Bollywood movies crack me up. Every now and again a friend will send me a clip, a highlight, from one of the Bollywood blockbusters, and inevitably the scene is utterly preposterous. Many of these films are known for their far-too-long and over-the-top fight scenes where the mighty hero defies all the laws of physics and all the constraints of the human body to conquer an entire army of enemies—inevitably with fists a-flying.
I suppose that people who enjoy Bollywood accept a certain level of unrealism. Implicit in the genre is a very different understanding of how the human body functions, not unlike all the superhero movies that are so popular today. Just like the flowery dialog in the movies of the 60’s or the “aw shucks mister” way of speaking in the films of the 50’s, there is a level of unrealism that is deemed acceptable. Why shouldn’t one man stop a train with his fists? Who is to say that a hero can’t pick up an entire jeep and throw it off a jetty? The genre allows it.
At the suggestion of a friend, I recently laughed my way through another of these corny scenes. But as I watched Singham commit another great feat of strength, I saw a bit of a parallel between Bollywood and its big brother Hollywood. Hollywood allows its own version of unrealism in the movies we enjoy. We just take our fantasy on a different level.
If the Bollywood fantasy is all about physical strength, the Hollywood fantasy is about emotional connection that quickly works its way into sexual intimacy. The Bollywood fantasy tells us that a man can single-handedly intercept and destroy an army, and when he does this, the woman will swoon and he will have earned his right to marry her. The Hollywood fantasy tells us that we can meet a soul-mate, feel a powerful relational connection, and experience perfect, regret-free sexual intimacy all in the span of just a few scenes.
In both cases, reality takes a back seat, and we just allow ourselves to get immersed in fantasy. All of the struggles of a real sexual relationship disappear into this Hollywood fantasy. She is always eager. He is always able. They are always in the right location. Nothing is ever awkward. Nothing ever hurts. Nobody ever has next-day regrets. Everything just works perfectly.
This fantasy is not harmless. It teaches those who watch it. It presents a form of reality that we may desire, but cannot attain. The Bollywood hero can’t actually stop a train and human begins created in God’s image cannot actually experience that Hollywood kind of intimacy just the way it is presented. This Hollywood fantasy allows us to believe that sex precedes love, that I can’t possibly know I love you until I’ve slept with you and a lot of other people besides. It allows us to believe that sex is powerful enough to be a unique form of union between a man and woman, but that sex is also meaningless enough that it can be experienced with many people over a lifetime without regret and without consequence. It allows us to believe that a sex life can be carried on through the passion of a relationship that doesn’t involve investment, difficulty, and self-denial. It is a particularly unhealthy and unrealistic fantasy.
We can laugh at Bollywood and all they accept as realistic. But we should be laughing at ourselves as well.