By Anya Shukla
I’m Indian-American. But until recently, I had a preconception of Bollywood movies: they were filled with over-the-top acting, wacky plots, and overt green screen usage. Anathema to a Hollywood born-and-bred gal like me. Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun stands in stark contrast to my sugar-coated image of Indian cinema.
Andhadhun evokes an unnerving feeling of suspense, perfectly encapsulated in one slow, eerie dolly shot of a maroon, poster-lined hallway. That sense of faint foreboding, coupled with the movie’s dramatic narrative, constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat. The plot is dense—a blind piano player witnesses two murders, then tries to catch the killers and also land the girl of his dreams and also move to London. But this film was made for Indian audiences: what Americans find over-the-top, is, in Bollywood, just right. And the storyline’s complexity doesn’t keep its twists and turns from being any less revelatory.
Many moments, significant only in the second viewing, sinisterly foreshadow the movie’s conclusion. For example, an elderly film star, Pramod, and his thirty-year-old wife, Simi, cook a crab together, a strange aside to the film’s main action. At the scene’s end, however, when Simi hugs her husband, the crab juice on her hands looks like blood. This, coupled with the fact that she reads Anita, a book about a young trophy wife despising her relationship with an older man, deliciously sets up her eventual murder spree. Sad to say, I never would have expected that forethought of a Bollywood movie.
The film’s elegant cinematographic techniques were another pleasant surprise. A pristine shot of the scene of death, framed by the lid of a grand piano; music that accentuates the tension between a young man and his lover; inclusion of the seedy Indian underground organ donation business… none of these subtle elements would have been present in a mainstream, commercially successful Bollywood movie even five years ago.
Like many Americans, I used to view Bollywood—pushing out poorly-made movies bursting with opulent song and dance numbers—as representative of India as a whole. Now, I recognize that my perspective was outdated. Today, the country is not only a global powerhouse, but its movies are visually stunning, replete with symbols and social commentary.
Only time will tell, however, how the changing movie industry will impact India as a nation: replacing Bollywood’s peppy, feel-good flair with more “American” cinema may lead to an erasure of India’s rich culture, or it could further enhance other styles—like romance—of Bollywood movies. One thing is for sure, though: our outdated idea of Bollywood may have rung true in the 2010s, but as we step into the next decade, there’s a new wave of Indian cinema on the horizon.