Making a Song and Dance of It
By Kamal Sunavala

In the past three months, I have noticed that somehow the task of explaining and defending India to Czechs in Prague has fallen to me. It started with someone in a pub asking me what I thought of Bollywood. And was it really as crazy as it looked? I replied politely that I didn’t live in Bombay but in fact, in Prague and I wouldn’t know the first thing about Bollywood since I am not engaged with the film industry in India in any way. But you’re a writer, the rude man insisted, out of a stupid sense of disassociation. With the Czech Business Weekly, I replied. And not all writers who are Indian by nationality are automatically penning three-hour-long drafts for movies. By now I was thoroughly irritated and wanted to simply be left alone with my gin and tonic and my book. He wouldn’t give up, as manic people are apt not to. I find these Bollywood movies really silly, he said. They’re not real, he accused. I nodded, without replying, hoping that he would go away. Look at Czech films, he said proudly, they talk about real issues. I rolled my eyes heavenwards and started to smoke straight into his face, hoping he would get the point. But he persisted. He was obviously some sort of self-professed intellectual who spoke English with a trace of the strange Florida accent that many English-speaking Czechs have. And all this dancing and singing in the films, he laughed, what’s that all about? Who really behaves like that? Indians, I replied. I’ve been to Delhi, he said, and I didn’t see anyone dancing and singing there. People have jobs, I replied. They dance and sing at weddings and festivals and on college campuses; did you go see any of those? He assumed a haughty manner now; I think it’s ridiculous that an art form which concentrates on melodrama is so popular in the world today. People have no taste. No wonder there are no Hindi films playing here, he said with some sense of having won an argument that didn’t exist in the first place. I could have sat there and defended the Indian film industry. I could have told him how wrong he was and how adored Bollywood films were all over the world, so much so that Hollywood sat up and took notice and collaborations with Bollywood were on the rise. I could have told him that the Hindi film industry has catered to every single segment of India and Indians living abroad in an entertaining format and had talented people who came from seven generations of artistic ancestry and continue to reveal their talents on and off-screen with thoughtful and provocative cinema, right along side the song-and-dance flicks. I could have explained to him that Czech cinema has absolutely no standing anywhere in the world, in fact, distributors abroad refuse to take on Czech films because of the overall poor quality of production and stories that never tap into the immense power of human emotion. I could have told him that his own government refused to pass a bill in Parliament that would increase state support to film development. I could have told him that it’s not enough to circulate a myth that Czechs are great at filmmaking and not acceptable to take pot shots at other countries that have factually proved their box office powers in countries as far flung as Poland and Mexico. And I could have definitely told him that since 2003 there has been a Bollywood film festival held in Prague every October, where eighty percent of the ticket-buying folk are Czech.

But instead I asked him a simple question. What do you not like about Hindi films? He instantly replied: too much emotion.
I rest my case.