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Tag Archives: messagemovie

Bombay (1995)

All religions suck. — Dead Kennedys

bombaysnip.jpgI got into Bollywood via the music. I have a few compilations on my iPod, and even though I had no idea what anybody was singing about, I enjoyed a bit of grooving to Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhonsle. A few months ago, kommune-mate Abhi helped me add several of the more distinguished Bollywood movies to my Zip List, and I’ve been watching them as they trickle in. And I can say I’m enjoying them quite a bit.

The first hour of Bombay plays out like a romantic comedy, as a Hindu man falls for a pretty Muslim girl in his village. Even though both families will surely object, he woos and wins her with a combination of wacky coincidences and lavish music numbers (my favourite is the marriage consummation number, complete with squads of big-haired 1980s-issue dancers and erupting fountains). A few scenes of marital bliss later, Gillian predicted something bad would have to happen, just because everybody was so damn happy. Sure enough, the second half is as grim as the first half is cheery, as Bombay is engulfed in the religious riots of 1993-1994. This part is an odd mixture of melodrama and unflinching look at the riots and the participants. On the one hand, even the fundamentalists religious leaders (who are clearly given the lion’s share of the blame here) are given unexpected nuances. At the same time, there are numerous heartfelt speeches and songs, and our heroes spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the importance of India coming together, even though they are continually at the epicentre of the conflagration. I’m actually not sure that’s a bad thing. There is a time and place for subtlety, and I’m pretty sure this movie isn’t it.

One thing I really appreciate about Bollywood movies, even (or especially) in an important Message Movie like Bombay, is that they understand the need to entertain. This is something that I think a lot of filmmakers in, say, Europe (and Canada) have lost sight of: there is a contract between filmmaker and filmgoer. You can be as artsy as you like, and make all the statements you want as long as you engage me first. If you can’t do that, you have failed as a filmmaker. Maybe it’s just that the stakes are so much higher, but its clear that the people that made Bombay understand this — they have something genuinely important to say, and sometimes that’s simply more important than capital-A Art.