Review: Bollywood Hollywood (2002)

While a fun exploration of common Bolly-tropes, Bollywood Hollywood suffers from two things:

  1. It focuses on the male character, who is even more boring because of all those tropes
  2. It was made a few years too early.

Director Deepa Mehta clearly needed a break after directing such serious, heavy movies as Fire and Earth (and Water would follow in 2005). Indulging in romantic comedy tropes seems like the perfect diversion. The movie constantly winks and keeps its tongue firmly in cheek. It is, dare I say, meta.

Rahul (Rahul Khanna) hires Sue (Lisa Ray) to pose as his fiancee. The two grow closer until Rahul learns that Sue is actually an escort/prostitute (even though he hired her in the first place, so. . . .) Sue is upset by the accusation and eventually Rahul apologizes and proposes. The plots is terribly convoluted, but fun. However, several questions remain (is Sue a sex worker?), and as usual the move would be more interesting if told from Sue’s POV, or that of Rahul’s sister. I find it hard to engage with a guy who is upset that the woman he hired to pose for a specific role might actually work as someone who is hired for a specific role.

The meta-textual conversation Bollywood Hollywood engages in (that is, how it responds to and uses other movies) is similar to Farah Khan’s works, particularly Tees Maar Khan (2010). Both films delight not just in the conventions of Bollywood, but Hollywood films. Which is fun from the author’s/director’s viewpoint, but can be a chore for the audience if they can’t follow along. (Bollywood Hollywood was nominated for and won a Genie award, but its reviews are all over the place, and it sits at 6/10 on IMDB.)

As someone who loves tropes and both Bollywood and Hollywood, I enjoyed the meta-ness of this movie, as well as that of Tees Maar Khan. As someone who is interested in complex female roles, well, I didn’t care for either. Mehta is certainly known for feminist filmmaking; that she was deliberately relying on tropes and conventional plots works against her. Additionally, I recognize that I put undue pressure on female directors. For example, Karan Johar’s works have their own issues, but I give the plots of his movies a pass that I don’t really afford to Mehta and Khan. To be average, a woman must be exceptional.

Bollywood Hollywood, as well as Farah Khan’s works, must converse in multiple languages: English and Hindi, India and the United States (well, technically Canada for Mehta), male protagonists and female objects. To that end, the metatextuality of these movies seems particularly feminine. Women must often effortlessly move from one space to another. (Men do, too, obviously, but at least masculinity is status quo.) And perhaps Indian femininity specifically, since Mehta and Khan have had to navigate a masculine world informed by both Indian cultural expectations and the lingering specter of Western colonialism. The women of these movies just want to live, to pursue their own dreams and goals, and instead must work around the men to whom they are attached.

Bollywood Hollywood, then, responds not just to gender roles or movie tropes, but to a specific kind of (Western) (male) hegemony.

The closing credits are also really enjoyable.

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