that envolves generations and lifetimes, many incidents all coming together to form one heck of a story. That is why we call Bollywood Cinema an escapist cinema.

Shantanu Gupta, a famous Indian screenwriter said, “Hollywood films can sustain interest, or can interest their audience with one track. You can have a bomb in a bus, a girl driving the bus, and a man whose sole mission is to save the bus driver and passengers. That is all! This is the whole film. We can’t do a film like that. I wish we could – it’s so straightforward! It can be only one scene in a Hindi film, like the climax. It cannot be the whole film.”

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The plot of Bollywood films generally revolve around relationships and the emotions of the people involved. There are a lot of Indian films which are said to be rip offs of Hollywood films, but there is always a difference. This difference is what makes them Indian. Culturally, we are a very different community and emotions dictate everything. It is common for large families to live together, and the break up into nuclear families does not come without the emotional blackmail from the older parents! Strong, intense relationships make our backdrop and that is the way we have grown. We like our emotions and we like them in our films, so a Hollywood movie with emotions turned up super high makes a Bollywood movie.

As I mentioned before Karma, from our mythology plays a great role here. If someone dies, he deserves to die. If someone kills, it is because he has a very good reason to kill. Generally an emotional one, not like James Bond!

Our characters have several high and low points throughout the film, distinguishing it from Hollywood’s mid to low to rock bottom to soaring high. Our plots are multi-linear in nature. Our characters do not have ordinary routines, they have sacrifices, consequences, relationships, moral conflicts and what not, making most films an epic story. We are said to follow a four act structure as compared to Hollywood’s three act structure, and due to the length of our films and amount of drama, an intermission divides the film into half. This half point generally has a lot of drama or suspense attached to it, like the end of a great chapter in a great novel, you have to read on! Or in this case, get some popcorn, cause shit is going to hit the fan!

Song and dance according to Vivek Agnihotri, are a tool used to cause interruptions in the plot while enhancing it and providing a more delay in the development of the plot. That is interesting, as the suspense is being drawn out. Another very interesting thing he pointed out was that the audience actually like the length of the films because they paid money to come relax and make a day of film watching. With limited funds, the drawn out film feels like a better reason to have spent the money. We enjoy them long. It is our escape from reality.

Other stark differences include funding. The concept of crowd-sourcing is still unheard of in India. Most films are funded by rich individuals or the underworld (I heard this from a film director in India!!). Bollywood is in every way very different from Hollywood and I find these differences alluring. I would like to be part of both industries during my career trajectory and hope to keep digging up more.

References:

Ganti, T, 2004. Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. 1st ed. UK: Psychology Press.

The Prayas Challenge

IMG_0579Prayas is an NGO based in India, for children. They work with children who have been in various bad situations, like child labour, sex trafficking, homelessness, etc. saving them from it and giving them an opportunity to grow within a safe community and achieve their dreams. Through various drives, they save these children and bring them back to the various homes around various cities in India and provide them with food, shelter, care, medical needs and skill developing education.

During my trip to New Delhi with RMIT, I got the amazing opportunity to work with Prayas in order to make a video to spread awareness about children who were under their care and had been saved from sex trafficking. I chose this particular topic because as of this year, according to census, Delhi is one of the largest hubs for child prostitution and trafficking. This is because of the high demand of children for domestic labour in Delhi which leaves a lot of them in the clutches of people who sell them into the market. Being an upcoming issue, I wanted to help in every way possible. This video is meant to spread awareness in Melbourne and is hence, tailored to cater the market here and not the very different audience present in India. The idea is to generate help and volunteers from developed countries who are in a much better position to help us overcome this problem we are facing today.

Working on this project, I had to make sure that I was suiting not only the Australian audience with their cultural sensitivities but also the needs and cultural background of my Indian clients. Initially this proved to be a difficult task when I gave it thought, but discussion with the client made the issue much easier to deal with and solve. I have discussed the differences in culture in another article and just lightly touch on my decisions to overcome these for my project here.

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Indians love long videos, the idea of a short documentary, only 2 minutes is quite difficult for them to understand. What’s the point, why not make it longer, more detailed? The point here though was that my audience belongs to a community which strives on short videos today. The shorter the better. No one really has time to watch a forty minute video talking about the hardships faced in another country anymore. Discussing this, we decided on a short length, longer than my suggested 1 minute, but we put a full stop at 3 minutes.

