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Inside Bollywood, without leaving home

June 05, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

Move over, "Citizen Kane." Tonight, one of the biggest-grossing films you've probably never seen is coming to Turner Classic Movies. It's not in black and white, nor is it from Hollywood, and the musical interludes are a heck of a lot better than Susan Alexander's bleating in Orson Welles' TCM mainstay.

If you like Hindi movie songs, that is. For this boy-meets-girl tale, titled "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge," is from the film production center known as Bollywood. It will kick off a festival of 12 Indian films on the network running every Thursday at 5 p.m. this month, hosted in part by Bombay-born director-producer Ismail Merchant of the Merchant Ivory team.

"DDLJ," as the blockbuster is called by aficionados, has all the stereotypical Bollywood elements: totally artificial story lines and musical numbers, saturated colors and unnaturally dubbed sound, with a prodigious running time (and, for us, subtitles) to boot. Yet as escapist entertainment, this 1995 film works beautifully.

The festival will continue in coming weeks with such films as "Rangeela," a 1995 musical about a woman with hopes of movie fame, and "Mother India," a 1957 epic that was the first Indian film nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar. (Perhaps as a strange modern testament to the movies' popularity, songs from "DDLJ," "Rangeela" and "Mother India" can be downloaded on the Web as cell-phone ring tones.)

Of course, Bollywood productions have long screened in art houses here, and "Monsoon Wedding" was a U.S. hit in 2002. There have also been homages in movies ranging from "The Guru," a recent Hollywood take on the genre, to Britain's "Bend It Like Beckham," which climbed into the box-office top 10.

And yet it's a safe bet to say that mainstream America hasn't seen much Hindi fare, especially in proportion to India's prolific cinematic output. As such, this cable-TV festival represents a relatively rare chance for viewers to see classic Bollywood, without leaving the comfort of home.

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