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.
Karan Johar The master of melodramatic family-centric films. His debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, centred on a dead mother who leaves behind a letter for her eight-year-old daughter, begging her to kindle a romance between the girl's father and his best female friend from college. The movie shattered box-office records in 1998, and since then Johar has delivered more hits - including 2001's Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (on the romance-meets-disapproving-parents theme) and 2006's Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (on the unusually bold topic of adultery). His latest film, My Name Is Khan, is a departure: It focuses on the repercussions of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on Muslims in America. That doesn't mean it isn't over-the-top and overacted, but it has earned Johar a nomination for best film at IIFA. (Also of note: Johar's obsession with the letter K - in his film titles, and his favourite stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol).
Prakash Jha This director is known for gripping sociopolitical commentaries. From indentured labourers to female oppression and political corruption, Jha is unafraid to tackle topics uncomfortable to many Indians. Raajneeti, his film nominated at IIFA, is a modernized political interpretation of a Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, about warring families.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali His trademark is the artsy, stylized, fantasy film with an oddball plotline - as close as you can get to art-house without losing your Bollywood cred. Bhansali's film Guzaarish, for instance, follows a magician who is paralyzed, and must fight in court for the right to be euthanized.
Bollywood has a tendency to be clannish, and while there are a few exceptions (Shah Rukh Khan, for one), it helps to be part of a star family dynasty. The two biggies: The Bachchans and the Kapoors.
The Bachchans are the first family of Bollywood. Amitabh and his wife, Jaya, who started their careers in the seventies, are both powerful actors. Their son Abhishek appears to be riding on their coattails - but with less success. He's popular with directors, but his films generally fail to create box-office buzz. His wife, Aishwarya Rai, strongly divides audiences between those who think she's a plastic beauty queen and those who laud her. As for IIFA, when it launched 12 years ago Amitabh was its brand ambassador, but he wasn't at last year's event in Sri Lanka, and he's tweeted that he won't attend the Toronto splash-out.
Enter the Kapoors, another long-standing dynasty from Punjab, which has a reputation for more populist films. Its patriarch, Raj Kapoor, is the original showman of Bollywood - an actor, director and producer, he has been compared to Charlie Chaplin. He died in 1998 but his legacy lives on through two of his grandchildren: Kareena and Ranbir Kapoor, both nominated for their work at IIFA. IIFA has also teamed up with the Toronto International Film Festival for a tribute and retrospective on the senior Kapoor: Three generations of the family are expected to descend on Toronto next week.
THE IT GIRL
Of this year's IIFA noms for best actress, Katrina Kaif is the standout. The British-Indian actress is best known for her gorgeous figure and her willingness to show it off without clothing. But the 26-year-old also surprised audiences with her restrained performance - and, despite a heavy British accent, her flawless Hindi speeches - as a female politician in the political drama Raajneeti. Of course, Kaif wouldn't be a real Bollwyood It Girl without a scintillating Bollywood dance "item": Her moves onscreen in the number Sheila ki jawani have made the song a music-chart scorcher.
THE IT BOY
It's tough to displace Shah Rukh Khan. But relative newcomer Ranbir Kapoor (yes, of that Kapoor family) earned instant fame both by dropping his towel for a nude scene in his film debut and, since then, showing a willingness to experiment with a wide range of roles. He's nominated for best actor at IIFA for playing a political mastermind in Raajneeti. The 28-year-old Punjabi actor also generates talk with his private life: a high-profile romance with Bollywood belle Deepika Padukone that ended in a split, as well as rumours of dates with several other actresses.
HOLLYWOOD, MEET BOLLYWOOD
The Brangelina of Bollywood: Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan
He's Bollywood royalty. She's a great Bollywood beauty. Like the Hollywood couple, though, they might just be most famous for their romance. As for their acting chops: Mohit Rajhans, the host of film show Bollywood Boulevard on Toronto's OMNI Television, claims Rai's talent is questionable and that Bachchan takes the prize for most overrated Bollywood actor.
The Robert Downey Jr. of Bollywood: Salman Khan
He's a popular darling, but Salman Khan is also Bollywood's biggest bad boy. Onscreen, his roles have included the muscled, tough-on-crime cop in the mega-grossing Dabangg; off-screen, he's been on the other side of the law thanks to an arrest for allegedly poaching a chinkara (an endangered gazelle) and was charged with negligent driving in a hit-and-run case. Khan's romances are equally controversial: His string of famous exes includes the now-married Aishwarya Rai, with whom he seems to have an ongoing spat, and leggy star Katrina Kaif. He stays out of the official limelight, however, preferring not to engage with India's paparazzi.