To preserve both cultural sensitivity as well as further exploitation of the victims, we decided against using any faces in the video and hence all shots were captured keeping that in mind at all times. Use of imagery collected from around India, bluish cold colour and sad music hint at the story behind this poetic documentary.

Even the audio collected has been through volunteers, repeating what the children told us as they were very intimidated by the camera and microphones, which we decided against using then. I am now sending my film to the clients and await further feedback. While editing the film though I kept thinking of everything I have learnt from that trip and have been thinking a lot about these differences we have in culture…

Emotional Attyachar in Delhi

Delhi

It was a cold day when we landed in Delhi, and it was the day the emotions began to run high. Before I even got home, I found out that Nina’s bag had been opened at the airport and some lenses taken out. After a long trying day, she got them back but that was just the start. The trip saw almost everyone coming down with Delhi Belly, being homesick, Nick, Kajeera and Rebecca lost their cameras in an auto, Nick fell ill on his first LIIT and Shakun had her camera stolen. All of this in the space of five days! What was I doing? Helping! It was my hometown after all and I felt it was my duty to take care of everyone.

Though a lot of unfortunate events took place, it came with it’s good times. The city was different from what we had experienced in Mumbai. Gone were the locals asking for photos only to be replaced with stares from a distance, which wasn’t half as bad. It makes me wonder though. Mumbai is the fastest city in India. Close to Goa and home to Bollywood and the slums, it is a hub for international tourists, but Delhiites just handle being around tourists so much better. They were smarter too though. Gone were the nice, fair taxi men, only to be replaced by everyone trying to overcharge everyone. At one point, I was ready to shoot myself. Having said that, we Delhiites take hospitality very seriously and that is what my Australian friends found here. Whatever the problem, everyone wanted to help in every way possible. It was shocking really to see how much time one was willing to spare just to help. Big cultural difference right there!

Delhi, as Shakun so rightly described it is a monument, not just a city of monuments. With so much culture and history in one city, we were transported back in time as we roamed the streets and enjoys cold beers on spacious rooftop bars. Laid back and the city of the elite is how I have always thought of Delhi.

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Here, we met students of VIPS, a media institute in Delhi. They were studying film and photography like us. What surprised me was that it was very different, the way we thought and went about the process of filming. While our course has always given us the creative freedom to do as we please and find our own style, the same was not true for them. They were taught rules and theories and were asked to function in a certain manner. The other thing was the lack of foresight. They did not think planning and pre-production to be as important as the production at all, which was where we had major problems later on, when we could not get enough footage. But, I noticed that Bollywood functions in a very similar way.

The thing about these students though was that they were the most accommodating people I have ever known and were very good with their technical knowledge. They were good at figuring things out, finding easy solutions or what we call in Hindi ‘Jugaad’. They were much better at the camerawork than me, and always took the lead on helping everyone through everything. They were shy at the start but we all warmed up to each other very quickly and it was tremendous fun working together. I personally felt like I had the best of both worlds.

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The project I ended up working on, in India was on Prayas, a juvenile childrens’ NGO. The topic I chose was based on sex trafficking amongst the children and how Prayas was working to save them. This was another emotional journey we all went through together. It was hard. As I have mentioned before, being an Indian, I never paid any attention to the street children and on occasion have even been rude to them sadly. This trip, this project, being around friends who saw it differently, I was pulled under. I had to rethink everything I thought I had known in the past and I cried. I cried for them and I cried for me, the person I had been. It is crazy how much can change with a little change of perspective. Prayas was life changing, and I want to help change their lives…

Mumbai Madness

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“Mumbai is a city of extremes” Danny Boyle, Director of Slumdog Millionaire.

Our great whirlwind of a trip to India started in the city of Mumbai. As Danny Boyle describes it perfectly, that’s exactly what Mumbai was. Extremes of all kinds, the city we couldn’t have possibly conquered in the mere six days we were there. It was an experience which blew by us and now four months later, we are still trying to get our wits about what happened there, something we can’t put a finger on but something that seems to have changed our lives forever.

It started of easy enough, as I came out of the airport into the sweltering heat that was Mumbai even in what should have been the throes of winter. The smell of the ocean and fish hit my senses and sound of traffic opened my flight ears and I knew I was far away from home. The first day at the hotel, we met the first famous Bollywood personalities, Vipin Sharma and Surendra Hiwarale. Being from India, I was fast to recognize Vipin Sharma from his award winning role in Taare Zameen Par. What I didn’t expect was that both these famous personalities had come to meet us but were not prepared at all. Having just gotten off the flight we didn’t have any questions to ask them and most students being from Australia, had no clue who they were. Being jet lagged, the rest of the day was spent observing the Indian wedding in the hotel from the safety of the magnificent bedrooms.

