Friday, August 13, 2004


When Ekkehard Knörer was visiting New York City several months ago, we discussed the possibility of my writing about Bollywood for his online magazine, Jump Cut. I wanted to do something somewhat focused, concentrating on Indian films readily available on DVD. After back-and-forthing with Ekkehard for a bit, we hit on the idea of "Ghost World": An irregular English-language blog-column on Bollywood noir films, past and present.

English-language because: (a) mein Deutsch ist nicht so wundervoll; and (b) while most Indian films on DVD contain English subtitles, very few contain subtitles in German. My assumption--bloß eine Annahme--is that anyone reading this column would likely be experiencing Bollywood primarily through English-language subtitled versions of films on DVD.

Despite the focus of this column, however, there really is no such thing as "Bollywood noir." Every aspect of Bollywood cinema--from the music to the plot to the cinematography--can seem "patchworked," almost random, to the average Western sensibility. And while there are distinct Bollywood genres (e.g., "historical"; "political"; "social"; "Muslim social"; "family"; "mythological"), they don't really correllate so snugly with those of Western film.

But Bollywood borrows copiously from the West, and there have been many films that have exploited aspects of film noir--just as film noir, for instance, exploited aspects of German expressionist film. Every third one of them, it seems, involves some kind of ghost story in addition to the crime/underworld or general corruption element. This may have to do with Indian philosophy in general: In Western noir, it is the black heart of man that is exposed and studied; but in Bollywood's version, it's more often the social system that blackens men's hearts. Every Bollywood noir is thusly haunted ... whether or not a "literal" ghost is present.

I will write and publish essays to this blog periodically. I'll include links to DVD manufacturers or distributors where you can find these films, as well as any comments about the versions they sell (e.g., quality of the print; whether or not songs are translated; etc.).

My sincere thanks to Ekkehard for this opportunity. Feel free to write to me at any time with any questions you may have about the column or specific films. And, of course, any and all suggestions are encouraged and welcomed.

--Gary Sullivan, NYC