Five Bollywood Rules

THE RULE: All foreigners are evil and/or slutty. This includes Americans, the British, and Canadians, including NRIs. But it especially applies to blondes.

CONFIRM: The 2003 tearjerker Baghban, in which old but adorable couple Hema Malini (who still looks fab at 59) and Amitabh Bachchan are abandoned by their uber-Americanized adult children. Their savior? An open-armed Salman Khan, as a properly respectful Indian lad who takes them in. Another over-the-top example: Aa Ab Laut Chale, a 1999 Rishi Kapoor-directed clunker starring Akshay Khanna as a highly-educated Indian who arrives in the U.S. in search of a job, but ends up driving a taxi cab. To get rich quick, he decides to marry an uber-spoiled Indian American girl with horrible hair, rather than his pretty, demure and very Indian gal pal Aishwarya Rai.

THE RULE BREAKERS: In the 1998 romantic drama Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, a debutant Rani Mukherjee, for all her short skirts and sultry eye make-up, breaks into a sobering rendition of Om Jai Jagdish when asked to sing at a college talent show. She is, after all, the school principal’s daughter. But the classic is Kajol’s Simran—a Brit-raised good Indian girl—in 1995’s super-hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. And even mildly corrupted “bad boy” Shah Rukh Khan is reformed by true love in the end.

THE RULE: No kishy-kishy before marriage. Or after, for that matter.

CONFIRMED: From scandal-courting flicks like Bobby to morality-boosters like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, most Bollywood romances are all about the cut-away. The lovers embrace and plant kisses everywhere—the neck, the shoulders, the eyes, the forehead—except for on the kisser. In fact, Aishwarya Rai caused quite a stir while marketing her 2004 Bollywood crossover Bride & Prejudice when she declared kissing completely unnecessary in the film. “If it really is part of the narrative and it goes with the flow of the story then so be it,” she told me at the time. “But if not, it doesn’t need to be thrown in just as some kind of ingredient.” Still, she later made out with Sanjay Dutt in the 2005 thiller Shabd.

THE RULE BREAKERS: While the cut-away is still the norm, this “rule” was first broken with a full-on, woman-on-top kiss in the 1933 film Karma, featuring Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai. But kisses were almost commonplace in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—check out classics like Saagar. Still, much of the period from the late ‘80s to today saw a Puritan streak—till the steamy 2003 thriller Jism made instant stars out of models Bipasha Basu and John Abraham. Its success lead to a rash of racy flicks like Murder and Aashiq Banaya Apne, which made a heartthrob out of Emran Hashmi.

THE RULE: Whether it’s a Romeo and Juliet remake or Apocalypse Now revised, the hero (or heroine, albeit more rarely) must must MUST have a love interest.

CONFIRM: For a country where most marriages are still arranged, Indians sure are in love with the concept of love. Even Ram Gopal Varma’s Godfather remake, Sarkar, had a steamy love triangle between Abhishek Bachchan and two new ingénues. But most Bollywood flicks—from family dramas like Baghban to thrillers like Kaante—strongly feature romantic intrigue.

THE RULE BREAKERS: Dhamaal, Sanjay Dutt’s next comedy—completed before the Bollywood scion was sentenced to six years in prison for possession of firearms purchased from the terrorists held responsible for 1993 bombings in Mumbai—is one of the few films that doesn’t feature a love story. And one Bollywood’s recent hits, the hockey-themed Chak De India, stars Shah Rukh Khan as a man in love—with his country. “Chak De India has no romantic angle despite having the most romantic hero of Bollywood,” director Shimit Amin told the press. “His character is a hockey team coach and he is in love with his country. We never missed the romantic angle. It still has all the emotions and the masala.”

THE RULE: You’re not getting your money’s worth unless the film is at least three hours long.

CONFIRM: In a country where the masses earn about two dollars a day, you want more bang for your buck. A prime example is the 2001 Oscar-nominated cricket allegory Lagaan, which clocked in at a whopping 224 minutes. The kicker? Bollywood is set to release a six-hour, $28 million rendition of the epic poem the Mahabharata. “It would be unjust to tell the most beautiful story in the world in three hours,” the film’s producer, Ravi Chopra, told Indian reporters.

THE RULE BREAKERS: Some Bollywood filmmakers prefer quality over quantity. Director Ram Gopal Varma clocks in at a mere two hours with his innovative ghost story Bhoot. And Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s recent period family drama Eklavya is worth plunking down the 100 rupees for, despite a running time under two hours.

THE RULE: Bollywood would be nothing without its eight-to-ten song-and-dance sequences per film.

CONFIRM: The first Indian film with sound, 1931’s Alam Ara, had about twenty songs and was a major hit. So it makes sense that Bollywood would be all about the musicals, right? Nowadays, a strong soundtrack means a strong opening box office—and sometimes the music hits while the film flops. In fact, nowadays, mega-stars like Aishwarya Rai make special appearances in box office bombs like Shakti for what’s called an “item number,” a single song-and-dance sequence that often has little (or nothing) to do with the plot. Besides, with those three-hours-and-counting running times, sometimes you just need a bathroom break.

THE RULE BREAKERS: Recently, there have been a rash of song-and-dance free films, mostly indie-edged fare like Ram Gopal Varma’s Company and Sarkar Raj and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, about a blind-deaf-mute and her Annie Sullivan-esque mentor. There’s also 2005’s critically acclaimed Alzheimer’s anthem Maine Gandhiji Ko Nahin Mara, starring Anupum Kher, a taut, songless masterpiece.

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