Remember when Chuck Taylors were fresh again, years ago? When you were the only person rocking it, and got lots of compliments on them because they were unique and different? And then, do you remember when everyone and their moms started wearing Chucks soon after, and suddenly, that rare kitschy feeling had suddenly become mainstream and cheesy and feeling like people were trying way too hard?
Undoubtedly, fads come and go — I’m currently trying to weather this whole ‘Vampire Thing,’ jeez — and in the fast paced world of media, things become in in a blink of the eye.
This is always seen in the world of film: the late nineties/early 2000’s we saw a huge influx of martial arts movies from China (Crouching Tiger, Hero, House of Daggers), followed by a wave of interest in Americanizing Japanese horror films (The Ring, The Grudge, One Missed Call, etc). But now Hollywood has jumped onto the Bollywood train, and it seems like the train won’t be stopping any time soon, thanks to the success of Slumdog Millionaire.
All my life I have loved Bollywood — being an ABCD (American Born Cultured Desi), I grew up learning to love the magical, musical, and sometimes cheesy world of Bollywood; as I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, enjoying my favorite Hollywood flicks, I’ve wondered, “why cant we ever be in movies? Why aren’t there ever any Indians on the screen?”
So why am I complaining? Because it’s becoming too much. It’s flattering, really — but the fallout from Slumdog Millionaire has gone in an annoying direction. It seems like every gym in LA has some kind of ‘Bollywood Cardio’ class claiming to help you lose weight while doing the famous ‘Jai Ho’ subway dance; cheesy Indian stereotypes are appearing on TV shows (see Psych: Season 4: “Bollywood Homicide”); and tons of Hollywood directors and actors are pining to pair up with Bollywood heroes for a piece of the action, when for years Bollywood was laughed at. (You know Bollywood is too hot for its own good when resident lady-slayer Gerard Butler tries to get a piece of the action.)
It’s obvious that Slumdog was a huge success — it won eight out of its ten nominated Academy Awards, including Best Picture — won tons of accolades at film festivals around the world, and generated record breaking buzz for a low budget independent film, grossing over $360 million worldwide. However the South Asian Diaspora has many qualms with this film and the subsequent Bollywood fever, and it all feels a little bit too un-comfortable, too cheesy, too… fake.
My biggest question then is, what happens when this Bollywood fever dies out? Will we return to the stereotypes, misnomers, and the Apu’s from The Simpsons? Will the vibrant culture, sounds, and flavors of South Asia be labeled as a ‘fad’ and be pushed aside, shelved until the next big Hollywood whim?
Although I didn’t really care for Slumdog Millionaire as a film — yeah, I said it — I guess for now it’s exciting to see a glistening of our culture out there on the world’s stage. Hopefully this ‘fad’ develops into a richer integration; an integration drawing the masses deeper into the culture, away from the sexy hip gyrating of Bollywood step dance, towards the artful moves and mastery of Kathak or Bharatanatym; away from the fervid beats and bubble gum lyrics of ‘Jai Ho,’ and into the entrancing sounds of the ancient sitar of Ravi Shankar; and just maybe, it might get the Bollywood cardio crowds of West LA to learn some real Bhangra so they can ‘balle balle’ to the beat of a culture that offers the world more pulse, quake, shiver, and swing than we can even imagine. And that’s my final answer.