The Natalie Portman of Bollywood: Kareena Kapoor
Like her Hollywood counterpart, Kapoor does blockbusters with as much flair as more serious films - from a critically acclaimed role as the unknowing wife of a terrorist to this year's IIFA-nominated turn as a tomboy in the slapstick comedy Golmaal 3. Mind you, she faced fans' outrage when she dropped to a size zero (they like their leading ladies voluptuous). Kapoor also regularly features in the gossip rags for her romance with Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan. She's part of a Bollywood dynasty; he's actually the prince of a royal house of India.
The Randy Newman of Bollywood: A. R. Rahman
Hollywood discovered him with his hit, Jai Ho!, in Slumdog Millionaire. But Indian fans are generally surprised that Rahman went mainstream for music that's not considered to be his best work. His more lauded pieces includes tracks in Bollywood hits Bombay, Rang de Basanti and Roja.
The Christopher Plummer of Bollywood: Amitabh Bachchan
Like his Canadian counterpart, the Big B is a thespian with a true versatility (and a deep, resonant voice) that has earned him legend status. The 68-year-old popularized the angry-young-man role when he first started in Bollywood in the seventies but has gone on to work with every big-name Bollywood director, in roles from rom-com lead to traditional patriarch to underworld don. Like Plummer, Bachchan has also played King Lear.
The Hugh Jackman of Bollywood: Hrithik Roshan
The 37-year-old's good looks and family-man image haven't hurt his heartthrob status. But his great dance moves could also give the Tony-winning Jackman a run for his money. Roshan's also known for his range: He has played a suave villain, a soldier and a 15th-century Indian king. Like Jackman, he's also done a turn as a superhero.
The Tim Burton of India: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Disturbing and funny, fantastical but strangely resonant, Bhansali's stylized films fill the quirk niche in Bollywood.
Tum Bin (2001) A romantic drama set in Calgary, the film garnered high praise for its soundtrack.
Bollywood/Hollywood (2002) A lighthearted poke at Bollywood's song-and-dance routines, it's directed by Deepa Mehta and stars Toronto actress Lisa Ray. Shot - and set - in Toronto.
Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) In this romantic flick, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan, Toronto stands in for New York.
Neal 'n' Nikki (2005) A fluffy romantic comedy about Indian immigrants in Canada. Shot in Vancouver and Whistler.
Apne (2007) Another Toronto-as-New York production, starring Dharmendra, his sons Sunny and Bobby Deol, as well as Shilpa Shetty of Big Brother fame, and Katrina Kaif.
Thank You (2011) Starring Askay Kumar, Sonam Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, this film - about philandering and soon-to-be-reformed husbands - features several Ontario landmarks, including Toronto's Flatiron Building and the Air Canada Centre, as well as Niagara Falls.
Breakaway (coming soon) Canadian comic Russell Peters stars in this cross-cultural drama about hockey-mad Indian immigrants in Toronto's suburbs. (Bollywood's Akshay Kumar has a cameo.)
INTERNATIONAL INDIAN FILM AWARDS: THE BUZZ CONTENDERS (AND CELEBS)
Best film The front runner this year is Bollywood's take on the western, Dabangg, which has set Bollywood box-office records. With bad boy Salman Khan in the lead role, the film (whose title translates as Fearless) delivers plenty of swagger, snark and, as Indians say "ishtyle."
Best director If critics had their way, Vikramaditya Motwane would win for his sensitive film Udaan ( Flight), which explores an abusive parent-child relationship. More likely, though, the prize will go to Karan Johar for My Name is Khan, about Muslims in post-9/11 America.
Best actor Judging from other Bollywood film awards, such as Zee Cine and Filmfare, this category will be a close call between Hrithik Roshan for Guzaarish (as a paraplegic magician who yearns to be euthanized) and Shah Rukh Khan for My Name is Khan (he plays an autistic Muslim).
Best actress Another toughie: Vidya Balan sizzled as the conniving heroine in the thriller Ishqiya, but Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has also won accolades for her performance as a paraplegic's caretaker in Guzaarish.
Best oddball tribute Bollywood "playback" singer Sonu Nigam is teaming up with Jermaine Jackson for a bow to the King of Pop. Nigam, who credits Michael Jackson as an influence on his song Deewana Dil in the Bollywood film Pardes, created a tribute song for the pop star after his untimely death. That song, which also incorporated fan tributes, eventually wound up on the tribute album The Beat of Our Hearts. The nod to Michael Jackson will be part of the IIFA Rocks event on June 24.
Best paparazzi opp He's called King Khan for a reason, and die-hard fans will do anything to get a glimpse of this megastar. Shah Rukh Khan has starred in some of the biggest rom-coms of Bollywood, including Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge. So far, even the freshest-faced new stars haven't been able to nudge his status as Bollywood's favourite leading man.
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