5 Lessons Hollywood Learned from Bollywood

In terms of sheer numbers, Bollywood (a portmanteau of Hollywood and Bombay) is as big if not bigger as Hollywood. Based in the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Bollywood isn’t just the largest industry in Indian cinema, it’s the largest film industry in the world, in terms of film production as of 2017.

This fascinating culture of dance, drama, and traditional values have given us iconic scenes of colorful weddings, dance parties in the middle of streets, and sweeping love stories. Bollywood has come to influence Hollywood and other film industries in multiple genres, but none more than musicals.

Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge was directly inspired by Bollywood musicals. If you watch it again you will see a mix of cultures and dance, incorporating Bollywood styles and even including the song “Chamma Chamma” from Bollywood film China Gate (1998). The success of Moulin Rouge ushered in a new wave of Hollywood movie musicals, including Chicago, The Producers, Rent, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Across the Universe, Disney’s Enchanted, and Mamma Mia.

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Here are some other tropes of Bollywood that have become more prominent in the recent musicals made by Hollywood:

Catchy music in the form of song-and-dance epic numbers

“Razzle Dazzle” in Chicago. “Dancing Queen” in Mamma Mia. “That’s How You Know’ in Enchanted. The mise-en-scene is shot with a wide-angle lens like in musical numbers found in many Bollywood sequences, where the camera shoots as if on the stage and more directly brings the audience into the choreography itself. It has become a hallmark fo the new wave of Hollywood musicals.

Epic fight scenes

Bollywood films aren’t afraid to take themselves too seriously. Often shot with a comedic sensibility, fight scenes between heroes, villains, and anti-heroes alike can take on exaggerated proportions. Hollywood translated this element with expanded nuances and artistry to their fight scenes. Kill Bill is a perfect example of a hero fighting dozens of bad guys at the same time, by herself, driven by a single objective of revenge. And, of course, seasoned with bits of humor. Directed by film buff Quentin Tarantino, the scene takes direct inspiration from the Hindi film Abhay (2001).

Love triangles

Love triangles have been around pretty much since the dawn of storytelling, but Bollywood has made it a part of its DNA and revels in the over-the-top emotive tropes of love, passion, jealousy, and betrayal. Perhaps in response to this, love triangles had a resurgence in the romantic comedies of the 1990s and early 2000s.

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For many Bollywood films, everything is done 110%, from the stunts to the drama. Melodrama is as common in Bollywood films as it is in American soap operas and Mexican telenovelas. With Peak TV and an influx of new content from Netflix, Hulu, and other new media providers, every genre under the sun is available. Melodrama is included with this, especially for younger audiences on networks like Freeform and The CW,

Convenient coincidences

Just as melodrama plays up the emotions of a film, many Bollywood films aren’t afraid to play up their story, allowing themselves to indulge in broad plot devices like divine intervention and over-the-top, convenient coincidences. While these films ask for an even greater suspension of disbelief than most Hollywood films, Bollywood has shown that audiences are willing to indulge in the illusion in order to escape and be entertained. Hollywood films, from increasingly outrageous Marvel movies to the more directly-inspired Slumdog Millionaire, where each question in the title gameshow leads to even more over-the-top coincidence, have started to learn this as well.

If you’re interesting in filmmaking and want to learn some pointers from the largest film industry in the world, this weekend might be a great time to select the Bollywood category on your Netflix!

NYFA Mumbai: Inspiration From Bollywood

Oh, Bollywood! From tragic epics to side-splitting comedies, the Hindi film industry  based in Mumbai, India) has blessed us with numerous classic films since its inception in 1913. As one of the world’s largest film industries, Bollywood provides no shortage of inspiration; deep character portrayals, riveting love stories, and humorous adventures lie in wait for the intrepid viewer. Whether you’re preparing to study at NYFA Mumbai or are simply a film enthusiast, here are a few great Bollywood movies to satisfy, intrigue, and inspire you along your film journey.

“Mughal-e-Azam” (1960)

This epic historical drama is considered a landmark in Hindi cinema, holding the top-grossing box office record for 15 years after its release — and for good reason. It’s the tale of a sweeping romance between a young Mughal prince and his forbidden love, which leads to a war between the prince and his father the king. Also of note is the soundtrack, which received universal critical acclaim and features some of Bollywood’s most famous songs. The sheer scope of this movie, as well as its high cost for the time, set a new high standard for Hindi film quality.  

“Anand” (1971)

With a title meaning “Bliss,” this graceful drama tells the story of a physician who draws inspiration from a lively and cheerful end-stage cancer patient. Although originally a low-budget film, it has become a cult classic since its release. Lead actors Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan both received significant praise for their emotionally resonant performances. If you’re in the mood for a film with pure heart, rent “Anand” to restore your faith in humanity.

“3 Idiots” (2009)

You know a comedy is pure gold when it’s remade as far away as Mexico and China. This riotous romp follows the lives of three students learning that friendship isn’t just something out of an engineering textbook. Its appeal reached beyond India, becoming one of the most popular movies in Southeast Asia — and even Hollywood briefly dabbled with creating an American version. If you’re feeling crushed under the weight of your studies, take a short break to watch the light-hearted “3 Idiots” and sympathize with the stress of school.   

“Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” (1998)

If you’re looking for an excellent coming-of-age story, look no further than this film from famed director Karan Johar. This heartfelt drama combines two intertwining love triangles set years apart. On-screen pair Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan have an undeniable chemistry that cements this film as a cult classic. Don’t forget to check out a young Sana Saeed, a NYFA alumna, as a young girl struggling under the weight of family secrets. This was the first Bollywood film to ever crack the UK’s Top Ten.

“PK” (2014)

Bollywood isn’t all romance and tragedy, as this science fiction satire proves. “PK” tells the story of an alien who falls to earth and becomes friends with a television journalist. It received both critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time. Aamir Khan, one of Bollywood’s most influential actors, played the scene-stealing lead role of the confused alien to much praise from viewers.

Inspired to learn more about filmmaking? Study with NYFA Mumbai!