My very first experience watching Bollywood was unorthodox to say the least. In 2008, there was an air of optimism and hope for more reasons than one. The only thing I was concerned with at the time was the release of “The Cheetah Girls: One World.”

If you told the 11-year-old version of me that I would be as obsessed with Indian cinema as I am now, then I am not too sure I would believe you. The girl-powered musical was far from the true essence of Bollywood films, but it was enough to pique my interest; not to mention, the compositions and choreography were, arguably, up to snuff.

However, there is far much more to Bollywood than meets the eye.

The term Bollywood was coined in the 1970s. The play on words refers to the combination of Hollywood and Bombay (now known as Mumbai), which is the location where most Bollywood films are created. One of the first films on the scene was produced by Dadasaheb Phalke, who created a silent film featuring men in both female and male acting roles.

Bollywood is continuously growing, with over 800 films produced annually. While the market is still not as profitable as Hollywood, the Indian film industry supplies triple the amount of movies Hollywood does.

Maybe you are thinking about diving into the colorful realm of Bollywood movies. It can be intimidating to embrace a different culture, but anyone can enjoy the content with an open mind and a little prior knowledge about what awaits them on the screen.

Common Elements of Bollywood Film

Not every Bollywood film is going to be the exact same, but there are some traditional aspects that most films will include. One of the most prominent characteristics of any Bollywood film is the grandeur of costumes and props. The movies are meant to enthrall viewers with the vibrant colors and intricate jewels. Most women will wear traditional saris depending upon the production, some weighing more than 60 pounds.

You know you are watching a Bollywood film when there is music and a dance break. Many Bollywood movies have a minimum of four to five songs in a single film. What most people do not know is the songs are prerecorded. Playback singers are responsible for singing the compositions, and the actors lip-sync the lyrics during production.

In rare cases, stars such as Priyanka Chopra (Thamizhan) have recorded songs using their own voices. The choreography of Bollywood varies on each production, but there are numerous styles of dance that often tell different stories through symbolism.

Another element of Bollywood is masala, which is both a mixture of spice and one of the most popular categories of Indian cinema. It refers to movies with multiple genres, capturing larger audiences in the process; these films could include romance, action, comedy and potentially tons of melodrama. Spectacles like the film “Chennai Express” feed everyone’s interest by providing different dimensions to the story, without overwhelming the audience.

The central focus of most Bollywood films is love. Often, the plot will contain a budding romance between a man and woman who cannot be together due to the aristocratic values of one family or tension between regions (India and Pakistan). On the other hand, some films will focus on the love of family and what one character will do to reunite with their loved ones. In family-focused films, the main character always prioritizes the family ahead of all else.

The film industry in India recognizes Bollywood as an escape from day-to-day life for its viewers. A large part of this ideology is reflected through the creator’s storytelling. A Bollywood film almost always has a happy ending. The characters fall in love, restore their family’s honor or bring pride to their nation. The movie will sometimes end similarly to telenovelas, with a traditional Indian wedding or with a reunion between the characters. It is a rare occasion that the mission of the character goes unresolved.

Cultural Differences

There are many traditions, beliefs and practices of the Indian culture depicted within Bollywood films. Some may provide a culture shock, but it is important to respect and embrace the differences rather than completely dismiss them. While there is a developmental shift of current Bollywood movies, it was standard for most films not to include sexual scenes, obscenity or extreme violence. These practices were a result of censorship in India under the British Crown.

In fact, many of the films will represent the political tensions of the British Raj era. India gained independence in 1947, but the rebellion continues to be a large factor of some Bollywood movies.

Another major difference in Bollywood movies are the run times of each film. The average duration of one movie is 3 hours, which is split up with one or two intermissions in Indian theaters. One half of the movie is dedicated to laying the foundation of the film. The middle is typically the part where most of the singing and dancing will occur, and the last section of the movie is the resolution of all the character’s conflicts.

Movie Recommendations to Begin With

Now that you are updated with all you need to know about Bollywood films. Here are a few recommendations to look into:

— “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” (1955)

“The Brave Hearted Will Take The Bride” is one of the biggest films of Bollywood, which continues to run in Indian theaters. The film tells the story of two characters, Raj and Simran, who meet each other on a vacation in Europe. Although Simran is expected to marry someone else and their families are set against them, the two characters fall in love.

— “Bajirao Mastani” (2015)

“Bajirao Mastani” is a historical romance about a warrior princess who captures the eye of Peshwa Bajirao. There is an instant connection between the two, but Peshwa has already taken a bride. Mastani must fight for her place alongside the Peshwa despite all of the rising conflicts of his loyalty to his wife, his family and his empire.

— “Veer-Zaara” (2004)

A forbidden love between a Pakastani women and a Hindu man is put to the ultimate test when Veer rescues Zaara from an unfortunate accident. The two know better than to fall for one another, especially since Zaara has been arranged to marry someone else.

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