An electrifying song-and-dance sequence coupled with an enticing dramatic storyline is what Bollywood is all about. Starting off way back in the 1930s, the Indian film industry blossomed with its biggest success being Bollywood, its Hindi-based industry producing the largest number of films in the Hindi language. Films in Bengali, Tamil (Kollywood) and Telgu (Tollywood) were also produced yet Bollywood was always the frontrunner.
Today, India is considered one of the largest producers of film in the world, releasing 1000 to 2000 films per year in over twenty languages. It’s receiving worldwide recognition in the US and UK. Yet, some of its most devoted fans are Arab audiences. Since the 1960s, Bollywood flicks have been playing on the UAE’s screens. While in Egypt in the 80s and 90s, the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan has been amassing a large Egyptian viewership as they watched him act in classics like Kasme Vaade and Sholay on some of the country’s oldest cinemas like Alexandria’s Strand.
These films have an uncanny appeal and continue to charm and attract Arabs to this day. The Bollywood craze has reached the point where channels like MBC Bollywood have been launched to cater to the booming Arab obsession of Indian cinema and television. With it being World Bollywood Day, to celebrate, let’s take a look at the unique formula of every Bollywood film that makes them so appealing and special among Arabs across the Gulf and in Egypt.
Family & Honor
In the Arab world, family life is an intrinsic essential component of any household. Kids are taught to respect and uphold the values and culture that their parents follow. That is why with many of India’s film productions, Arabs can relate to and appreciate the themes and topics that are explored in Bollywood flicks as they are quite similar to the ones shared among Arab households. A great example would be of the successful 2015 family comedy film Dil Dhadakne Do starring huge stars like Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar and Ranveer Singh.
The story revolves around a dysfunctional wealthy Indian family made up of the father played by Anil Kapoor, the mother played by Shefali Shah and the two siblings, played by Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra. They all come together on a cruise to celebrate their parent’s 30th anniversary with friends and family. Despite it being playful and humorous, the film also touches upon relatable struggles between the parents and their children.
The main lead Kabir played by Ranveer dreams of being a pilot yet is forced to work for his father’s business. He also falls for Farah, a dancer on the ship yet keeps it a secret knowing his parents would not approve of him being with a Muslim who is also considered to be of a lower social status. These sort of themes revolving around marriage and career life that are explored in the film are quite similar to ones faced in Arab households where parents and children at times would clash. Yet, this particular film ends on a positive note as the family of four sit down and have an honest talk showcasing how communication can be a great way to bridge the gap between the two sides.
Arabs love a good drama especially the ones that seem to go on forever. In Egypt alone, during Ramadan, for thirty days families would gather around the television to keep up with the endless escalating events of some of the most shocking shows including 2014’s Segn El Nisaa (Women’s Jail) that explores the tragic lives of a group of incarcerated women.
With Bollywood, the Arab thirst for drama is easily quenched as their movies and shows specialize in placing a large lens on a series of dramatic incidents that extend over many episodes. To get an idea of how Bollywood provides that needed dose of daily drama to Egyptian viewers, we spoke with an avid Bollywood fan who has been watching its films and shows for 7 years now.
Hiba Radi, an Egyptian 54 year old mother of three living in Alexandria’s El Hadara, told us all about what makes Bollywood so addictive. Currently, she is obsessed with an Arabic dubbed series that is being aired on Zee Alwan called Hayat Kalby in Arabic (Kundali Bhagya in Bollywood). With this show, each season can be as long as 170 episodes with a running time of 40 minutes. Yet, Hiba and many other Egyptian viewers have remain devoted and are currently caught up with its fourth ongoing season.
Hiba expressed how her favorite part about the show is how the main couple have been part of a killing spree, murdering several characters. To her, the best scenes are when anyone would find out about the couple’s murderous inclinations. The camera would do a sudden close up of their eyes that would be glaring in shock and the entire scene would be in slow motion for extra dramatic effect. She also loves how many of the characters would die off by either falling off a hill, getting hit by a car or thrown into a river but then a couple of episodes later, miraculously resurrect. She says the drama never stops and she can never guess what will happen next.
Unlike Arab film and television, with Bollywood, it feels like you are getting transported to another world of kaleidoscopic vibrant colors and polished electrifying dance moves all set in a picturesque location. When watching this form of entertainment, it can help Arab viewers to quench their sense of wanderlust and help them escape the daily grind of their day to day lives. That is another way these films are quite appealing.
When watching any Bollywood film, what is great is that viewers do not just get to feel like they are travelling to India. Many feature films are also shot in countries all over the world like 2011’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road trip movie about three childhood friends who reunite and travel through Spain as an alternative to a traditional bachelor party. Viewers get to have a blast as they watch those three friends scuba diving in Costa Brava, slamming tomatoes at each other at the La Tomatina festival and whooshing through the skies of Seville during their first skydiving attempt.
Music is another way that viewers get to escape and forget their troubles. A well-loved film, 2013’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is packed with energetic musical numbers that would get anyone up and off their seats, dancing along with Deepika Padukone and Ranbeer Kapoor especially during the hit crowd pleaser “Badtameez Dil”.
Whether you want to watch something with your family during a relaxing Friday or hit the dance floor with your friends, Bollywood has and will continue be the go-to entertainment for all ages.
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