The next day started out with us being fresher as we headed to meet a Bollywood icon. Having grown up on films of his, I was expecting to be welcome with his trademark line. Prem naam hai mera, Prem Chopra! I was happily starstruck as we had a little chat with him. It was interesting as we learnt from him about cinema as it started years and years ago and how it had evolved to what we see today in Bollywood, and at the same time told him about the internet and the concept of web series and marketing online. He too was flabbergasted by the vastness of something he had never experienced before and happily joked with us about making an online blockbuster for his next film. We spent little time with him before heading out for our first bout of sight seeing.

Prem Chopra

That is when it really hit us. Shit got real! The disparity between the rich and poor. Being from India, I had always been around it but all of a sudden, being with people who were seeing it for the first time, I saw it all with new eyes. How had I for so many year passed by these streets, these children and never really looked at them? Were we so accustomed to it that we had learnt to build up a wall unconsciously? Were we really so vicious that we lived day in and day out around this horrid truth, but chose to ignore it or when spoken about, dismiss it as though it was a pain in our ass?

These questions were hard to answer for myself and I have since spent many sleepless nights thinking of who I am and what I really want to do. Can I make a difference? But these thoughts and these answers are for another day.

We explored Gateway of India and the market around it, getting a large Indian lunch to keep us sane in the heat. Another thing that is extreme in Mumbai is the colours. Everyone dresses like they were born to grace the sun with their bright colours, like flowers in the blue, blooming away. It was another thing I seemed to notice for the first time, funny. It got me so excited that I ended up buying a whole bunch of bindis that came in every colour and put peacocks to shame. The downside, we hit traffic hour on the way back to the hotel and I can promise that two hours or more like a thousand hours in a non-moving car is not a fun way to spend your evening.

Tired, our feet dragging, we climbed the nasty steps, cursing all the way up as we went to meet Vivek Agnihotri, a famous Indian filmmaker at his apartment studio. We were not disappointed, as a matter of fact it was quite the mind simulating evening as Olivia finally showed up and disappeared with his crew! He talked to us and was inspirational, really got me going. I was so happy to be there. The only weird thing or two from that evening, when he told us to keep multiple partners to be good filmmakers (more characters, duh!) and when Kaitlyn jumped on his bed and asked if this was for casting couch!!!! There was no way we were getting anymore done that evening, and bed time it was.

The next morning saw another long drive to Mudd island as low and behold! we arrived at the oldest TV series of India’s set – CID…dun dun dun. The island was beautiful, the beach  made me want to forget everything, pop my sunglasses on and lie down on a colourful towel, soaking in some tan (like I need any). The set itself was pretty darn awesome and I am a fan of CID not because I find it funny (which I do) but because they are very progressive. Daya, darwaza todo! Did you know they are the only show in India that has one episode shot in one take. Also every episode is written, filmed and edited, ready to be aired in 24 hours!

CID

Day four was spent with Ashok Purang, his crew of actors and Imanulhaq. We learnt more about Bollywood, watched their performances and got an insight into directing actors, which to me was very helpful as I would like to be a director someday and was awed by how Ashok was able to pull the emotions out of these young actors. Our very own, Kaitlyn also gave a performance to die for and I was amazed.

The next day was probably my favourite and worse day as we met the icon, Anupam Kher though I did not have enough time to ask him everything I was dying to know and then headed for a Bollywood dance class. Longinus Fernandes, the choreographer of Slumdog Millionaire, taught us different forms of Bollywood dance. I was amazed because I had never felt so sexy in my life! I could not believe it but me, Prachi, I had moves!! In the process of shaking that thang, I learnt a lot about how I would film a dance sequence and how I would direct my dancers according to my camera. It’s what came after that killed the beautiful day for me….Comedy Nights. OMG!!! They were not funny, the actors were drunk, it was a flop show and I was embarrassed to be treating my Australian friends to the best rated comedy in India! We decided never to speak of that night ever ever again….

Anupam

But sadly enough, that brought an end to our time in Mumbai. It really had flown!! We packed our bags, bid goodbye to the heat and the sea and jumped on a plane bound to New Delhi, my home! Never could I have guessed the emotional roller coaster I had just gotten sucked into…