Mukul Kesavan, a professor in the department of history at Jamia, offers us an interesting explanation to why Bollywood movies are so “trashy,” in his latest article titled “Attitude Bollytude” for Outlook.
In his opinion, the reason why Indian cinema is so “trashy” is because the only way to create popular art for such a culturally diverse country like India, is to make movies that – to use Salman Rushdie’s description of Indian movies, which he cites in his article – have scripts of dreadful corniness, look tawdry and garish, and relies on the mass appeal of its star performers and musical numbers to provide a little zing.
In essence, what he’s trying to say is: trashy movies are the only kind of movies we as Indians can appreciate and like. And apparently, if our movie-makers had made realistically sensible movies, they would have gone unappreciated by our collective unsophisticated sensibilities. In an attempt to make movies that would appeal to the largest section of the Indian population, movie-makers had to break away from reality and slide into a world of fantasy that had rules of its own.
But don’t get him wrong; though he thinks much of the output of Bombay’s film industry is trashy, “the aesthetic that makes the bad films,” he says, “is also responsible for the good ones.” And what are those good ones is something he fails to mention; unless the reference to “Kati Patang” was an example of a good one.
What is to be really appreciated in his view is the fact we developed the art of cinema independently at the same time as the West. To him apparently, it does not matter if the art form we developed independently of the West generally produces trash. Unlike the Anglophones — who he is critical of because they do not appreciate Indian cinema like he does — a self-respecting Indian should be proud of our trash-producing movie industry; because just like any proud mother, we must love our baby no matter how big a disappointment he or she might have turned out to be.
This kind of reasoning is indicative of a popular strand of nationalism where instead of acknowledging your nation’s faults and weaknesses, you try to project them as your strength, and foolishly take pride in them. This form of national pride I believe is not only counter-productive, but is dangerously jingoistic in nature. If we were to like all things Indian, no matter how bad they were, we would have no reason to reform. Because why fix something when it ain’t broke. And as the popular adage goes, the first step in solving a problem is to admit you have one. But if we keep on deluding ourselves that everything about us is great and dandy, we’ll never change for the better. We’ll keep on producing shit, and we’ll keep on pretending to believe that our shit don’t smell.