10 Things You Didn't Know About Bollywood

Film Professor Ajay Gehlawat Explores the Indian Film Genre
June 17, 2015
screenshot from ramleela

Screenshot from Ramleela (2013)

Sure, you know Bollywood films are from India, and you probably know they involve a lot of singing and dancing. But here are some things you might not know, courtesy of Sonoma State University theater and film professor Ajay Gehlawat, whose new book, 21st Century Bollywood, correlates with his recent Bollywood and Globalization class.

1. All Bollywood films are from India, but not all Indian films are Bollywood films. There are other regional film industries, in Madras, Calcutta and other regions, and many eschew the songs and big-budget production that are staples of Bollywood films.

2. Though they're fewer in numbers, Bollywood films are by far the most popular in India. They are also the most popular Indian films abroad, second only to Hollywood films in box-office take worldwide. India has the most prolific film industry in terms of sheer output and numbers of viewers. In terms of revenue, however, Hollywood still dominates because of bigger budgets.

3. Bollywood has realized itself as "Bollywood." It realizes that the world is recognizing it as this identifiable form, now it's playing with its own conventions. That includes reenactments of well known older songs with contemporary actors digitally inserted into the old footage. (Imagine Anne Hathaway singing and dancing with Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain.")

4. Bollywood playback singer Lata Mangeshkar held the Guinness World Record for "Most Recorded Artist in History." She held the record until the category was discontinued in 1991, and has recorded more than 5,000 songs in 36 regional languages. Her career began in 1942 and she still performs, writes and produces music to this day.

5. Since its home is now called Mumbai, maybe the Hollywood of Bombay should be called "Mollywood" instead. Just sayin'...

6. There's a Nigerian spinoff style of Bollywood called "Nollywood." Films include Nigerian takes on Bollywood versions of American films.

7. Bollywood movies are more about the music than the film. In fact, the "music videos" in Bollywood films are shot by a different director, and the music and voices are recorded first in a studio before the cameras start rolling. Singing is done by a completely different cast, and the dance numbers in the films are always lip-synched.

8. Some Bollywood songs are used in rural villages to increase literacy rates. Nearly one-third of Indians are illiterate today, and most Indians don't speak English. There are efforts to change this by using Hindi subtitles in movies where everybody knows--and sings--the songs in the films.

9. Snoop Dogg and Pitbull have recorded Bollywood songs. In an attempt to appeal to more Western audiences, Bollywood is incorporating rap into some songs. Snoop Dogg and Pitbull were featured in Bollywood songs in 2009 and 2013, respectively.

10. Several Bollywood films are available on Netflix. Many films and music videos are available on other sites as well, like Youtube or ZeroDollarMovies.