The future of Bollywood is bleak

Bollywood is known for its flair, dramatics, glamor and lavish dance numbers. While the films have always caught viewers’ attention worldwide, keeping the engagement has become more and more challenging. The earliest production and concepts for Indian films began in the 1930s when Bollywood began its journey. With the industry located in Mumbai, traditionally known as Bombay, Bollywood was given its name and title as the largest film industry in the world. While there have been and continue to be a wide array of genres, the one that predominantly stands out in the media are its romantic comedy or drama pictures. 

From the beginning, Indian directors and writers have always struggled with storytelling. Bollywood films focus on the actors with the plot, aesthetics, and music being a second priority. Because of this mindset, this industry was set up for short-term success from the beginning. 

“I think Bollywood is seen (in the West at least) to be mostly flashy and over-the-top,” said Dee Miller, a film & television major at DePaul. “Contemporary audiences prefer nuanced and subtle films, especially when they can go to established franchises.”

India is known for producing copious amounts of movies in the span of a single year compared to other national film industries such as Hollywood. With this in mind, filmmakers focused more on putting well-known artists on screen and pushing out complete, two to three hour films with very little depth. This resulted in, and continues to result in, lackluster writing, plot holes and needless longevity. Some recent films that were widely-criticized were “Pathaan”, “Brahmastra”, and “Cirkus.”

Although, this does not mean a production company needs to cut back on its run-times, as that is central to this film industry. Since the beginning of Indian cinema, going to the theater in India was a luxury Hindustanis could only afford once or twice a year. 

The majority of these productions that make it to Indian households or theaters struggle to deliver meaning and satisfaction through visual entertainment. The same formula is used for many of the films with no intricate or groundbreaking ideas in the stories. This method of mediocre filmmaking may have worked in the past but has begun to lose its followers in recent years. 

Bollywood has lost its momentum. Fewer people look forward to going to the theater and seeing these films due to severe disinterest, the use of various streaming platforms and the ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

Films are expensive, and that means they’re risky, so safe projects are going to dominate there in the same ways that franchise work dominates Hollywood marquees today,” said Jordan Stalker, a DePaul  communication and media professor.

 An issue clouding both Hollywood and Bollywood is the ever-present nepotism in the industry. The lack of fresh faces and people with credentials who studied the art of filmmaking, directing, writing and acting are heavily omitted from the filmmaking industry. Those in power choose to silence these narratives and keep those unwanted individuals in the dark. If they do not have money, are not conventionally attractive, and do not have a legacy to their name, the interest in the person’s capabilities are neglected.

 For Bollywood specifically, the lack of diversity in its productions is quite a slap to the face. India, soon to be the world’s most populous nation, has rotated the same few actors and actresses in most blockbuster films. What an insult to the citizens of this country who have so much potential and so many ideas to share with the country on-screen. If you ask any Hindustani moviegoer to name a movie star that is not Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Rani Mukerji or one of the other many, many Khans, the search would be near futile.

 It is nearly impossible to find a Bollywood film with background dancers that are not fair-skinned Europeans. It is to the point of obsession, infatuation, and fetishization to Indian audiences suggesting that these people are what Indian viewers are told to idolize and compare themselves to. 

Many actors are forced to appear fair-skinned through various filters, lighting and editing. Take Kajol in “Dilwale” or “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.” In contrast, many darker skinned Bollywood actors are repeatedly cast as villains, antagonists, unlovable characters or comedic relief characters. The issue of colorism has been present for a long time in Indian cinema. 

This can be tied back to how stringent the conditions of being accepted into the industry is, made worse by the active promotion of skin-lightening products and colorist discrimination in India.

 Even with movies that involve female leads are stories about female empowerment, such as “Mary Kom” or “Kahaani,” the women are always portrayed in a distasteful light. Either they are constantly relying on a male character for support through their journey or as a love interest, or objectified. The over-sexualization of Indian women on screen greatly impacts the relationship between female-presenting and male-presenting Indians and their dynamic in their everyday lives.

 This in turn creates an issue with  consent, sexuality and intimacy for Indians nationwide. With high rates of rape and sexual assault among both men and women in the country, the warped depictions of sexual relations and behaviors creates a damaging environment and encourages negative perceptions of sex. This nation is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, according to CNN. 

 Indian women are often demonized for expressing their sexuality through their clothing or number of partners. Those who choose to express themselves more conservatively are viewed as “pure” and “innocent.” With the release of the movie trailer for “Pathaan,” people were quick to turn on a famous, beloved actress, Deepika Padukone for appearing in a provocative and skimpy dance sequence with Shah Rukh Khan.

This industry is about male fantasy and escapism,” Stalker said.

With outdated jokes, fashion trends, offensive vernacular, political and social ideas, it can be difficult for a film industry to change so much all at once. More energy should be focused towards making these changes to match a more modern audience, rather than producing multiple mediocre movies over a course of a small period of time. 

This is something that has already been done. Take Aamir Khan, a Hindi film director and producer who has already proven that breaking norms and creating new ideas in Bollywood is possible. He has explored this through his contemporary projects such as “3 Idiots,” “Dangal” and “Taare Zameen Par.” 

 What is worrisome about these issues with Bollywood is that they are ongoing and nowhere near changing in pace in any aspect. 

“Bollywood as a practice doesn’t take a risk, usually,”  Stalker said. 

For a while, the stability in concepts, storylines and familiar faces allowed for comfort and safety in watching. Indians would find pleasure and nostalgia seeing the same ideas over and over again. Even still, that can only satisfy such a large and growing population. With a constantly changing world and outlandish accessibility of the Internet and trends, this production company needs to take notes and mirror our new reality.

 Obviously, the love for this production company is strong and even personal. As one who criticizes the industry in its entirety, I could still go home and watch the classics and weep away. This is more of a cry for help on behalf of so many die-hard fans who want this industry to continue to flourish and change people’s lives on and off-screen.

While Bollywood is declining in its popularity worldwide, there is a chance to fix things and change the script, quite literally. Higher-ups in this industry need to listen to their audience and do their research on the evolution of Indians across the globe as well as adapting to the changing climate within their nation. Capitalizing on the dramatic flair, which was already one of key components of Bollywood, could help boost engagement as well. 

“I think [it] can be saved, it’s just a matter of when, not if,” Miller said. 

With those tactics in mind, this production company can once again steal the hearts of many more and possibly reach a wider, more global and younger audience.

 Bade bade industries mein, aisi choti choti changes toh hoti rehni chahiye.

बडे बडे इंडस्ट्रीस में, ऐसी छोटी छोटी चेंजस तो होती रेहनी चाहिए. (In these large industries, these small changes must keep happening.)