Books, Bollywood and Boogeying on Down: A Beginner's Guide to Bollywood

Published on: 12 September 2022 Author: Puneet Bhandal

Author of Bollywood Academy: Starlet Rivals Puneet Bhandal knows all about soaking up escapist joy from books and films. Bollywood films are particularly entertaining, and here Puneet shares her thoughts on how to truly appreciate them.

So you’ve read that amazing book set in India and are now fascinated by the culture, couture and cuisine described. Watching a Bollywood film will take you one step closer to the colourful country, right?

Here are some things you need to know about the magical movies made in Mumbai:

  • Bollywood films are made in Hindi, India’s national language and a direct descendant of Sanskrit – one of the oldest languages in the world. Even with 22 recognised languages in India and a dozen or so film industries, Hindi films remain the most popular no matter which Indian state you are in. They are also avidly watched in countless countries around the world, including Germany, Morocco and China.
  • India doesn’t have a Royal family – Bollywood stars are the closest you get to royalty. Their every move is closely followed by millions of people and they’re accustomed to having crowds of fans standing outside their homes day in, day out. The country has 1.4 billion people so it’s no surprise that a top star like Alia Bhatt has 70 million Instagram followers.
  • While you do find movies in different genres, most Hindi films are ‘masala’ movies, meaning they contain a little pinch of everything: emotion, drama, comedy, song, dance, romance, unrequited love, a villain and usually a very happy ending.
  • You’ll need to set aside the best part of three hours to watch a complete Bollywood flick. It’s a perfect dose of escapism for the majority of fans and since ticket prices are high at approximately £2 in relation to the average daily wage of £3.72, the public expects a whole lot of variety and entertainment for their hard-earned money. 
  • Don’t expect all the scenes in the film to make sense. A song sequence can start in India, move to Switzerland and end in front of the pyramids of Egypt. Of course, it doesn’t follow that the characters in the movie are actually going to these places in the film. It’s just for the vibe and Bolly lovers don’t even think about questioning it.
  • The same logic applies to the fight scenes: it’s fine if the hero runs across a moving train, jumps onto the tracks to fight 20 baddies and still makes it home in time for samosas and tea, unscathed.
  • Being OTT is the name of the game. There is no holding back when it comes to costumes, acting, background music or anything else. Everything is overdone. The louder, the better.
  • There is no such thing as ‘Bollywood dancing’. The dances in the films are inspired by a variety of dance forms, including classical Indian styles like Bharatanatyam and kathak. Much Bollywood dancing incorporates some of the classical, traditional elements from these styles and merges them with others. You might be amazed at all the modern, contemporary moves you’ll come across, including hip hop, disco, salsa and funk.
  • You may also be awestruck at the singing talent of the heroes and heroines in Indian movies, but don’t be! The songs are sung by playback singers – who are often celebrities in their own right. Strangely though, a large portion of the credit for a song’s success goes to the actors who are just miming them on screen.
  • While Bollywood film actresses often wear backless, cropped blouses and sheer sarees, India is by and large a conservative country and modest clothing is the norm for the majority of females. Much of this is dependent on the region in question and whether you live in a rural village, a town or big city. The big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad are much more cosmopolitan.
  • Across India, especially in the smaller towns and villages, the audience will excitedly throw coins at the screen when a hit song comes on or when the hero or heroine appears for the first time. Best to leave the coin-throwing bit out at home though if you don’t want to damage your screen!
  • Curious to know why some of the stars you see in Bollywood movies resemble each other or have the same surnames? It could be that they’re closely related. Nepotism is the name of the game here – star kids rule the roost, often getting the best pick of the biggest budget movies just because their famous parents have the best connections. Read all about this in the first Bollywood Academy book: Starlet Rivals!
  • Finally, yes – you can get up to dance when the songs come on. In fact, you SHOULD. Get the maximum dose of entertainment, escapism and enjoyment out of your experience. Jai ho!

Read our review of Starlet Rivals.

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