The changing tune of Bollywood

Rasha al Raisi –

Growing up in the middle east, I had the privilege of watching movies made in Egypt, Hollywood and Bollywood.
The magic of Bollywood was the easiest to capture the attention and the imagination of children of our age: being colourful with predictable plots, songs and dances.
The fighting scenes were hilarious and coming from the desert, it was hard to believe that torrential rains existed (a visit to India in the Monsoon season changed my mind). I still remember Friday noons, when men came back from the prayers and the family sat on the floor to have lunch (rice and curry of course!).
The AC would be on full blast and the TV is on. The Hindi movie usually started around two o’clock. If I could summarise my early memories of Bollywood movies it will be put in two words: Amitabh Bachchan.
There are three scenes from three different movies that I remember clearly: Amitabh wearing a fat suit and a woman costume singing Jiski Biwi Moti, Amitabh dangling from a horse carriage with a woman in a huge hat singing Humko Tumse, and Amitabh living in a house full of people and the scary scene of him wearing blue lenses.
My Hindi wasn’t brilliant (sadly still isn’t) but thanks to the subtitles, I followed what everyone was saying. Then came the 90s and Bollywood plots changed, focusing on fresh faces of the time like the three Khans and Sunny Deol.
We continued watching movies on TV and bought poor quality, obviously home-made videotapes. To my parents going to the cinema was out of question. My dad firmly believed that Hindi movies drove people mad with its impossible love stories. Mom on the other hand announced that the place wasn’t for respectable girls.
At that time Akshay Kumar was catching the viewers’ attention here. He was my least favourite actor with his hairy arms and goofy smile. Unfortunately, my youngest cousin took a fancy on Akshay and his movies. On every visit to their house it was obligatory to listen to Mast Kalandar playing at least ten times.
Fast-forward to the start of the 2000s, Akshay had a total revamp becoming muscled, waxed and with a decent haircut. Yet I stayed obstinate and chose not to watch his movies. But lately my feelings towards Akshay had changed after watching two movies discussing social issues.
In the first movie: Toilet, Akshay portrays a newly wedded man from a rural village whose wife files a divorce due to the lack of toilets in his area. Akshay has to face of strict traditions, culture and lazy administration to build a toilet and save his marriage. The movie is based on a real event that took place in 2012. Though the movie was slow and boring, the message behind it was loud and clear.
The second movie: Padman is inspired by the life of the Tamil social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham — chosen by the Time’s magazine in 2014 as one of the hundred most influential people in the world — who introduced low-cost sanitary pads-making machines in rural India. The movie discusses the taboos that comes with the menstrual cycle and unhygienic practices that could cost women’s lives. Akshay’s journey to get his invention accepted by women and across his country was convincing. The movie was interesting and educational.
Both movies made me think of little things that we take for granted, yet others around the world struggle to get it across the masses. It’s refreshing to see Bollywood changing its tune and taking interest in raising awareness of the public. That’s the way forward.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja.