Bollywood Films and Orientalism in the Western Culture

Bollywood Films Essay

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The Analysis of Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham and Bend It Like Beckham

It is hard to imagine and understand traditional Indian culture without their colorful movies with songs, dancing, and a variety of emotions. The largest part of all Indian films is associated with the Bollywood industry that is a certain response to Hollywood and Western European cinematography.

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These motion pictures have some special atmosphere and particular characteristics that cannot be found in the other ones being a fantastic mixture of love and hate, songs and bright dances, sparkling jewels, and colorful saris. Moreover, Indian movies are the ways to see the country from the inside and feel its culture, traditions, and exotic Asian life. Although Bollywood films seem to be too naive and improbable with overacted emotions and exaggerated events, they are quite successful and popular because of their fantastic, colorful, and dramatic plot.

The Features of Bollywood Observed in the Films

Bollywood cinematography has quite a clear character with distinct features that represent the entire Asian culture though it seems too overdrawn. It is necessary to admit that the Indian movie can be described by two keywords – “too much”. It is a description of the entire industry under consideration: there are too many dramatic events, too many tears, too many emotions, gestures, and too much motion.

Emotions are the strongest part of the Indian films since the variety of them in the pictures is so huge that it destroys the frames of one genre and transforms the work into another one. Tears are the significant element of the feelings, and the heroes cry when they are happy, unhappy, disappointed, frustrated, or deeply touched. What is more, tears for men are as normal as for women in the films.

Another feature of the movies is the idealization of the personality that has quite a utopian character since the Indian images are perfect and have no flaws. The hero seems to be so good with the variety of positive features, values, and virtues that it is contiguous to the fairytale, and sometimes, it looks quite ridiculous.

Moreover, Bollywood motion pictures always have a happy end that is one more essential feature of the films. It is a logical conclusion for all the utopian mystery accompanied by music and dances in colorful national costumes. These two elements exemplify the character of Bollywood in general. Thus, folk style, songs, and dancing have become the traditional characteristic of the Indian cinematography.

Specific Cultural Products, Perspectives, and Practices Depicted in the Movies

Bollywood movies illustrate traditional South Asian culture through perspectives, products, and practices that are shown in the pictures Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham and Bend It Like Beckham. Both of them serve as examples of the traditional Bollywood cinematography and include its most essential features.

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Social class differentiation seems to be one of the most delicate problems for the country. The picture Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham tells about the marriage of a rich boy with quite a poor girl that provokes an acute conflict in his family. This aspect presents the historic heritage of South Asia that is the caste differentiation according to which any relations between the representatives of different castes are under the strictest prohibition. This problem is still essential in India.

Moreover, Bollywood art can be a source of information about traditions and religion. For instance, Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham and Bend It Like Beckham demonstrate magnificent Indian celebrations and weddings. As a result, they can even be used as educational material for the South Asian life exploration. At the same time, both pictures touch the aspects of religion and worship showing some of their elements of this process as they are a part of people’s life and everyday affairs.

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In addition, it is necessary to highlight that their ways of entertainment are also shown in the films. Songs and dances are the demonstrations of Indian culture. Every move and gesture in the dance has a certain meaning; thus, it serves as a way of communication. It can be unusual and not comprehendible for a western spectator but it depicts South Asian culture and lifestyle.

The Aspects of South Asian Culture Depicted in Films

Bollywood movies denote the essence of Indian life through the aspects of family relations, the notions of father and mother, the clothes, lifestyle, and living. The issue of family affairs is the most significant in the culture of the country. The movies Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham and Bend It Like Beckham depict traditional families in India. What impresses a western spectator most in the descriptions is the relations between parents and children-in-law as they are quite strange. The moment when a daughter-in-law touches the father-in-law’s shoes in the picture Kabhi Khushi Kabbie Gham shows a traditional lifestyle and family’s system of seniority. The father is dominant, and he is ahead of the family. When he decides to refuse from the son, his wife has to obey his decision which shows that the role of a mother and a female is strictly prescribed in Indian society. Another illustration of the fact can be seen in Bend It Like Beckham when the girl cannot play football because she is from India and has to prepare to be a wife and a mother.

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To continue, all the Bollywood films have a common feature which denotes the Indian culture the most vividly, and it is the traditional clothes. The role of the sari in the cinematography is quite significant since it makes the picture not only bright, colorful and exotic but also demonstrates one of the aspects of South Asian life. It is a decoration, a ritual, and a signal about the status. This item of clothing makes a female a real woman in India. That is why the clothes of the girl who plays football are not appropriate for the lady or for a good Indian.

