[Post originally written March 9, 2009, revised now and then, revised more significantly in November 2009.]
This is a blog mostly devoted to my passion for Indian films with a style most commonly known as “Bollywood.” Technically speaking, though, ”Bollywood” refers to the Hindi film industry, while I might also sometimes focus on Tamil films, Telugu films, Malayalam films, Punjabi films, Urdu films, and any other cinema that follows the same general traditions, which include a lot of great music and dance.
I’m also focusing on music and dance all by itself. Sometimes, I might go outside of the films to post about cultural events – especially dance events – that happen on a live stage or in some festival on the street. I am particularly fond of bharatanatyam, so I’m most likely to post about a bharatanatyam event. But I love all Indian classical dance, a lot of Indian folk dance, and some more modern dances I see coming from that area of the world. I suppose that I’ll tend to go for traditional or semi-traditional dances that most people these days would consider to be respectable, though some of that dancing certainly wasn’t considered so 75 or 100 years ago. However, I’m not averse to posting something that might not fit such criteria, either. So, don’t be surprised if I post a clip of a contemporary Pakistani stage mujra (which I have been doing now and then since this blog’s infancy) or some techno-fusion kind of number that classical enthusiasts will look down upon. It’s all good – as long as I like it, for whatever reason.
I am not, myself, Indian or anything related to that in background. I was born and raised in The Bronx, New York , U.S.A., and my own ancestral roots are Ukrainian and Russian and “Jewish.” I don’t feel all that much connection to that ancestral background, though. My parental family never adhered much to those traditions, and I grew up hearing all different kinds of music and eating all different kinds of food. (I was for a long time a “latchkey” child with two working parents, so much of that food was “takeout” also, which included food from China, Italy, and India.) I have never followed any religion, either, and I consider myself agnostic. (Some would call me atheist, but I do think there may be things above and beyond what we can know from our limited human perceptions, even with all the science that we’ve mastered. Plus, there’s something to be said for the philosophical approaches that have often come from people with a “spiritual” outlook, as opposed especially to the more vulgar materialism that is so often emphasized in our world. There’s more that I could say about all that, but maybe at another time, probably in another place.)
I am not going to say that I watched all kinds of movies, because movies in general didn’t even become big in my life until the last couple of years. I didn’t really care about movies that much until I became preoccupied with Bollywood and Kollywood movies, well into my 40s. When I started seeing those movies, I fell in love with them.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve had this love affair with these movies for only a couple of years now… I did acquire affinities for the music and dance for quite a while further back, and I was aware of some old Indian film scenes. But even when I started this blog, I was not yet totally devoted to these movies (and would not be for another few months). Originally, this was a blog devoted to global music, often electronica, with emphasis on artists such as Cheb i Sabbah and M.I.A. You can see that there is some connection between those artists and my affinity with Indian movies and filmi music, and it’s not hard to figure out how those electronic musicians helped to push me in this direction. However, it has been quite a leap from those origins to where the blog is now. (I have even thought of erasing most of the earlier blog posts to make this blog more consistent, but I am still not entirely decided about that.)
As a lot of people might notice, most of my posts about Indian movies cover movies from the Golden Age and maybe slightly earlier - mainly, from the early 1940s to the early 1960s. That is because I truly love the films from that era, above everything else.
Once in a while, though, I will talk about a movie from more recent times. I’m actually more likely to talk about a (more) recent Tamil movie than a Bollywood one, probably because the Tamil movies have tended to retain more of the traditional music and dance that I came to love so much in the older Indian films. In any event, whatever the explanation, my choices are going to be obviously arbitrary, guided by my own particular tastes, which some people, admittedly, might find a bit strange.
I’m also going to be talking about political matters occasionally, especially when I can connect to politics through the music and films. Probably, one of the reasons I like ’40s and ’50s Indian movies so much is because they are often very political, and I can agree with much of their politics.
I’ve done political blogging before, but part of the reason I started this blog was because I wanted to do something different, and it provided a welcome break for me. I haven’t written too much in the way of direct political discussion here, and I don’t plan to. However, it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out some of my political outlook based on what I’m writing here. (I won’t go into that in as much detail as I have in past versions of the “About” page, since I really want to keep the focus here now on old Indian movies and not get bogged down in tangential debates. But lets say that I am out there on the left, with an especially strong concern about “bread and butter” (or “roti and ghee”?) kinds of struggles, and always (I hope) with a strong emphasis on (real) democracy and equality.)
At the time that I am writing (and revising) this “About” page, I myself am suffering from some of the consequences of recent social events happening here in the U.S. as well as globally. We are in an economic crisis that is not going to end anytime soon, especially not for regular people who have to struggle to make ends meet. Despite the myths that we’ve been bombarded with here in the U.S., especially through our mass media and popular culture, there are huge class differences (even here – and much more so here than in places like Western Europe), and life for many people is a major struggle, indeed. In many old Indian films, you can find a great awareness about the major struggle that many people must go through (as many people in India did have to struggle, indeed, at the time that these films were made), and you often will see attempts to deal with that struggle in a social, collective kind of way. There also is a strong recognition that people aren’t always the masters of their own destiny, and therefore should receive some sympathy, rather than blame, for their misfortunes. (While some people might complain about seeing too much of the poor=good/rich=bad stereotype, I find that preferable to latter-day “free market” myths through which billionaires are made to look like heroes or saviors.) And I think that some of these attitudes which I’ve found in the old Indian movies have contributed a lot to my fondness for them. Additionally, I appreciate the frequent emphasis on high moral principles. Certainly, there were some major social drawbacks in many of these films back in the day (e.g., some westerners will be bothered or confounded by some of the attitudes toward women), but compared to many of the films from contemporary Hollywood and those industries trying to emulate it (including, unfortunately, a good chunk of contemporary Bollywood), I find much of the social content in these old films to be very refreshing – which is just another reason for me to love them, in addition to the music and dance (as I may have mentioned) and, of course, the beautiful actresses.