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Conquered India: Hollywood’s Free Pass

By: The Cinema Cynic

As the media and part of the cinema-going public continues to gush and gush over the mediocre offerings of the super-hero (or is it super-zero) films – The Avengers Infinity War and Deadpool 2 – one is left wondering if colonial rule ever ended in India. Film critics who often can’t find a good word to say about Indian films (unless they are with a certain clique of actors or from producers who seem to own the industry) gush and fawn over the most mediocre of Hollywood’s dubious offerings and praise catatonically abysmal acting, stories and effects that make Rohit Shetty’s films look like Citizen Kane. Similarly, there is a core of Indian cinema-goers that treats Hollywood as the epitome of brilliance and bows before its alleged quality. The number of times I’ve heard Avengers or Deadpool called “quality cinema” boggles my mind.

To be fair, Western critics have come under severe scrutiny for their fawning and oddly positive reviews for the products from powerful studios. Critical praise for Star Wars: The Last Jedi drew criticism from anyone and everyone with more than one brain cell and questions were asked whether critics were afraid of giving poor reviews for fear of their access to Disney productions, backstage access and sources. Indeed, so bizarre were the critical reviews of that truly awful film (not that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that much better), that questions over the integrity of the critics were raised.

In India, the credibility of film media is lower than that of even those reporting on politics. We see the mediocre fare of certain powerful actors being given a free pass by critics while that of innovative and talented actors and directors is flayed unfairly and obnoxiously. When it comes to a big Western film, however, the most acerbic of critics is suddenly a moronic lapdog of Hollywood and the entertainment media goes gaga over every Hollywood actor, especially if white.

God forbid if there is an Indian actress in it!

Two of Bollywood’s biggest starlets – and egos – made their Hollywood debut with two of the worst films of 2017 by any critical standard. One was a bimbofied villainess and the other a fetishized action bimbo romancing a man old enough to be her father. In both films we were sold the “brilliance” of the acting of the deracinated Indian element only to find that in reality what we were offered were appalling caricatures and abysmal acting by these two Bollywood characters. Yet, the critics and the media went out of their way to hype and praise this garbage. Fortunately, the Indian audience resoundingly rejected both films.

It doesn’t only extend to films – Bollywood actresses at the Cannes film festival attract attention for dressing in Western gowns and are given more time in the media than India’s films at the said festival – more so this year as regional cinema represented India rather than Bollywood. A Bollywood actress attending the Royal Wedding attracted more Indian media attention than any Indian film at any festival – the fact that Naa Bangaaru Talli and Raktham were selected for the Madrid International Film Festival 2018 made less news that this particular Bollywood actresses preposterous purple paraphernalia in London.

India’s critical free-pass to Hollywood and its belief that Western visibility is the be all and end all has to end. Hollywood produces more garbage films than quality in any given year and, as is typical of Hollywood, their garbage costs a fortune to produce a bigger fortune to promote only to deliver a load of nonsense. There is quality Hollywood and Western cinema. However, just like quality Indian cinema, these films generally fare poorly in India. The distinction between “popular” and “good” seems to be lost on both Indian critics and elements of the Indian film-going public. By all means enjoy any type of cinema you wish but please understand the difference. A movie may have great special effects and appeal to your tastes but nuances of acting, plot and direction are what set a good, quality movie apart from a popular but too often mediocre film. This may not be reflected at the box office but the distinction is very important. Dunkirk for example was a quality film but it made much less money than Wonder Woman which was popular but most manifestly not a good movie (anyone trying to convince me Gal Gadot can act is wasting their time as is anyone trying to sugarcoat the blatantly obnoxious racism and racial stereotyping in that overrated film) and despite its box office success, was decidedly mediocre.

Just as quality Indian cinema gets somewhat unfair treatment from the critics and at the box office, poor quality Western cinema gets a free pass from many of the same critics and by elements of the public. Pathetic and poor-quality ventures by Bollywood’s denizens into Hollywood receive fawning and undeserved praise from critics and coverage in the media that transcends the absurd. It is time for a change. Why not give the same attention to quality Indian cinema? Maybe, at long last, such films could get the positive attention they deserve.

P.S. It’s a measure of how disconnected Bollywood is from the rest of India that once again its elite is embracing Pakistan. At a time when daily shelling along the Line of Control is killing Indian citizens and the government of Pakistan has continued to encourage and support terrorism and shield advocates, organizers and perpetrators of terrorism against India with not a word being said against this policy by Pakistan artistes being courted by Bollywood, one really has to ask whether Bollywood has any grasp of reality.

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