Tuesday, March 17, 2015

On Bollywood and Tollywood Recommendations: A Fifth Anniversary Retrospective

Thanks to Ram Aditya G., Rick's Café Texan's only Indian reader, for the suggestions.

Well, since we are in March and in Spring Break, I've decided to tackle some unfinished business too long delayed.

Almost six months ago I was asked to look over what I was told were better examples of Bollywood and Tollywood musical numbers.  School pushed these things aside, but a nagging sense of good old Protestant guilt got me to take a little break during this my last school break to do so.

Now, out of the three suggestions for a Bollywood number by composer Sneha Khanwalkar, only one allowed me to actually listen to it without doing a YouTube search for Khanwalkar.  The message was they were not available in my country.  That was Superchor (Jugni Hasdi Ve Hasdi).  I thought it was an interesting song, and certainly contemporary as I heard a little rap mixed in.  Unfortunately, there were no visuals to accompany it, so a lot was lost in translation.

For a non-Indian like me, the visuals sometimes help figure out what is going on.  Granted, some numbers, like Tu Meri from Bang Bang (which I did see but haven't reviewed) might not really explain anything, but at least I knew what came before so I wasn't completely lost. 

In any case, I did a bit of searching for Khanawalkar, and I hope I got it right.  The few songs I heard, such as Kaala Rey from Gangs of Wasseypur, seem more avant-garde than I would think would go in a traditional Bollywood film.  I was taught that Bollywood films were more traditional, more conservative, and certainly Kaala Rey is neither.  It feels contemporary, not pop but close to experimental in the song. 

Not that I Can't Hold It Any Longer from what was described as the 'cult Bollywood film' Love Sex Aur Dhoka made things any more family-friendly.  While it takes place at a bachelor party, and remarkably tame for what I imagine a bachelor party to be (given my limited experiences with them, as they were all with very Christian men), I can't imagine this song would find its way to a more standard Bollywood production.  Another little song from Love Sex Aur Dhoka, (it lasts about a minute, which in itself is flouting convention), Mohabbat Bollywood Style, seems to almost ridicule the conventions, mocking just how grandiose the musical numbers can be.

The last song I heard, Tanki Hai Hum from Hard Kaur, seems to be almost a celebration of hedonism, boozing it up to your heart's fill.  It's surprising that this would fall within the confines of my idea of Bollywood as being more wholesome and dare I say, virginal.  They're not bad songs by any stretch, but a bit surprising to my little old Western mind.  They seem to push the envelope and are more adventurous than something like Tu Meri.  I can't imagine Krissh singing about downing Bacardi and tequila. 

The other links worked a little better.  The Tollywood composer Devi Sri Prasad's first number, Thakadimithom from Aarya, was upbeat and if not lavish at least energetic (which I think is more Tollywood than Bollywood).  I can't explain it precisely: as if Tollywood numbers don't have to be so gigantic and splashy than their Mumbai counterparts. 

Compare Aamchi Mumbai from The Businessman to God Allah Aur Bhagwan from Krrish 3.  The latter is big, colorful, extravagant.  The former is not colorful, relying instead on smaller number of dancers, all in sync, complimenting the main performer.  As God Allah Aur Bhagwan is bright and positive, Aamchi Mumbai is rather dark and cynical.  Bollywood numbers are big, brassy, bold.  Tollywood numbers are smaller, with a fondness for having the viewer look through things, where smaller choreography is better than the large-scale number of dancers a Bollywood number would ask for.   

The second link, a jukebox collection of numbers from Julayi, appears to confirm some of my ideas.  Here, we see that the numbers are not gigantic, and they have a strong sense of place.  They don't flit off into fantasy worlds (mostly).  Rather, they take place on the street or in working-class settings.  They don't go for big.

I also noticed that costuming is not a big deal in Tollywood films.  Most of the time, the leads wear regular, almost street clothes, the type one would see kids wearing at malls.  They don't have a big lavish colorful style in the wardrobe (most of the time, for I'm sure on occasion they do break out something lavish).  For the most part, however, there seems to be an everyday quality to the clothes worn in Tollywood production numbers. 

I liked the Devi Sri Prasad numbers, and I think I'm getting a sense of Tollywood songs.  He doesn't push convention like Khanwalkar, though he certainly does put a contemporary, harder, rock/techno stamp on it. 

With that, I thank Ram for his suggestions.  I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, and look forward to seeing more Bollywood/Tollywood films, if and when the come to the EP.


  1. Hey Rick! You DID check out my links!!

    It has been a really long time since I have been to your website. I was catching up on all the stuff I've missed and felt really happy to find this post!

    It feels awesome to have been mentioned! I find it exciting when someone totally foreign to my language/culture dives in and analyses our music and films.

    In this aspect you did bring up an interesting point: The scale of Bollywood compared to Tollywood.

    In my opinion, there are two reasons why this difference exists.
    1. Tollywood (or the Telugu movie industry) is smaller in size. The movies are made specifically for the Telugu speaking population which is small compared to those speaking Hindi. Bollywood, though, has to cater to a much larger audience (which includes people like me who speak both Telugu and Hindi).

    2. Tollywood movies are made to appeal to the masses. A large portion of "the masses" are people from the middle and low income groups. This could also explain the everyday "common-man" quality of Tollywood movies.

    Thanks for writing this post. It did make me think a lot about film, people and culture. And if you do need any help related to Indian films in general please feel free to email me at gramaditya@gmail.com. I will do my best to help!

    1. Thanks. Unfortunately I haven't seen any Tollywood/Bollywood films in a while, but should they come around I'll do my best to explore this genre. If ever there is something I don't get, I'll give you a head's up.

      As always, thanks for reading!


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