Watching the Bollywood (or Hindi, Bombay) movies, as an escape from the heat during my previous trips to India, I saw that something big was happening. During the three hours of romance, action, song and dance, the audience clapped, sang along and cried with the actors. They were living in another world.
But also by walking in the street, one notices the importance of film for the daily life of many Indians. Huge billboards everywhere advertise either a movie or a shampoo by using the cool faces and beautiful bodies of filmstars. Filmsongs surround you everywhere, coming from shops, autorikshaws, houses and hotels. And when talking to kids in the street, one of the best ways of making contact is having a conversation on the movies. 'Who is your favorite hero?'
Then if you read the newspaper, cinema will be there in many pages. Actors turned politicians are discussed for their behaviour, or the impact of certain movies is monitored.
Bollywood cinema is, maybe even more then Hollywood, interwoven with almost every aspect of the Indian daily life. This means that the way people are making sense of their lives must have a relationship with the complex world of cinema as well. For example by thinking about what they want with their future. Big political and economic changes of the real world are being told and constructed in movies, and like that made available to the people.
The power of the movies might be much bigger than just 'moving' people to tears. It might also be moving people to new opinions or attitudes. This is where my research comes in.
To start coming to a question, it seems that the movies contain a huge paradox. On the one hand freedom and new behaviour is expressed in the films, like individual sexual choice for women. On the other hand these new freedoms go carefully hand in hand with the laws of tradition. A free woman will in the end most often succumb to the rules of family life and/or religion, wearing a red saree instead of jeans. The harmony is being restored. What does this mean for the way people think about things like freedom and tradition?
Last August I met some of the best researchers of India on these topics. Their research centre in Bangalore, The Centre for Study of Culture and Society, should be the best place for me to try and answer my questions. With plenty of cinemas and videostores around the corner :-)