The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Bollywood: A Primer

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


Class is now in session

A three hour combination of drama, violence, romance, & loss; A musical story intermittent with several glamorous & knee-slapping dance sequences; A multimillion worldwide business raking in an obsessed fan base & ridiculous amounts of revenue worldwide:  All of these traits are what embody a “Bollywood movie.”

Have you ever heard of Bollywood? Yes, it is real. Coining the name from the city known as the capital of American film, Bollywood is the title given to the Indian film industry. And while these films rarely if ever find their way into our movie theaters, here are some stats:

*Bollywood produces on average 1,000 films every year, or double Hollywood's output.

*Every day, on average, fourteen million Indian people go to see a movie.

*Bollywood employs six million people, and grosses between eight and ten BILLION dollars annually. 

In other words, Bollywood is HUGE.  


You may be thinking…so who are the hotshots, the major players? Well, Let's start with some of the most sought-after leading men:


Amitabh Bachaan

Amitabh BachaanAmitabh is of an older age bracket (he's in his 60s), yet he is comparable to Mel Gibson in American cinema. He is well-known across many cultures because of his amazing presence, enigma, and powerful acting abilities.

Shah Rukh Khan – As a younger actor (in his 40s), Khan would be in the category of Brad Pitt. He has been criticized for “overacting,”at times. Nonetheless, he is viewed as hot, marketable, and one of the most in-demand actors (especially judging by his huge female fan base) of Indian cinema. To put it in perspective, a 2005 CNN poll found that Khan has one billion fans worldwide, or as many as Tom Cruise.

What about the ladies? Well, Bollywood has an abundance of both beauty & brains. Here are three:


Aishwarya Rai

Aishwarya Rai – An ex-Ms. World, Rai is a well-known cosmetic and beauty model worldwide, and is rapidly becoming amongst the most sought-after beauty queens reigning in Bollywood as well. She is very much in demand and very attractive to male audiences worldwide…similar to the ranks of Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie in Hollywood.

Rani Mukherji – Mukherji is a Bengali actress who has done a wide variety of movies including drama, romance and socially responsible films. One movie of Rani’s that entailed a heavy and strong social message involved the story of the injustices one family did to their daughter-in-law, after marriage, because she didn’t bring a dowry. Although the issue of dowry, is really out of vogue, and only present in rural villages, it was still a very important social message.

Preity Zinta – Zinta is another leading actress, well-known for her spunky attitude, big dimples, and jubilant on-screen presence. She would be compared to Hollywood’s Drew Barrymore. She has also appeared in several social-message movies, including some addressing the ways that an unmarried pregnant woman is treated by society.

Now that you know a few of the performers, what can you expect if you go to see or rent a Bollywood film? Some staples in a Bollywood movie will be:

*Glamorous, colorful sets and expensive, elegant costumes. 

*At least four or five dance sequences, featuring the lead hero and heroine singing & dancing

*A heavy dose of emotion and drama. (A lot of films focus on relationships, whether they be between a man & woman, or between mother and son). Most likely you will find that a Bollywood generates a reaction or emotion of some kind, any kind, from the audience. (be prepared for tears!)

For the Newbie to Bollywood: some top movie picks 

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) 1995 This is an all-time Indian classic. It is a must-see if you are a die-hard romantic, or if you believe in love…love that persists, doesn’t give up or let go, and transcends boundaries. It stars top Bollywood artists including Shah Rukh Khan, and Kajol. The story is grounded in the theme of respecting your elders, and a beautiful love story is spun off of values such as valuing your family & heritage. The plot centers around a man named Raj, who is somewhat of a flirt and carefree, yet has a good-heart…and a woman named Simran, played by Kajol, who is the dutiful daughter of an overprotective Indian father living in London. The story begins in London, but things take a drastic turn when the scene shifts to the peaceful hometown of Punjab, India. DDLJ is a story that will warm your heart & make you believe in true, undying love that begins with friendship & leads to the intertwining of two lives…and two paths on the journey of life.

Black 2004Black, signifying darkness, is a huge blockbuster released in 2004. Iti s a wonderful rendition of a story similar to Helen Keller. It stars Amitabh Bachaan and Rani Mukherji in the roles of a teacher and a young blind girl (respectively). The story focuses on the young child, who has faced failure, and learned to believe her handicap will prevent her from having all the privileges of life. An uncivilized, rude, and undisciplined child is transformed into a well-rounded, sweet, and hardworking woman when a wonderful teacher enters their family. When this miraculous teacher comes along (Amitabh Bachaan), she is not used to anyone pushing her: to study, to work, or even to behave. Prior to his arrival, she has been allowed to do as she wants because of her handicap. Her teacher does not allow her to give up, forces her to become civilized, to learn, to study, to believe and to never, never give up. Powerful performances by both actors enhance the well-written script and heartbreaking story of having someonewho does not let you accept defeat, and shows you how to feel, how to love…and how to live.

Other Good Flicks 

The previous two movies are Indian classics. However, these two films fared well at the box-office too, in a different genre:

Dhoom 2004 – If you’re in the mood for action, rent Dhoom. It is a high-speed, action-packed thriller. This film stars Amitabh Bachaans son, Abhishek Bachaan who is increasingly becoming one of Bollywood's top stars. (Amitabh Bachaan is the most accomplished and most famous actor in all of Indian cinema.) This film is a guy movie: it’s full of explosions, cool stunts, loud sounds, and neat crime-evading scenes.


Bunti aur Babli

Bunty aur Babli 2005 – Denoting the names of the male lead, Bunty (played by Abhishek Bachaan), and Babli, the name of the female lead, this movie is a comedy-romance. If you want to see glitzy song numbers, extravagant costumes, a silly comic twist to crime, and different exotic locations throughout India (including the Taj Mahal!), then – yup you guessed it – this movie is a must-see!

Where can you get/rent a Bollywood movie? You can order them on Netflix if you go under the foreign category, or type in an Indian movie name. Also, there are plenty of sites through which you can buy Indian DVDs & videos such as:,, and

So, if you want to laugh, or cry, get happy, or discouraged, or simply be awed by the depth of production and effort that goes into a vibrant and well-woven Bollywood film, watching an Indian movie is a great past-time. You will find that all have subtitles, and a lot of English is spoken as well. However, Keep comfort in mind: bring a pillow, some snacks, or a blanket……Bollywood movies stretch to around three hours!

Enjoy the show!