Bollywood Really Isn’t for Everyone

29 Jul

“I sometimes feel completely out of the loop of contemporary India,” writes Nirpal Dhaliwal, the Guardian‘s “man in Mumbai”. Well, maybe that’s because he’s not actually a part of it?

He reminds me of a point I made about Sanjaya Malakar what seems like a million years ago: that you can’t automatically co-opt people into a vast Indian identity just because their parents were Indian. When people are identified as Indo-American or Brit-Asian or what have you, those hyphens exist for a reason.

Back then, I was promptly told off by a legion of righteous (children of) migrants who said it was obvious that I prescribed to (as one person put it) “19th century ideas” of race and nationality. Well, not quite. I don’t think whites are superior or Christianity is the sole salvation of mankind, I don’t see the inevitability of empire and, in spite of the reigning insanity we call Indian politics, I think Indians are quite well able to take care of their country, thank you very much and don’t slam the door on your way out.

And so we wind up with reviews like the one above. i have no idea why Dhaliwal’s covering Bollywood at all when it’s perfectly clear the man hates it and would much rather be talking about another side of India. Just because his parents were Indian doesn’t mean he should automatically be writing about Bollywood, unless you think Christiane Amanpour should only be covering “women’s issues” and Anderson Cooper the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Or maybe, just maybe, he’s funding research for his next novel with execrable movie reviews for people who don’t know any better but would like to pretend they do. Either that or the man’s a masochist.

[Sparked off by Dew Drop Dream on a review that pushed her buttons.]


Posted by on July 29, 2008 in Life, Politics, Video


20 responses to “Bollywood Really Isn’t for Everyone

  1. Amey

    July 29, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    What’s up with this man and eroticism/sexism? And why does every movie is made up of India’s XYZ Generation?

  2. Pitu

    July 29, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    ‘can’t automatically co-opt people into a vast Indian identity just because their parents were Indian’

    Thank you for that. Having been raised in Africa, I have always considered myself an African desi who now lives in the US. I didn’t really ‘fit in’ when I lived in India for 5 yrs, and don’t have friends from those days. And living in India was a huge culture shock for me. I love India, but I don’t belong there. And it’s always annoying when desis raised in India question my ‘African-ness’ as if it’s some huge betrayal of my Indian roots. I actually had a big fight with a friend when he nastily called me ‘deshdrohi’. And no, I am not on speaking terms with him anymore :-p

    But more to the point, just as there are Indian desis who refuse to accept a different perspective, there are desis raised abroad who hate India and conveniently remember their roots when it’s time to profit from them (Bollywood careers, book themes, film themes etc). I know so many ABCDs for example who deride Indian culture in private and show off about their ‘Indianness’ in public because it’s ‘cool’ to be desi nowadays. And this Dhaliwal sounds like another of those idiots. Wot a rotten review! Bah.

  3. the post-punk cinema club

    July 29, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Just started reading the review…

    “The idea of a film catering to the fantasies of the mollycoddled children of middle-classes in a country in which 40% of children are malnourished and kids are routinely forced into work (and sometimes prostitution) wasn’t appealing – especially when the rickshaw ride to the cinema offered numerous views of families living beneath underpasses, breathing traffic fumes.”

    Apparently because there are poor children in India, the middle-class children in India are not allowed to watch children’s films. Sounds like shaky moral leverage he’s going after. What about that callous buffet dinner in Koi Mil Gaya and India’s food security issues? For shame!

  4. harini calamur

    July 29, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    look , I live here . my folks are Indian and there are times when i feel terribly out of the loop – especially when i view bollywood….:)
    i was numbed through Dil Chahta hai — who lives like that ?

  5. ana

    July 29, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I say we find a Gabbar Singh, send him to Dhaliwal to say Dhaliwal mujhko ya baazo dede, and then see how he writes this bakwaas about Indian films.

    It’s the Guardian’s lack of judgment as well in thinking this idiot can write and is a good film critic, but why doesn’t that surprise me, given this whole “exoticism” crap. Bah! is right.

  6. Ian

    July 30, 2008 at 12:40 am


    I think you’re being harsh on Nirpal Dhaliwal (dare I ask, have you really read the review?).

    He actually said “Despite my misgivings, I found myself charmed by the movie.” and “… Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic warmed my cockles and had me smiling for a while afterwards.” I don’t think that consitutes “it’s perfectly clear the man hates it”.

    His other comments were positive – whether you agree with them or not is another matter.

    ana – the man read literature at university, and has had a novel published. I think that means he’s not an idiot; and that he can write. (you can like it or not).

    Also, have a look at

    And, he’s moved “back” to New Delhi

  7. apu

    July 30, 2008 at 1:06 am

    umm did he even watch the film? doesn’t genelia clearly say that she would like a hunk? It just not Imran she wants (at that point in time).

    And – the absence of sex seems to be a sore point with him – but the movie wasn’t prudish or making a point about abstinence… So, I can’t see why it bothers him so much.

  8. Pitu

    July 30, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Also, I am no prude but one thing I *like* about Bwood is the fact that we can still make movies without gratuitous sex. I know we have lots of the double meaning, vulgar songs and the Bhatts keep inflicting their C grade starlets on us but at least I can steer clear of anything from certain filmmakers. Hwood just pisses me off sometimes. Hubs got a movie from the library and the very first scene was a topless woman in the ocean followed promptly by a menage a trois. I switched the goddam thing off and watched an old Clark Gable film. This is a discussion for another day but really, do normal people in America swim topless and have menage a troix? I have yet to meet these lovely people. All that T and A, for wot?! Hmmph.

