Everything I Needed to Know About Romance I Learned from Bollywood

I read my first Romance novel early on in high school, probably about 23 years ago.  It was love at first sight.  What more could you want in life than a world where the hero and heroine always come together to vanquish whatever obstacles stand in their way and where you know they will love each other with passionate abandon for the rest of their lives?

I watched my first Bollywood movie about 3 years ago.  And yes, it was love at first sight.  Once again I’d stumbled across a world where the hero and heroine always came together to vanquish their obstacles and where you know they will love each other passionately for the rest of their lives … or maybe in their future lives.

The essence of Bollywood is Romance.  Pyaar.  Ishq.  Mohabbat.  Love.  So much more than American cinema, Hindi films wrap their plots around love.  More often than not a good Bollywood film will center around a love story.  Whether it’s two lovers who are kept apart by culture and tradition, like Veer-Zaara or Dil Se, or whether it’s family keeping them apart, like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Devdas, or whether it’s something much, much sillier, like Dostana or Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, love is always at the center of the plot.

And boy can Bollywood plot a film!  I’m still trying to figure out parts of Om Shanti Om.  In a nutshell, the story begins in the 1970s when a perpetual extra, Om, falls in love with the leading lady, Shanti, and attempts to convince her she should be with him.  Only Shanti is secretly married to the dastardly director.  And when said villain burns down the set with Shanti in it, Om rushes to try to save her … and they both die.  And that’s only the first half of the movie.  In Act Two Om has been reincarnated and in the present he is a huge film star.  When he starts remembering his past life he sets out on a mission to find the dastardly director villain, who is still alive, and get him to confess his guilt.

But I digress.

The first Bollywood film I ever saw was Salaam-e-Ishq.  It’s title translated is A Salute to Love.  It’s a remake of the film Love Actually, which was and is one of my favorite films ever.  As I sat watching the three hour extravaganza it hit me that here was a culture that knows how to lose itself to love.

In musical theater they say that when words can no longer express your feelings, break into song.  In Bollywood not only do they break into song, they throw in a splashy dance number to go along with it.  Folks, this is love!

Love is just as likely to be loud and joyful as it is to be dark and sultry.  It is colorful and energetic.  It has five costume changes within a three minute span.  When you’re in love you want everyone to know it.  You want the passersby on the street to jump into the thick of things with you.  You want grand and majestic scenes as your backdrop.  Bollywood doesn’t hold back at all when it comes to love.

Except that it also holds back far, far more than western cinema.  Up until a few years ago you would never so much as see a Bollywood couple kiss let alone take their clothes off and do the horizontal hokey-pokey.  And yet some of the most romantic and passionate scenes I’ve ever seen have been in B-town films.

Bollywood romance is all about subtlety.

It is about the look of longing, the heaving sigh.  Passion is something expressed in the eyes, not in skin and sweat.  My favorite Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan, never ever kisses on screen.  Why?  Because in real life he is married and he maintains (and I believe him) that the only woman he has ever kissed is his wife.  (Although there was that one art-house film Maya Memsaab that was truly awful and he might have kissed the actress in that one?)  And yet when you see him making love to his on-screen heroine there is something so sultry in his look and movements that I need a cold shower afterwards.

That, my friends, is true Romance.  Forget all of this voyeurism that has become the norm in the west.  When everything is visible on the table what’s the point of dreaming?  That’s why I love Romance novels but can’t stand porn.  Some people argue that Romance novels are porn for girls, but unlike graphic images that spell everything out for you, Romance novels let your imagination run free.  The only thing you are actually seeing is words on a page.  The rest is up to you.

Same with Bollywood.  The only thing you are really seeing is color and movement, a look and a flash in someone’s eyes.  The rest is up to you.  And folks like A.R. Rahman, who writes amazing soundtrack music.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here are some samples to get you started on your romantic Bollywood journey.

This first song is from the film Veer-Zaara.  The hero, Veer, is Indian and the heroine, Zaara, is Pakistani.  In the song Zaara is about to be married off to someone else.  Veer has actually been captured and imprisoned as a spy, but as the lyrics imply, “Main Yahaan Hoon” or “I’m right here”, he’s with her even when he isn’t.  Pretty sexy stuff from Shah Rukh and my favorite Bollywood actress, Priety Zinta!

And this one is one of my favorite Hindi film songs from one of my all-time favorite movies in any language, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, which means Never Say Goodbye.  The director, Karan Johar, who I love, has said it’s a film about two love stories that were never meant to be and one that was.  The hero and heroine in this song are each married to someone else but falling in love with each other.  The film is amazing.  You can feel the passion and the disaster both in this clip.

And okay, this song is mostly just pure Bollywood entertainment, but Salaam-e-Ishq is what made me fall in love with B-town and this song is a major part of that.

2 thoughts on “Everything I Needed to Know About Romance I Learned from Bollywood

  1. One of the other romantic things that is notable about Bollywood I think is that they frequently portray marriage as romance too. You don’t see that too often in Hollywood.

    Could be a load of poppycock of course but it’s nice to see an optimistic version of marriage!

  2. I sometimes went to a ‘fleapit’ cinema in Singapore, when I lived there, decades ago, and watched Indian, Chinese and Malay films. I’d agree with you; Bollywood make lovely films. My favourite romance is Wuthering Heights simply because it shows how the world and money lead people who love each other to part; tragic yes, but love is tragic in a way – everyone has to leave the one they love in the end.

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