India Abroad August 7, 2015
I know you have written on other national
cinemas, but when did this passion for Indian
cinema start? What was the first Indian film
The first Indian film I saw was Lagaan. It
was the first Indian film that a lot of
Americans saw since it was released in theaters and it was nominated for an Oscar.
And from there I did the Netflix troll of
their inventory of Bollywood films — mostly
watching the newer films. I saw Dil Se and
loved that one. I would say Dil Se is the
Bollywood movie most loved by white people.
But because I was into retro, cult and genre
films, I said India must have those. I started
renting and buying older and older films.
Finally, I saw Sholay and Don, and that started the slippery slope.
Don was the first 1970s film that I fell in
love with. It had touches of the Blaxploitation
I have a blog Die, Danger, Die, Die
Kill! where I write about popular,
cult cinema from all over the world.
But writing about Bollywood seemed
to get the best responses. I also
became part of the community of
writers who write about Bollywood.
They helped to reinforce my interest.
What was it about the style of these
films of the 1970s that drew you in?
The unifying thing for the different national cinemas I like — I really look for escapist movies. I love
pure escapism, with no constrictions of reality, very colorful movies
with over-the-top action. It’s like
when I watch a popular film, I just
want to be taken away from my
daily experience. Not that my daily
experience is horrible or anything.
What other national cinemas were
you drawn to?
I have written a lot about Turkish
and Cantonese films, especially of
the 60s, Indonesian films — exploitation and horror mostly — Thai
cinema. I have also written a lot
about Egyptian and the other Arab
cinemas. I have been drawn to pretty much those films that do not get a
lot of attention in the US.
I find your introduction interesting that there are two kinds of books
out there on Indian cinema — serious books on topics like Guru Dutt
and Mother India, or the coffee
table books that bring out the glamour of Bollywood.
It’s not baffling, but it has been
disappointing to me that there hasn’t been more of an interest in popular Indian films among film fans in
the West. I felt that there was an
audience for these films. I belong to
a community of writers about cult
and genre films.
There are a lot stereotypical ideas
of what a Bollywood film is. People
say I don’t want to see Bollywood
films because they are long, all
singing and romance or historical
dramas. I felt that these genre films
provided a portal for understanding
different cultures. No matter how
different cultures are and beliefs
may be, but when it comes to popular films, everybody likes spy and
detective stories, bad-ass female assassins.
All of these genre trappings are universal.
But you get the sense of the differences
with the similarities. The way the heroes in
Indian films of the 70s are depicted is different from their Hollywood counterparts. In a
film like Khoon Khoon, the Hindi version of
Dirty Harry, the characters are very different. Dirty Harry was a cold, loner whose
family has been murdered, and that sets him
on the path of revenge. The hero of Khoon
Khoon has a very stable life. His parents live
That’s not what you see in a typical Western
action film. We want our heroes to be rootless. Like Mad Max films. The last one got
the core of it. No one cares who Mad Max is,
where he comes from? They just want him to
show up and crash cars.
I saw Sholay and Don, and that started the slippery slope. Don was the first 1970s film that I fell in love with. It had touches of the Blaxploitation films.
Geeta Mera Naam