A Bollywood State of Mind is a biography punctuated and headlined, quite literally, by Hindi film titles, songs, trivia, and dialogues
Loving Hindi-language cinema is a lifelong commitment, often made in a moment of weakness — beyond the realm of the rational. Almost like adhering to a religion: partake in the celebrations of even problematic bits and ignore or justify the ugly side. Ingmar Bergman, perhaps, thought of Bollywood when he said, “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls”.
Sunny Singh takes the reader on a guided tour of these dark rooms of our souls in her latest book A Bollywood State of Mind. This 255-pager is a deeply personal review of the largest film industry in the world. Singh blends her brought-up-on-Bollywood persona with her erudition befitting a global academic to create an immensely readable treatise on popular culture.
A Bollywood State of Mind is a biography punctuated and headlined, quite literally, by Hindi film titles, songs, trivia, and dialogues. It starts with one evergreen song “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Ye…” and ends with another “Chalte Chalte Mere Ye Geet Yaad Rakhna…” Couched in this over-the-top, bordering on maudlin framework, however, Singh delivers a detailed and deeply political commentary on India’s evolution as a high-growth post-colonial nation over decades.
Using the wide Bollywood repertoire, Singh offers lessons in aestheticism—Western and Eastern philosophies—in an accessible manner in her book. The ease with which the first-person narrative saddles the worlds of personal memory, macro socio-political and economic churning in India, and academic discourse on performing arts (Natyshastra et al.) is admirable.
Singh’s book is an easy read that encourages you to research further. It draws the expert and the layperson in with equal charm. Like a good keynote speaker, she has been able to pack a lot of references, theories, ideas, and history in this book that both, the lovers of Indian cinema and the uninitiated, will find useful.
The author seems to be a flagbearer of the now much-maligned idea of Bollywood being the harbinger of India’s soft power in the global arena. The book is peppered with references to encounters—some famous, some personal to Singh—in different parts of the world facilitated by a shared love for Indian films and songs. In a deeply polarised domestic situation, where even the film industry is deeply divided along political lines, this optimism feels a bit starry-eyed.
But then, as long as there are people with a passport issued by “Dushman Mulk” who swear that the Kapoors of Bollywood — the clan of Prithviraj Kapoor — are Peshawar’s real royalty, anything is possible. And when a Gikuyu man tries to impress an Indian tourist in an upscale Mombasa resort by singing a Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai song, there’s scope for capitalising on this soft power.
Whether there will be a grand turn of fortunes in the destiny of a nation is anybody’s guess. A Bollywood State of Mind suggests that personal memories are often obscure unless they are viewed and reviewed through larger-than-life lenses. The said lenses, in turn, get cleaned up when adjusted on the personal. When Singh ends the book by recounting her experience of watching Pathaan, a film that brought a beleaguered Shahrukh Khan back into the astral space of stardom, she is essentially looking for moments of redemption. It coincides with her acknowledgement of her father’s reticence — a painful word in personal relationships.
A Bollywood State of Mind
By Sunny Singh
Footnote Press and HarperCollins India
pp. 272, Rs 299