I went to the cinema tonight to watch my second Bollywood film at the theater. It was showing at the beautiful Raj Mandir in Jaipur, a “heritage” theater that simultaneously looked like an old classic opera house and a giant pink birthday cake.
The movie (there’s only one) was Department, a Bollywood take on an action film about a police department fighting crime in the most completely implausible ways.
Bad guys were getting kicked twenty feet through the air, smashing through brick walls, and then conveniently landing on the upturned spikes of a pitchfork. When punched, they would inevitably defy gravity (and physics) and fly into a wooden or glass table with theatrically appropriate (read: poor) structural integrity.
Add to this the hackneyed cliches of the bad guys (toting automatic weapons that fire a jillion rounds per second) who couldn’t hit the ocean if they fired at the waves, and the one-shot-with-a-pistol-while-
flying-through-the-air sharpshooting of the cops, and you have yourself a “drama” completely devoid of it, as the cops are never seriously challenged, and merely respond to every crisis by rolling in and instantly kicking ass, leaving scores of bloodied baddies in their wake.
Not that I’m complaining, however. With Hindi dialogue and no subtitles, I had plenty of attention to spare to watch the incredible atmosphere going on around me. It’s a heck of an experience to be there in the theater with Indian people who let out a raucous cheer any time that:
1) A famous actor makes a cameo (which, in Bollywood movies, is constantly)
2) A woman’s lips/legs/stomach are shown in close up
3) Someone kicks someone else’s ass
4) An actor, during an action scene, performs a death-defying feat like jumping over a moving car or sliding across a floor under a hail of bullets to punch someone in the stomach (and then naturally through a glass table)
As if the horrendous plot and rowdy fans weren’t enough, there are the camera angles. The movie is filmed from a variety of perspectives, designed specifically to prevent you from having any idea of what’s actually going on.
Characters are filmed rom under a glass table (that will inevitably be smashed), from the hand of someone carrying a mug of tea or some important document, from a bird’s eye view, from across a room and through the wine glass held by another character, from a super close up showing only eyes or lips (eliciting a cheer if this is of a female), from far away before a dramatic zoom in, rotation, and then zoom out, all in freeze-frame, punctuate the suspenseful parts, since, as we already know the outcome will be a flawless ass-kicking by the good guys, camera tricks must be employed to fool the audience into enjoying the movie.
My favorite camera angle, though, was the fish-eye lens that filmed a five-minute-long normal conversation between the main character and his girlfriend, and all the while spun around them at high speed, dizzying even the most iron-stomached viewers.
And of course, no Bollywood film would be complete without the ridiculously long song and dance scenes. If you thought these were just for comedies, think again. Even when characters are getting bottles broken over their heads, they still must take time out to shake their booties in a club with impossibly scantily-clad women, men in far too many bright neon colors, and all in the rain because somehow it rains indoors inside a club but only the women get wet. I guess the guys need to stay dry for the post-song ass-kicking session.
This all added up to an incredible movie-going experience. The 60 cent popcorn didn’t hurt, either. One thing is for sure: if a Hollywood director ever tried to make a movie like this, he’d be fired by the studio immediately. Or maybe he’d be chucked through a glass table.