It's no coincidence: Bollywood is a riff on Hollywood, with the B standing in for Bombay (now called Mumbai), where the Hindi film industry is headquartered. That B could also stand for big bucks or blockbusters: The industry was worth about $2-billion in 2009, a figure that's expected to nearly double by 2014. Still, you may not want to use the B word in Indian cinema circles: Many insiders deplore the coinage, arguing that its play on Hollywood suggests second-fiddle status. Still, did we mention those $2-billion?
THE BOLLYWOOD FORMULA
The story Sorry, seeing crossover hits like Slumdog Millionaire and Bend it Like Beckham doesn't count. For the real thing, look for movies - usually shot in locations that look absolutely nothing like India - that veer from the utterly ridiculous to the intensely serious: slapstick comedies; romances in which sari-clad heroines love/lose/regain dashing heroes; Mumbai noirs about respectable dons losing way to a ruthless new generation of underworld thugs; updates on Shakespeare set in a politically corrupt India; angry young men fighting injustice and poverty with well-spoken soliloquies and well-placed punches. Also popular are movies about India's Westernized yuppies: The hero who gives up rock 'n' roll for banking to meet societal expectations; the spoiled rich kid kicked out by fed-up parents, who learns to stand on his own feet; friends coping with mom and dad pushing arranged marriages.
The music Noir, political thriller, romance - whatever the genre, you can count on at least some music and dancing in a Bollywood blockbuster, and serious spectacle. Musical numbers tend to last three to five minutes, but get this: Actors almost never actually sing; they lip-sync to prerecorded tracks by "playback" singers. Don't sniff at the challenge, though: Bollywood stars have to be versatile. More than one playback singer may record music for an actor, which means the "singing voice" can change in the course of the film and a single actor can come across as a prolific rapper, a Sinatra-like crooner and a peppy pop star.
The characters A typical Bollywood film features the upper strata of Indian society (think grand houses and helipads) or NRIs (non-resident Indians, who have made a better life abroad). After all, who wants to be reminded of everyday life? Our incredibly handsome Bollywood hero, then, has likely just finished a [insert respectable profession here]program abroad and is now looking for an Indian wifey. His choice: a Bollywood-beautiful babe who looks lovely in a skimpy mini but can also wear a sari when meeting her future in-laws, who in turn will comprise one overbearing patriarch and one sympathetic, repressed mother who understands her child's dream to be free. Also watch for the chubby, not-so-good-looking best friend.
The steamy It produced the Kama Sutra, but sex is not openly discussed in India, so films tend to get creative in their suggestions of "romance" - a dance sequence in the Alps, a song in a conveniently abandoned barn during monsoon season, scenes with bees and flowers. As for the leads, sure, actresses can wear tight clothing while they shake a leg, but actually showing sex or kissing with their paramours is a no-no. This is starting to change, though. Actor Emraan Hashmi, for example, has a reputation as the serial kisser of Bollywood for - gasp! - bussing every one of his female co-stars.
The ending Artier fare tends to sign off with the leads dead, depressed or alone. In mainstream movies, though, it's all about the happily ever after: Girl and boy overcome parental opposition and get married - with corny endplates such as "The beginning" or "It's all about loving your parents."
Yash Raj Films Launched in 1976 by Yash Chopra, this is now one of the most prestigious production houses in Bollywood. Its specialty: blockbusters such as 1995's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (boy meets girl meets meddling parents) and last year's surprise breakout romance Band Baaja Baarat, nominated for best film at IIFA. Despite all its successes, however, this Bollywood powerhouse has produced more flops than hits in recent years.
Dharma Productions Cue music from the 1998 megahit Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and most Indians will instantly recognize the Dharma touch. The company has churned out some of Bollywood's biggest romantic hits. This year's gamble is on My Name is Khan, nominated in several categories at IIFA, including best actor for Shah Rukh Khan, a.k.a. the King of Bollywood.
Arbaaz Khan Productions The first film from this new company, a 2010 Bollywood Western called Dabangg, was an instant success. It made $10-million its opening weekend, eventually becoming one of the highest-grossing films in Bollywood history. The film's producer and second lead is Arbaaz Khan, the brother of the movie's lead, Salman Khan.