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!”