Mumbai is the center of India's huge Hindi film industry, producing 120 feature
films a year. Much of the glamour associated with the city stems from its
celebrated position as the dream-factory of the nation.
The local film industry is known as Bollywood. It's a ragtag speculative
trade, flush with black money and low on innovation. The films it produces tend
to be spectacular melodramatic fantasies. They are known disparagingly as 'masala
movies' because they are made to an established formula that mixes a variety of
ingredients - action, violence, music, dance, romance and moralizing - into one
While plenty of thought- provoking 'artistic' Indian films are appreciated in
the west, masala movies are largely viewed with contempt. It's not hard to
figure out why. Stock characters, exaggerated acting, self-conscious editing,
implausible, narratives and heroines who burst into song every five minutes are
just the beginning of a long list of unlikely features that you are going to
have to accept at face value if you want to enjoy a Bollywood flick.
Despite being dismissed as escapist claptrap, plenty of masala movies get
their narrative drive from social issues like communalism, ethnicity and caste.
Many also address the effects of modernization and urbanization on traditional Indian
institutes such as the family and marriage.
As you'd expect from any vibrant cultural form, masala movies are a
reflection of India's social and political milieu. This doesn't diminish
their appeal or (thank goodness) unduly imbue them with profundity, but
it does mean they have an astonishingly direct feed into the lives of
their audiences that outsiders may find hard to fathom. On the
surface it may be Rambo, Romeo and Robin Hood, but the subtext is likely
to be the Mahabharata, dharma, and social justice. In this context , it's
not surprising that masala movies have been one of the most potent forces
shaping Indian ideas of nationhood.
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