Bollywood has emerged as a great phenomenon and Indian cinema itself is considered to be the largest film industry in the world.
From the larger-than-life dance sequences to the realistic landscapes, cinema in the Hindi language has come leaps and bounds as a fraternity. Though I must admit, it has a long way to go.
Thankfully, Bollywood has not lost the sense of belonging and of course, escapism.
More than a passion, cinema has been my safe haven and a huge teacher in life.
I‘m born and bred in Ilford, East London, a town which ‘celebrates’ cultural diversity. My typical weekend revolved around me visiting the VHS shop and renting films.
Perhaps that is a major reason why I’ve turned out to be incredibly filmy!
The initial Bollywood films I watched were Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ) and Sholay.
I would often hear discussions about how brilliant these movies are, but I never fully understood why until after growing up.
The beauty of such movies is that they transport us to a completely different world. Finding the perfect love like Raj and Simran was nothing short of a fairy tale.
It’s such escapist cinema which formed and contributed towards my reality from a young age.
Fond memories were created during primary school.
I remember my father used to get me posters of Bollywood films like Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega, whilst I would even perform to songs from Kal Ho Naa Ho during class assemblies.
The beauty about primary school is that as kids we were innocent. There was no malice about being Indian or watching Bollywood films.
In fact, thanks to films like K3G and Bride and Prejudice, the so-called colourful Hindi cinema became a familiarity amongst the masses.
Though I had to keep clarifying that Slumdog Millionaire is NOT a Bollywood movie with friends who would ask about Indian cinema.
Fitting in: The High School Challenges
This beautiful phased changed however When high school commenced. Constantly, I was surrounded by toxic masculinity.
Despite this multicultural milieu, many children at school were ashamed to embrace their identity.
At times I would pronounce someone’s name in the traditional way and that would irk them because we were outside the cultural surroundings.
The typical situation revolves around the boys being drawn to football – especially football and relationships. Whereas I felt more inclined towards Indian films.
I would say fitting in secondary school was the toughest part for me. I failed majorly at PE/sports and preferred the arts.
For me, drama, creative writing and dance gave me joy. But the ‘risk’ of pursuing these fields was jeopardising your reputation as a ‘man’ and consequently, a subject of mockery.
Even the mention of Bollywood or Indian television broke the status quo of all the boys in school.
I used to have quiet discussions with peers about the latest films and gossip because of the fear of stepping out of line.
When Dance Gave Me Wings
I definitely considered myself an outcast due to my inability to fit in.
I participated in cultural programmes at school where I danced to Hindi songs and tried to keep this on the low from others in fear of others finding out.
Things in high school never were ‘okay’… I don’t think they ever are meant to be.
The bullying at times got out of hand, however, the two things that kept me going were spirituality and dance.
I admire the dancing in Hindi cinema.
No matter what the situation is, a dance performance always conveys so much about the narrative or at least a character’s emotions.
Being a student at Shiamak London was one of the best experiences of my life.
Within the hour of dance lessons each week, I would completely forget my ordinary life and just immerse myself into this world of dance, friends and music.
For that hour, I was confident and happy. But then when that hour finished, I had to go back into my mundane/lonely world.
When Bollywood Became My Best Friend
The romance itself is romanticised so much in Hindi cinema. The larger-than-life and immortal stories made me yearn for the same, especially movies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Ram-Leela.
Like in the movies, one-sided love happened and it developed from strongly disliking a person at college.
Unfortunately, I insensitively handled this situation and foolishly told gossipmongers about my feelings.
The rejection I faced from the person broke me. The little confidence I gained vanished and I ended up being distant from myself.
In school, popularity was everything. The stupid mistakes I made led to me being ostracised and a subject to subtle homophobia.
At that point in life, I hit a low. I faced a sense of worthlessness, sadness and solitude. Walking into school every day was dreadful.
The world around me became unfamiliar, my poor judgement in people led me to feel confused about who to trust and more often than not, teachers did not really help me.
I found solace in consuming cinema. During lunch and break times, I would sit in empty classrooms, plug in my headphones and watch Hindi film content.
For those minutes, I was transported from being my troublesome self to being that passionate film enthusiast. In a very bizarre way, Bollywood became my closest friend.
With regards to classics, I learnt a lot from Raj Kapoor’s cinema.
Movies like Shree 420, Awaara and Mera Naam Joker taught me the philosophical meaning of life and how it is all beyond the materialistic things.
Raj Kapoor movies understood my circumstances, which subsequently helped me to survive college and high school.
All RK Films are beyond the paradigms of society.
Bollywood Continues to Help
Entertainment is usually the ultimate objective of cinema. However, there are certain ventures which help you to reflect and act as a mirror on your life.
Imtiaz Ali and Karan Johar movies have played a huge role in my life especially Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (ADHM) and Tamasha.
I strongly resonated with Ranbir Kapoor’s Ayaan character in ADHM. Up till then, I thought that one-sided affection is a bad thing.
However, after watching the film, it taught me that despite the pain it entails, at least it’s somewhat in our control.
At least in unrequited love, we can choose to walk out… We are in power, to a certain extent. The film taught me that sometimes things are not meant to be and it is okay if it doesn’t.
Like Ranbir Kapoor’s character in Tamasha, I feel like somewhere within us we all are combatting this conflict of identity… I.e. being who we want to be versus what society wants us to be.
I was always passionate about cinema but yet there were these strange expectations from various people about doing something more ‘substantial’ in life.
The motif of the clown and robot is highly relatable. But which one do we choose to be in life… The clown? or robot? or even both?
I, of course, chose the clown and my parents have supported me wholeheartedly in this decision.
Speaking of identity, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is a film which really gave me confidence. It also made my nearest and dearests come to terms with my identity.
With the little of life that I have seen, I’ve learnt that everything happens for a reason and mostly, it is for a good reason.
The people who come into our lives come for a reason and teach us something.
Just last year, when I went through a rough patch and a whole new low, Shah Rukh Khan made a cameo appearance in my life.
At that stage, I realised that he was not there as a public figure to interview, but as a ray of hope and aspirations.
As mentioned by someone on social media, if a door does not open, it is not your door.
I have a lot to learn about life. I will make many more mistakes but what will never change is my ardent passion for cinema.