5. The "out of date" factor. Did the film release more than a decade ago? Good luck getting your Bolly newbie to watch Bollywood with you again. [Oft-witnessed exception: DDLJ].
4. Story is too serious, or outright tragic. Even something with a lot of amazing songs and dance sequences (Read: Bhansali's Devdas or Dil Se) might warn people away because SADNESS, and feelings.
3. Length of film. Yes. 3 hours is a long time. Don't be afraid to fast forward for the sleepy viewer.
2. Offended sensibilities. Does the film in question have a song(s) in a temple? Are they explicitly devotional? Are children repeatedly treated with neglect or abuse? Does rape figure prominently into the storyline? Does the parental POV take up much of the movie and lean toward the hyper-traditional? Are the action scenes frequent, loud, extended, or hammy? Does the film support its characters being "punished" for seemingly minor infractions? [I could go on and on. This has been the hardest category for me to get around, especially when inducting family members. I can look past, forgive, and even be interested in all of these *depending on context*, but these elements rarely go over well with the un-committed.]
1. Finding the lead actor(s) laughable, subsequently unable to take story seriously.
For this reason, I never start with painfully fugly film years, hit or miss stars, or time-locked actors (like Rajesh Khanna, Anil Kapoor, or even Shashi Kapoor). I would say the same thing about actresses, but they seem to be "less" of a factor in a newcomer's experience than the charismatic male lead. Being romantically interested in women doesn't necessarily change that watching trend, from what I've seen. Male characters usually drive stories. And the actor playing the character that drives the story is going to make or break how you relate to it all. That said, let not the main actress be (a) whiny or (b) wooden, or (c) ugly. That could be detrimental to the first-timer's impressions. `
Five things that seem to MAKE Bollywood first time inductions:
5. Club/Pop music. People like it, I guess. [I'll be over here, talking to R.D. Burman, thanks.]
4. Glossy picture quality. By my third Hindi film, I had already dropped this requirement, more's the luck. But you can't expect most new filmi explorers to do the same.
3. Romance. You know, the tried and true hilltop, multiple-sari, neck canoodling, ends in a rain song love story. It's a stereotype for a reason.
2. Tight editing. Something like Jodhaa Akbar might appeal to the newbie with already wet toes (or niche interests), but the grand biopic scope of the thing makes for some slow scenes and some very drawn out ideas. Same goes for a romance like Veer-Zaara; even though it was my second Hindi film, I can't say I would recommend the slow burn and flash-back framing for the newcomer. Plus, it seems unfair to suggest films that don't have re-watch value for me. If I don't care to give it six hours, why should I ask anyone else to give it three? They're more likely to stay awake for SRK's Don or Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.
1. Charismatic male lead.
Read: Shah Rukh. His appeal is *nearly* limitless, in my experience. Even for the non-smitten, he seems to win the uninformed and confused over through straight-up hypnosis. Though, I've seen a few people immediately gravitate towards Ranbir or Hrithik instead. You know, the 1-3%.
Bonus Round: The target viewer's personal aesthetic, niche interests, genre leanings, world cinema experience really does matter. Trying to pick out a Hindi film for a lover of Eastern European cinema and dark social commentaries is a lot different than choosing one to show a middle-aged Scandinavian on a Sunday afternoon. And a much younger sibling? I would suggest picking something funny in any Indian language. Just do. Or something with interesting CGI and worldbuilding (my youngest brother is obsessed with the fictionalized past depicted in Maghadeera, which tickles me to no end).
* * *
After spending nearly a year writing about what makes all these films compelling to me, it's natural to think about what creates an appeal for others (especially when trying to convert friends and family). But I have to admit, when it comes to one's first experience with the Hindi film industry, it all might come down to luck.
Would I have gotten the instant Bollywood Brain if my first movie hadn't been Fanaa? It may not make it to a lot of best-of lists, but it does have most of the individual elements I want in a Hindi melodrama. It relies on a lot of tropes [blindness, unwed motherhood, separated lovers, mountain reunions] that you can find in the melodramatic masala of movies like Khwab, Daag, Aradhana, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, etc. It's got Urdu couplet recitation (albeit rather dumbed down) that entranced me the first time I heard it . . . and made me instantly interested in studying the language formally. It's technically a muslim social, too: not that common in Bollywood anymore...but one of the genres I love in older films. And the scope was suitably large to woo me into (idealized) Indian culture beyond Mumbai or Delhi. I can see the problems in the film, but I'm so very glad it found me. I can't imagine a better introduction [for me], especially when faced with the options of other Netflix accessible, more recent films.
So yes, I will continue to scheme up better ways to make others see what I see. What else are we gonna talk about otherwise?