I love this assessment of Bollywood stars from, of all people, Bruce Sterling:
[On Twitter you] really get a feeling for Bollywood stars as a semi-solid, political-feudal caste from a massively populated, deeply troubled, hugely resilient, titanic emergent world power.
They’re all Indian patriots. Every one of ’em. They’re not pollyannas about it, but you never hear a cynical or dismissive or despairing remark from them. About the press, certainly, but about the Indian government or Indian civil society, never. Tremendous work ethic. Even the ones who come across like half-naked decadent femmes fatale are complete Type A overachievers. Very bouncy, very focussed. Educated. World travellers. It’s impressive.
This weekend, I saw 3 Idiots at the big Bollywood theater here in the Bay Area. It was a blast; it always is, both because the audience is so loud and appreciative and because the movies are simply so huge. The sheer amount of stuff they pack into them is audacious, even ridiculous, but somehow it works. There simply aren’t American movies like this; somehow there can’t be. (Also, there’s a simple delight to a movie with an intermission, you know? Every Bollywood movie has an intermission.)
But “3 Idiots” is actually noteworthy for its subject matter, too. It’s set at a fictionalized version of IIT-Delhi, and it takes on India’s culture of school and success. So it’s not by chance, I think, that it had the biggest-ever opening weekend of any Hindi film in the US and Canada. I’m pretty sure there were some graduates of the IITs sitting there in the darkness of the Naz 8 with us. I wonder what they thought.
I’m trying to track down stats for Bollywood audiences outside India. I don’t know if they’re truly significant (more than, say, 10% of the audience inside India) but I’m sure they’re growing fast—in Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Persian Gulf, and Indonesia. Many former Soviet states, believe it or not. And of course America, too. This is one of the reasons I’d bet on India in the 21st century: it’s a net exporter of media. Really, there are only a few countries with that distinction, right? The U.S. is one (mostly movies and TV); Japan is another (mostly anime, manga, and video games). Now India’s in the club. See you at the Naz 8.
Update: Over on Boing Boing, Xeni does the “3 Idiots” OMG-how-is-this-all-in-the-same-movie enumeration:
Bollywood movies somehow manage to cram in more sheer total stuff than US pics, and this one’s no exception: there’s a hot “wet sari” scene, a dance number with aerial toilet steadicam shots, a climax of of parental drama that involves comparison shopping between laptops and SLR cameras, an obviously fake rubber baby, beautiful Himalayan scenery. Blogs, webcams, and aerial surveillance drones glide effortlessly through the script. And not once, but twice, a homemade penis-electrocution hardware hack serves for comic (and bladder) relief.
I just want to underscore: aerial toilet steadicam shots.