A Russian in Bollywood


I’ve been asked courteously by Neo Indian to “give a shout out” to the desis. So, here is my story of how I grew to love Indian and South Asian culture.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love all things Indian.  I love saris, chapatis, rotis, and Saif Ali Khans.   I can’t say for sure when this began, but I think it was around the time I saw DDLJ on tv.  As I paused to look at the father forbidding his daughter to marry someone who was of the same skin color, the same religion, and spoke the same language, I thought, how awesome.  Here is a culture that is crazier than Russians and Jews combined! Also, they dance.  A lot.   I didn’t know at that time that DDLJ was the classical hit Bollywood movie.

I especially loved this song:

I loved this movie so much that I began to wonder if there was some place I could get the songs.  Since I didn’t remember the name of the movie at the time, I couldn’t download them (LEGALLY, OF COURSE).  But, when I was studying International Relations for the summer of my junior year of high school at the University of Pittsburgh, I found a little Indian store near the University.

I went in.  I had no idea what anything was, only that everything smelled good.  Also, that the storekeeper was looking at me curiously.  I saw the racks of CDs and somehow located the disc.  I don’t think the storekeeper was ever more surprised than when I bought it.  I went back to my dorm and listened to it five times.

Then, I had a chance to see Lagaan, on the same channel I caught DDLJ, IFC.  IFC was a godsend in a time when I was growing up in one of the most culturally isolated areas on the Western hemisphere, the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where a Neato Burrito provides the local international flavor.

Lagaan is, to this day, one of my favorite Bollywood movies, mostly due to the historical slant.

I watched the scene repetitively. I even tried to make my then-boyfriend act it out. “Why can’t you pretend like you’re jumping off a cattle cart and hug me from behind?” He looked at me like I was crazy. I bet he is glad I married Mr. B. Mr. B has to put up with a lot of crazy in the household.

That’s when I started actively seeking out my fix, both by watching Bollywood and by reading about India and Indian culture.

And then I found this:

And this, which was near and dear to my heart.  Because it was like a lot of Russian dinner parties I’ve been to.

And this.  I cried like a beluga the first time I watched this clip because it so closely touched on my close connections with Russia and Israel and the love for your home country even though there may be a lot of things broken there. Also because I wanted SRK‘s Ikea furniture.

And then this.  Which became one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite movies, Parineeta.  I can’t explain why I love it so much, because if you watch it, it’s like any other Bollywood movie. But it really struck a chord in me for some reason. I made my mom and Mr. B watch it with me. Poor Mr. B.

Have you ever had a movie that completely altered the way you thought about something, or opened a new world to you?  That’s how DDJL was for me.  Bollywood opened a whole new world to me because it was just so different from how I had grown up, seemed so exotic, and yet, I felt I could really identify with Indian norms and mores because a lot of the strict conservative-type culture is close to what Russians grow up experiencing.

Question for you: Do you have any Bollywood recommendations? Or an Indian wedding they would like me to attend?  Or any movie that impacted the way you watched movies or thought? Oh, and don’t say Dhoom.  That movie was crap on a motorcycle.