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Bollywood movies are suddenly starting to make sense. Hello Hollywood?
NEW DELHI, India — For years, India has been trumpeting the advent of revolutionary new films that turn the cliches of Bollywood on their head — twins separated at birth, “Six Million Dollar Man”-type special effects, ludicrous fight scenes and, of course, the songs. But most of the films that the industry hailed as creative were lifted from Hollywood — like "Kaante," a 2002 rip-off of "Reservoir Dogs" that somehow managed to be utterly terrible despite copying Tarantino almost shot for shot.
But behind the much-hyped script pirating, a slow-and-steady revolution has actually been underway. Thanks to the rise of multiplexes, as well as a new studio that has pushed inventive story lines, and a crop of exciting young directors, the New Bollywood may finally be here.
“It's here to stay, because the audience has accepted it,” said Ronnie Screwvala, head of UTV Motion Pictures. “These are commercially successful films, they aren't art films.” On the strength of backing the New Bollywood, Screwvala's UTV has become the industry's second-largest grossing studio.
Once upon a time, Bollywood movies thrived on the absurd. As stylized as Chinese opera, they played to cinema halls packed with cheering and hissing fans. But somewhere along the way, the luster began to fade.
“Now the odds are pretty high against the [conventional] movies that are focused higher on entertainment than on storytelling — though I wouldn't call them mindless,” Screwvala said. “The percentage of them bombing has been disproportionate.” Though the successful campy extravaganzas still put up the biggest box office numbers, the new form of Bollywood films featuring more realistic acting, coherent plots and tighter scripts has grown more bankable. While the extravaganzas have descended into slapstick and self-parody, the so-called “multiplex films” have become more consistent as India's better directors have begun to crack the puzzle of how to incorporate the classic tropes of Bollywood into modern films. This year, half a dozen “multiplex films” have succeeded commercially, suggesting that a new golden age of Indian cinema could be on the horizon.
That could be important news for Hollywood, too, where its no accident that some of the hottest directors hail from as far afield as Mexico and Taiwan.
“Hollywood is coming to a stage where it desperately needs an infusion of creativity,” said Shekhar Kapur, a director who began his career in Bollywood before shifting to Hollywood and making the Oscar-nominated period film "Elizabeth." “You can see it in the films. When you start to depend so much on characters that were created 40 or 50 years ago, when you start to depend so much on remakes, you know that essentially they're running out of creative ideas.”
Three of New Bollywood's best films — each of which grapples with the legacy of classic Bollywood in its own way — showcase the directions in which the Indian industry is headed.