Hooray For Bollywood

Manu Narayan and Ayesha Dharker and the Cast of "Bombay Dreams," at the Broadway Theatre. CBS/AP

"Bombay Dreams" is like a Bollywood movie, only it's onstage.

The plot: slum boy becomes big star and gets the girl in the end. In other words, it's Bollywood 101 on Broadway.

What is Bollywood? CBS News Correspondent Martha Teichner reports it's Bombay's version of Hollywood, but flashier -- Busby Berkeley meets MTV.

"You can't avoid Bollywood in India," says "Bombay Dreams" star Ayesha
Dharker. "It's like baseball is to you here. It's like cricket in Jamaica.
You know, it's huge."

Bollywood is spectacular song-and-dance numbers, sensual and slithery but with no actual sex on the screen -- not even kissing. Bollywood is sappy
love stories with lots of twists, but happy endings practically guaranteed.
It's a film formula that, at its worst, is a bizarre cliché with scenes
like one where gangsters do a Michael Jackson impersonation.

But at its best, it's masala, a spicy, irresistible mixture that a billion
Indian moviegoers, even the poorest, are addicted to.

"Sometimes it's a matter of either buying some food or going to the
cinema, and many times a decision would be going to the cinema," says
photographer Jonathan Torgovnik, who also published "Bollywood Dreams."

"One of my best experiences I had on this project was actually finding these
touring cinemas, which is basically an old truck that brings cinema to the
people. And they camp, setting up a big circus tent, so they can show the
films. Sometimes you'll have 1,000 people sitting on the ground watching the film. People will walk 10 to 15 kilometers, just because they heard that the touring cinema has arrived. I call it the vehicle of dreams."

Admission to see a film is 10 rupees -- 25 to 30 cents. Whether it's in one
of the last remaining "touring talkies," or in one of 13,000 actual movie
theaters, Indians will sit through films that last three to four hours, cheering the heroes and booing the villains.

The Indian film industry is the biggest in the world. Hollywood releases
approximately 450 movies a year. India releases nearly 1,200.

Yes, more people see Bollywood films than Hollywood films.

No matter how lavish Bollywood pictures look, by Hollywood standards,
they're cheap to produce -- usually around $4 million. The most expensive
Bollywood extravaganza ever made, "Devdas," cost just over $10 million.

"In Hollywood, it would be $50-$60 million [to make]," says Indian-born
filmmaker Ismail Merchant, of Merchant Ivory Productions.

Merchant says a Bollywood star, male or female, typically makes a couple of million of dollars for a film. If they were Hollywood stars, they would
make $6 million to $10 million.

"The adoration of the stars was a very important element, which I tried to
document in my project," says photographer Jonathan Torgovnik.

Being the object of that kind of adoration is something Bollywood superstar
Shah Rukh Kahn regards as a responsibility.

"When I do my film, as an actor, to me it's very important that the guy
who's not eating his food today to watch my film feels well-fed," says Khan.
"I need to make sure that whatever language I speak in, even if I don't know
the language this film is going to be watched in, we have 300 languages in
our country, people understand what I'm trying to say. It does get a little
over the top at times."

As for the Bollywood dancing and singing, Khan says, "Tom Cruise, Johnny
Depp, they can't touch this. I mean it's really difficult to start
dancing."

In India, Khan is mobbed every time he appears in public.

"Cinema is the only mode of entertainment in India," says Khan. "There's no
skiing, no bowling, there's no car racing, there're no Ferraris. Indian
cinema is a religion and we are the gods of that religion."

Even in New York City, Kahn is recognized.

Shah Rukh Khan was in New York last summer shooting "Kal Ho Naa Ho," which, in Hindi, means "Tomorrow May Not Come." The movie is about a man dying of heart disease, who brings love to those around him. It's turned out to be the Bollywood hit of the year.

There are nearly 2 million Indians in the United States, more than a quarter
of a million in New York City alone. With DVDs subtitled in half a dozen languages, Indian filmmakers have found a lucrative new market -- fans of both Hollywood and Bollywood.

In 2002, a Bollywood film called "Lagaan," was nominated for an Oscar. "Bend it Like Beckham" and "Monsoon Wedding" are non-Bollywood, English-language films about Indians that did very well at the box office in the United States. These successes are encouraging to Indian filmmakers like Karan Johar.

"It was a kind of window that opened, and I think we, as young filmmakers,
have to crawl through that window and open other doors," says Johar.

Johar wrote as well as produced "Kal Ho Naa Ho," and it's no accident he
set it in New York. His ambition is to reach wider audiences, to raise the
bar for Bollywood-style films so they're seen as the exotic cousins of
musicals, such as "Chicago" or "Moulin Rouge."

"We're about to, like, tell the world that Bollywood, and that kitschiness
of Bollywood, is part of us, but it's not the whole. And there is that kind
of talent and that kind of infrastructure and ability to make cinema that
matches the cinema of the rest of the world."

Johar hates the term Bollywood because, he says, it implies stepchild status ffor Indian filmmakers.

Call it whatever you like, but Bollywood culture has quietly been achieving
critical mass in the United States.

Which is why, the producers of "Bombay Dreams," a $14 million show, are
betting more than it's ever cost to make a Bollywood movie that American
audiences are ready to fall in love with Bollywood on Broadway.

"In some ways, the traditions of a Bollywood movie are very close to those
of a good old-fashioned Broadway musical," says Steven Pimlott, the director of "Bombay Dreams." "It's an all-singing and -dancing show with fantastic production values."

And if that's not enough Bollywood for you, huge Bollywood All-Star song
and dance revues are filling stadiums, such as the Oakland Arena, the way
rock concerts do.

For fans around the world, Bollywood is not just entertainment, but an event.
  • Rome Neal

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter