New Internationalist

The Rough Guide to Bollywood

May 2002

by Various

Brace yourselves. Yes, we know that Andrew Lloyd Webber has suddenly declared Bollywood — the lush, inventive and often outrageously camp music that drives India’s film soundtracks — the next big thing, but he’s right. And now, poised to capture the all-singing, all-dancing fallout from Monsoon Wedding, the Indian movie that scooped awards at Cannes, comes the Rough Guides’ authoritative introduction to the subject.

Compiled by the British-based Bhagwant Sagoo and DJ Ritu, you know from the opening ‘Dum Maro Dum’ (‘singer Asha Bhonsle at her sleaziest’) that you’re in for a fabulous ride. Plaintive love songs with delicate flutes and percussion; mad, passionate ones whose strings affect the same glissandi as a rollercoaster and, when things get too exciting for anything else, some urgent twanging that’s been lifted straight from a James Bond soundtrack. A more modern sensibility comes with Lucky Ali’s club hit ‘Ek Pal Ka Jeena’, but those in a more reflective mood might just be seduced by the fluid lines of Jatin Lalit’s ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this Bollywood disc makes fun of a genre that, to outsider ears, can seem overwrought and lurid. Ritu and Sagoo show real affection for their subject matter. Furthermore, these songs are actually immensely subtle affairs. Used in films in lieu of erotic romps, their role was one of exquisite timing. And with Bollywood now the world’s biggest film industry, the role of its songs in a changing society is something to be watched.

Louise Gray

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 345 This column was published in the May 2002 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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