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ARTICLE ON LATEST BOLLYWOOD NEWS GOSSIP
By Suketu Mehta
For sheer pizzazz—and number of pictures produced— India 's over-the-top film industry, known as Bollywood, easily out-hollywoods Hollywood .
Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.
A movie set outside Mumbai. It's after midnight on a sweltering June night. A balding man booms commands into a microphone. The camera zooms in on a group of dancers as they swirl around a huge bonfire in front of a temple adorned with tinsel and fairy lights. A song slowly starts. . . .
Veteran film director Yash Chopra, an amiable man of 72, is directing a scene in which Veer is taking Zaara to meet his relatives in his village during a folk festival. We are in Film City , a 500-acre (200-hectare) wonderland of fake mansions, poverty-stricken villages, schoolhouses, and police stations on the outskirts of Mumbai, where many of the big-budget Bollywood films are shot. Production costs for Indian films are a fraction of Hollywood budgets, though the use of megastars and elaborate sets is starting to narrow the gap. For Veer-Zaara , Yash and his 33-year-old son, Aditya, have re-created Yash's home state of Punjab , bringing in Sikh dancers from the villages, whose colorful turbans make them look like peacocks.
Yash's half-century filmmaking career has produced a string of box-office hits, and his film company, Yash Raj Films, is the most successful in Bollywood. These days, Yash and Aditya work in sync: Aditya writes the story, Yash directs it. On the sets Yash sits in front, issuing orders; Aditya watches from behind a monitor.
Aditya says he wrote the story of Veer-Zaara as a vehicle for his father to return to his Punjabi roots. Born in Lahore , in what is now Pakistan , Yash moved with his family to the Punjabi city of Jullundur when he was a boy. He came to Bombay in 1951 to work with his older brother in the film business. After decades in the city, Yash still prefers Punjabi food and speaks with a thick Punjabi accent. He is a rustic man in a glamorous world.
The secret to Bollywood's worldwide appeal, says Yash, is that its films are "wholesome"—his favorite word. The Indian government has given him four national awards in the category of "Best Film for Providing Popular and Wholesome Entertainment." He won't allow kissing in his movies. "If a boy loves a girl in India ," he says, "they feel shy of kissing in public." In most Bollywood films, if two lovers want to thwart an arranged marriage, they can't just elope; they have to win over the disapproving parents. In Veer-Zaara, the hero and heroine never even touch each other, except in a fantasy song sequence.
During the 1960s and '70s, Yash introduced many elements now considered staples of the Bollywood film: romantic plots, lavish costumes and sets, catchy songs sung in exotic locales. "In Hollywood they call these films musicals," he says. "Here, every film is a musical." He has shot multiple scenes in the Alps, transporting generations of celluloid lovers to frolic in the Interlaken —a substitute for predominantly Muslim Kashmir, which is the Indian idea of a honeymoon paradise but where filming would be too risky because of the continuing conflict that has riven the region since partition.
Yash has just come back from a scouting trip in Switzerland , where, he boasts, he didn't spend a single franc because the Swiss government hosted him. "Everything on the house," he says with the glee of a producer who's spent his life making budgets stretch. The Swiss have given him an award for the contribution his films have made to tourism,
and a lake where he often shoots is known as Chopra Lake .
Now in Mumbai a crew of hundreds is working through the night to complete the scene in which Veer brings his sweetheart home. Next to Yash on the set is Amitabh Bachchan, the actor who is playing Veer's uncle. A larger-than-life figure in Bollywood for decades, Amitabh was ranked the "greatest star of stage or screen" in a BBC online vote in 1999, winning out over Chaplin, Olivier, and Brando. He is sitting on four plastic chairs stacked on top of each other, their arms bound by packing tape, because he needs a high chair to keep his long legs comfortable. When Amitabh gets up to dance with the others, it seems slightly undignified, this icon of the cinema—and hero of my childhood—having to perform MTV-inspired dances at the age of 63. The moves seem slightly stale to me: The dancers throw their arms about, twirl, throw out their arms again. But when Amitabh comes back to his improvised throne and watches the replay of the song on a monitor, he's clearly pleased. "We are too much," he says, laughing. "We are unbelievable!"
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.