Hindi film fans take a lot of things on faith, especially those of us who didn’t grow up immersed in Bollywood. For example, a Bollywood punch doesn’t simply knock a person to the ground, it sends him flying through a wall. Also, ball gowns are appropriate attire for women no matter the environment, be it a sand dune or a snowy mountaintop.
One aspect of Hindi cinema it never occurred to me question is why Punjab and Punjabi characters feature so prominently in films made in Mumbai. In her new book, Don’t Call It Bollywood, Margaret Redlich explains how Punjabi refugees shaped modern Hindi films, resulting in the mustard fields of Punjab becoming the industry’s visual symbol for the nation: “the India you want to remember.”
Redlich’s book is part film history, part industry insight, and part personal essay. Each chapter begins with Redlich’s own accounts of her experience with Hindi cinema, as well as her efforts to introduce it to others. Like me, she didn’t grow up with Bollywood films, only really finding a passion for them as an adult. The dismissive attitudes of (I presume) her fellow film studies counterparts toward Indian cinema prompted her to write this book.
Don’t Call It Bollywood is a good jumping-off point for movie fans ready to take the leap from the screen to the page. Because the e-book does not contain any photos or illustrations, it helps to be familiar enough with Hindi films or Indian culture to have some preexisting image in mind when Redlich mentions something like a character wearing “a typical Parsi hat.”
The book features several addendums, including suggestions for further reading. The most helpful is the “Useful Hindi Words to Recognize” addendum, which serves as a key for translating almost any Hindi film title.
Redlich’s writing style is very accessible, and for $2.99, the price of the e-book is undeniably reasonable. Click this link to check out Don’t Call It Bollywood on Amazon. More of Redlich’s writings on Hindi films, plus her movie reviews, can be found at her website, also called Don’t Call It Bollywood.