Emma's Guide to Bollywood

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Kesar Palace

Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We've been engulfed in the music of Bollywood this trip, so it seemed an idea to let Emma guide you through this wonderful world.

"Amitabh Bachchan." For some this name may conjure up images of the young boy from "Slumdog Millionaire" diving into a pile of human excrement just to receive an autograph from some faceless Bollywood Superstar. For others it might mean nothing at all. But to the vast percentage of India's population, this name might as well be a prayer. Amitabh – or 'Big B’ as he’s affectionately known – is not just a Bollywood actor, he’s the Bollywood actor. So loved is this man that people place photos of him next to Shiva on their household shrines.

The Bollywood phenomenon is unlike any other film industry in the world. Film stars here are not just admired and observed through celebrity gossip magazines, they’re worshipped. Even beyond that; I’ve heard many an older Indian woman talk about Aamir Khan as if she were discussing her eldest son:

“Oh, Aamir is doing such lovely work these days. I’m immensely proud of him.”

Now, I had been an admittedly obsessed Bollywood fanatic before my trip to India, so I knew a fair amount about the actors and the industry. However, nothing could prepare me for the level of enthusiasm and adoration Indian people display for their celebrities. It’s the type of insanity that borders on the embarrassing, and quite frankly it’s catching.

So, since I’ve spent a decent forty-five percent of my three-and-a-half month long trip watching Bollywood, discussing Bollywood, even dreaming about Bollywood, my dad has suggested – probably so that I’ll quit talking his ear off about it – that I contribute this travelogue entry giving everyone the lowdown on what’s what in Emma’s Bollywood World.

So, without further ado, here it is: Bollywood – The ‘E’ Guide

(Arranged alphabetically by film star)

Disclaimer: This should in no way be regarded as a comprehensive list, seeing as I only discuss some actors I find interesting and leave out everyone else.

Aamir Khan – Usually a bit of a jokester in his films, Aamir hit the screen in a big way during that golden decade for Bollywood films, the nineties. Along with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, Aamir has dominated the Bollywood scene for a decent fifteen years. Though not as buff as Salman or as good looking as Shah Rukh, Aamir continues to be a popular choice for “The young hero”, and is still being cast as a college student, despite the fact that he’s really starting to show his 45 years.

Viewing Suggestions: Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Raja Hindustani

Aishwarya Rai – The only Bollywood actor to ever grace the cover of ‘People’ magazine and often referred to as the most beautiful woman in the world, Aishwarya was not only the winner of the ‘Miss World’ title in 1994, but she is also a talented actress. Ask almost any man on the streets of India which Hindi heroine they prefer, and Aishwarya’s name will come up.

Viewing Suggestions: Devdas, Mohabbatein

Amitabh Bachchan – As mentioned before, more of a God than a movie star. He was at his most popular in the 1970s/80s, and these days more than one trendy young Indian I’ve talked to prefers newer stars, stating that Amitabh is “just some old guy now”. However, those familiar with his early films can’t deny that he might just be the embodiment of the word “Perfection.”

Viewing Suggestions: Sholay, Kaalia, Ganga Jamuna Saraswati

Hrithik Roshan – Part of a slightly newer generation of Bollywood actors, Hrithik was at one point so popular that upon seeing him on the screen Indian women would pass out in their seats. Though he’s actually not that bad an actor, his main draws are his pretty face – a little too pretty for my liking – and his insanely fascinating dancing skills.

Viewing Suggestions: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai

Kajol – A very natural looking woman (in some films you can even see her unibrow), Kajol is not as popular as some of her contemporaries because of what one young girl I met described as “Too much intelligence and not enough beauty”. However, as someone who appreciates talent in an actress, I have to name Kajol as my favourite Bollywood heroine.

Viewing Suggestions: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha

Kareena Kapoor – My relationship with this actress is one of contradictions. Everything I have ever read about her, including her off-putting interviews, encourages me to hate her. Her performance in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham can only be described as irritating, and her rather odd shaped face is nowhere near as adorable as her elder sister, Karisma. Having said this, she has put on some endearing performances, and there’s no denying she has a strange appeal.

Viewing Suggestions: 3 Idiots, Jab We Met

Preity Zinta – With her sweet demeanor and famously adorable dimples, Preity wins you over within seconds of appearing on screen. In the early 2000s she was all the rage, although now she’s been replaced by more Jessica Simpson-esque actresses such as Priyanka Chopra and Katrina Kaif.

Viewing Suggestions: Dil Se, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Dil Chahta Hai

Saif Ali Khan – A charming, slightly odd looking hero from the Shah Rukh/Salman/Aamir generation, Saif usually plays the sweet, considerate type. He’s currently rumoured to be engaged to the occasionally insightful Kareena Kapoor.

Viewing Suggestions: Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho

Salman Khan – Yet another actor I have a love/hate relationship with, Salman (or perhaps just his buff body) is incredibly popular with Indian women. As one autorickshaw driver said to me: “The women, they go crazy when he takes off his shirt.”

Viewing Suggestions: Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!, Karan Arjun, Wanted

Shah Rukh Khan – Known variously as King Khan, the Bollywood Badshaah, and simply SRK, Shah Rukh was in many ways Amitabh Bachchan’s successor, and until quite recently was the undisputed King of Bollywood. Lately he is being slowly pushed aside to make way for a younger generation of Bollywood, but his mega-popularity still endures. My favourite hero, his performances can occasionally be a little stylized, but he has the chops to take you from a fit of laughter to a torrent of tears in a matter of seconds. Oh, and of course there is the fact that he’s almost uncomfortably attractive.

Viewing Suggestions: Devdas, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil Se, Darr

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Bollywood has a deservedly sketchy reputation. It can be repetitive, cliché, uncomfortably corny and downright embarrassing. Despite all this there is something irresistible about the strange mix of innocence and sexual tension, the hilarity of cutting from a realistically somber funeral scene to an over the top song and dance number. I encourage anyone who is a fan of old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films, or has a soft spot for Disney, to give Bollywood a try. But be wary: if you’re anything like me, you may just find that once you’ve gone Bollywood, you can never go back.
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Dan Jardine on

Emma, thanks for the tutorial. I admit that Bollywood is one of my blindspots, more out of ignorance than malice, and this primer is just what the doctor ordered to eliminate at least one of my prejudices.

Remind me to hook you up with my good friend and movie critic Michael Dequina who may be the only North American who loves Bollywood as much as you do.

Julie on

How do you know all this?????
Shah Rukh really does it for me.

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