Bigger and Glossier, New Bollywood Megahits Show More Skin

Aishwarya Rai in psychedelic soap Devdas
courtesy of Techno Images

Bollywood's new slew of homegrown musical blockbusters have recently played an industry-morale-boosting game of cost one-upmanship: Records for the highest-budget Indian film were broken four times in under three years, according to studio publicity claims. BAM's series offers big-screen revivals of these adrenaline-pumping superhits. Those unacquainted with the new Bollywood may be surprised by how the relatively coy, low-tech cinema of previous decades has evolved into glossier, global idioms: MTV beats, hip-hop-inspired dance moves, hard-bodied young stars, middle-class consumerist settings, and—perhaps the most radical change—Telemundo-level amounts of naked skin and sultry love scenes.

Three historical epics make efficient use of India's photogenic landscapes. Asoka (2001) spins an engrossing scimitar-and-genie-pants epic loosely based on the life of the ancient emperor, who converted to Buddhism after ruthlessly conquering much of India. Anti-colonialist cricket-match allegory Lagaan (2001) ups the ante with far superior musical numbers; a similarly gung-ho nationalist vibe suffuses The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002), a revisionist biopic about the1930s Sikh revolutionary. More purely escapist pleasures are found in Devdas (2002), a psychedelically designed family soap opera with remarkable transgenerational bitch-matches; India's first sci-fi epic Koi . . . Mil Gaya (2003), a goofy, uneven E.T. masala; and the addictively high-energy Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham . . . (2001), boasting showstopping London dance extravaganzas and a hilariously over-the-top Clueless-style turn from Kareena Kapoor as a vain desi princess whose fave comeback is stridently youth-culture internationalist: "Whatever!"

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