One day last week I was working in a Starbucks, and — as has happened more than once before — the person sitting next to me noticed the work I was doing and engaged me in conversation about movies. The guy turned out to be Indian, and we ended up talking about how missing from the radar Bollywood movies are in the U.S.: they’re certainly not marketed to non-Indian audiences at all, and he agreed that he hardly ever saw non-Indians at showings of Bollywood movies in New York.
And coincidentally, we have a new Bollywood phenomenon: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which was not just the top limited release in the U.K. last weekend but also the No. 5 movie overall. It was the No. 15 movie in the U.S. last weekend, with one of the best per-screen averages of the weekend: $10,985 on each of 83 screens, which is better that all the 14 movies above it in the ranking except Slumdog Millionaire (also, coincidentally, an Indian-themed movie, though not a product of Bollywood).
Like most Bollywood movies, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (RNBDJ) has hardly been reviewed in Britain. Reviews in the Indian media have been average. It is striking, then, that the average rating given to it by female reviewers on IMDb is 10 out of 10.
The critics have missed a treat. RNBDJ is a remarkable movie: not just for its great charm and warmth, but also for its clever twist on sexual politics. The plot is something like Dirty Dancing, with the gender roles reversed. It’s the resolute female lead who lives her life behind a tough, unemotional shell, and the shy male lead who gets a makeover and learns how to dance.
If Hollywood wants to lure women back to the box office, perhaps it should check out why Indian women go in droves to see films like Dostana or RNBDJ. If you’re looking for something sweet, engaging and uplifting over the holidays, you could do worse than check them out, too.
The Indian guy I met at Starbucks wondered if I cover any Bollywood movies, and I had to admit that I generally can’t manage it: without press screenings, without even notice of and information about these films from publicists, I never even hear about them, never mind actually having time to squeeze them in. But I’m more intrigued all the time by them… especially by the prospect of one movie my Starbucks companion told me about: Roadside Romeo, an animated film that’s a joint production of Bollywood and Walt Disney. Not necessarily the movie itself, though it looks cute, but the idea of more joint productions of Hollywood and Bollywood. It looks like Romeo got a limited release in the U.S. in October, but I’d never even heard of it before last week. (And hey, I never had a chance to see Dostana, which was a hit in limited release last month.)
I’m very intrigued by the increasingly global nature of film production and film audiences, and I’m gonna starting keeping an eye — if I can find the info to do so — on Bollywood movies in the U.S. I’m starting by ordering some DVDs of Bollywood movies (two that von Tunzelmann mentioned at the Guardian sound interesting: Veer-Zaara and Fanaa), and see where I can take it from there.