  9. Rada

    July 30, 2008 at 2:07 am

    Nirpal Dhaliwal writes with a certain type of reader in mind obviously…

    Actually, I found his article hugely funny, despite the distorted point of view.


  10. ana

    July 30, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Ian 🙂

    Oh I like it when people can write, and I’m sure Dhaliwal can, it’s just that as Rada said, he writes with a certain type of reader in mind, and it obviously is not the Indian die-hard Bollywood wallas.

  11. Pitu

    July 30, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Just because someone is a writer (even a good one) doesn’t mean he can’t be/isn’t an ignorant eejit.

  12. DewdropDream

    July 30, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for backing me up on this one!!!

    @Ian: I’m not really doubitng the man’s ability to write… but I have my misgivings about banking on the views of someone who is ‘out of the loop’ in his own words. And he liked Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic??? I thought that movie bombed in India! Which goes to show that even the Indian public gives a lot more thought to their cinematic tastes than the writer here and is making choices that might be considered intelligent. The point tat infuriated me (and others here) is that it is this man’s views that a whole bunch of NRIs and hyphenated ethnicities are depending on, and he gets it all wrong!

  13. bollyviewer

    July 31, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Hmm… Bollywood is really not everybody’s cup of tea. I think most of us Indians love it but also love to look down upon it as trivial and frivolous and this is reflected in Dhaliwal’s writing. He seems to write from the perspective of “I am too intelligent for this crap but inspite of that I will give it a try”. Canadian comedien (of Indian origin) Russell Peter’s comedy has similar elements, too! Wonder when liking Bollywood will be as cool as Bollywood bashing is.

  14. Amrita

    July 31, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Amey / Apu – interesting that you ask: I looked him up and it seems he’s pretty obsessed with it. Pop psychology would suggest it’s a reaction to his (conservative?) desi parentage.

    Pitu – wow, that guy sounds like a real prize! On the flip side, I’ve met ABCDs who were really really really into their Indian heritage to the point where they probably saw themselves as “more” Indian than I – and if they were talking about conservative attitudes then they’re probably right. I have cousins who fall into all three categories so this was a lesson I learned early. Also, what’s this movie Mr. Pitu brought home? Just so I can be on my guard against it 😳

    PPCC – That statement made my eyes pop! I thought we’d done away with that line of argument somewhere in the 1970s. Apparently not. The irony, of course, is that when Satyajit Ray made movies about the starving little people, Francois Truffaut walked out of the screening saying he wasn’t interested in watching starving peasants eat with their hands. I guess Indians should just stop making movies and wallow in their misery.

    Harini – touche! 😀 I hate to admit it, but my friends do… although I don’t think they’d use the convertible because it’d be akin to drawing a target on their foreheads.

    Ana – that is an excellent idea! He wouldn’t even be able to register a complaint because by his own logic, who’d believe him?

    Ian – yes I have 🙂 the point wasn’t whether or not he liked the movie (I personally thought the movie was crap) but why he would write about an art form whose very existence he seems to resent given the starving, teeming masses outside. It’s like campaigning against children’s beauty pageants, then covering a series of them for the local newspaper, ranting about the whole thing and at the end of it saying: well, the kids were cute.
    And he may be a very accomplished writer, but that doesn’t automatically make him a reviewer, esp of Bollywood cinema which isn’t the most accessible art form even for experienced critics. The tools are simply very different, which you can see for yourself if you compare one of his reviews to those written by professional film critics. Had he been writing for a personal blog, that would have been one thing, this is a newspaper and standards automatically become different.
    ETA: that link about his moving to Delhi is precisely what I meant – he seems to have so many other things on his mind re: India, that writing about Bollywood seems to be a distraction, and worse, seems to be bringing out his guilt. He’s about a million times more eloquent in that piece than his “reviews”.

    Rada – well, I’ll confess I grinned a little: but it was AT him not with him.

    DDD – it DID bomb in India and deservedly so.

    Bollyviewer – nooooooo!!! Russell is so much better than this! He makes you think, and challenge what you think you know, and laugh and is just thoroughly awesome. Dhaliwal, not so much. Although maybe his books are different?

  15. Pitu

    July 31, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Lol at Mr Pitu. Hehe. The loser movie was ‘The Bank Job’ released this year.

  16. Amey

    August 1, 2008 at 9:10 am

    ddd thought he is a long lost relative of Freud for connecting everything to S. I guess Freud will have another reason why he is so obssessed.

  17. desigirl

    August 1, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Maybe the poor bloke ain’t getting any. Pliss to excuse him!

    Anyhoo, Hollyoaks is pre-watershed porn, IMO. Too much grappling and second/third base action happening there. I would have been insulted had this appealed to that numbskull, who clearly is just gagging for some Hollyoaks style sex.

  18. Amrita

    August 2, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Pitu – okay it’s on my list, thanks. My to avoid list, of course! Ahem.

    Amey – or he’s just your random womanizer.

    DG – I have no idea what a Hollyoaks is. I’m clearly out of the loop of contemporary britain. How did that happen?

  19. desigirl

    August 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Cos you are lucky babe!! It is soft porn dressed in fluff. Bunch of kids, mouthing off and always on the lookout for the next chance to get some ‘action’.

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