The Characteristics of a “Good” Indian Based on the Bollywood Films

Certainly, the utopian and exaggerated plot of the Bollywood movies illustrates the image of a “good” Indian. According to films, it is a perfect personality, and the level of idealization is so huge that it seems ridiculous at times. A good Indian has to be honest and honorable. At the same time, he is an excellent singer and dancer which is not just a feature but a necessary quality. This individual must be ready to sacrifice his life for others and be devoted to family. Furthermore, it is important to be sensitive. Although the western people consider that man should not cry since it is not typical for a real man, the crying Indian is normal in Bollywood pictures. In my personal opinion, this image of a good character is appropriate for the Asian culture in general and can be, actually, scaled. Western films are closer to the western spectators and seem to be more appropriate because the Hollywood and Westwood illustrate their culture, lifestyle, and traditions. However, I think that Bollywood has the same function and illustrates the reality of Indian society. Therefore, an ideal, good Indian is the cinematographic evaluation of the perfect image with the purpose to create a fairytale and reflect the views of Asian people on life and relationships.



Western people have always been attracted by the Asian culture and tried to reflect it in their casual life in order to make the latter more interesting, colorful, and exotic. This phenomenon has been called Orientalism that is a single system of western views and comprehension of Orient. Edward W. Said tries to generalize the meaning of the concept and proposes a specific definition for it stating that “Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies, and colonial-style” (2). In other words, it is a certain branch in the cultural development when European countries and the entire world, in general, have accepted and applied the elements of the Indian traditions and customs into their lives. The exotic aspects of the life of Asian citizens have become a part of the luxury life of the westerners. The elements of Orientalism have been reflected in all kinds of art – in architecture, painting, literature, and even in the styles of housekeeping and decorations. Edward W. Said concludes that “Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture” (2). Nevertheless, one should highlight that Orientalism concerns only some insignificant elements of Asian culture based on exotic issues but has no scientific explanation. Illogical and irrational exploitation of the eastern cultural aspects has caused the wrong comprehension of the South Asian lifestyle and traditions.

The nineteenth century was famous for its colonial period, and western countries brought from Asia not only wealth and expensive things but also a part of its culture and traditions. In addition, it was quite fashionable to have servants from that region. Edward W. Said considers that the term Orientalism is less acceptable in the modern time since it is too general, vague and it denotes executive attitude of European colonialism in the XIX and XX centuries (2). However, the elements and the influence of the phenomenon are present in the modern art of cinematography. Orientalism in the cinema illustrates a marvelous instance of the interrelations between society and history (Bernstein and Studlar 319). The examples of the films and the show created and broadcast by the Western TV companies with the elements of Orientalism include The Simpsons, Conan O’Brien show, Shades of Ray, and The Party.

The Western tradition of cinematography has quite a different approach to and views on the South Asian culture and portrays these aspects in its own way. For example, the animated sitcom The Simpsons show the ignorant and suspicious attitude of Americans toward Indian culture. After watching the episode “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore”, it is possible to make a conclusion that the union of two opposite worlds is impossible because of the total misunderstanding and confusion of the cultural aspects. Of course, The Simpsons has quite a ridiculous and sarcastic context but the general idea is close to reality, and the cartoon illustrates some issues of Indian life, in a particular religion. For instance, one can see that people from Asia try to explain everything new and non-comprehendible as a divine phenomenon.

Additionally, Conan O’Brien has created a certain parody on Indian movies and identified the entire Asian life as a fragment of a Bollywood picture. The end of his show is an imitation of Indian songs (ConanObessed). This fact serves as a demonstration of the belief proving that western citizens perceive Indians based on Bollywood films.


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Moreover, Orientalism in European traditions and culture is transforming the true Asian lifestyle and creating some images which are significantly different from reality. For example, one can mention the idea that Asian people must have some accent. The Shades of Ray, which is a parody of Orientalism, shows westerners who behave as if they know Orient better than Indians that hints at their interest in the Indian style and illustrates some sides of South Asian nature.

Finally, The Party (1968) depicts the collision of two cultural traditions. This exciting comedy exemplifies the contemporary Orientalism and serves as its best illustration in the modern society of the XX century. The main character, the comedy actor, does not perform his part in the movie, but he gets an invitation to a luxury party in the house of the producer. This party is spoiled because of the unusual behavior of an oriental actor who tries to behave as a citizen of the West. Although the hero has an exotic Asian appearance, his clumsy and awkward behavior transforms the fashionable party into the total mass. It is possible to assume that such attempts to inject some separate, insignificant elements of Asian traditions, culture, or characteristics into western life can produce a confusing comprehension of India in general.


Bollywood films are quite popular in the modern world as they are full of traditional Indian bright costumes, dances, songs, emotions, and dramatic events as well. Asian movies show a different lifestyle and culture and can be an important source of information for South Asia exploration. Bollywood films describe aspects of life that significantly differ from the western one. That is why they may seem quite ridiculous and exaggerated. However, European and American countries have always admired the exotic Oriental world and tried to insert some elements of it into everyday life in order to make it more luxurious. This tendency is known as Orientalism in popular culture. Although it was a phenomenon of a colonial period, some features of it are still present in the cinematography. Many contemporary TV shows and pictures touch the idea of Indian culture. However, since oriental traditions differentiate from the Western ones, these attempts are presented in a sarcastic manner.

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