I remember the first time that I saw a Bollywood movie. When I used to live in Toronto, every Saturday morning on the Multicultural Television Station they would have a double feature of classic Bollywood pictures. At first I thought it was some kind of joke, Monty Python on really strong hallucinogenics or something.
But when the movie seemed to be going on longer then any joke I had seen before, I realized I just didn't understand or appreciate what I was watching. I've never been all that thrilled with musicals, and not only did the actors in these productions burst into song at the drop of the hat, it seemed that the sound quality was awful.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago when Indian directors started making movies in Britain and North America geared towards more Western audiences, that I began to see the fun in the dancing and the music. Perhaps because concessions had been made in the rest of the movie, with the plot line being more accessible and the women treated less like objects and more like people, the occasional song and dance number didn't seem so out of place.
But I still didn't understand the attraction to those older movies with their over bright colours and nearly distorted music. What is it about these movies and in particular the music that made them so popular? Obviously, I was missing out on something important.
I guess it was with people like me in mind that the folks behind the Rough Guide travel books in partnership with the World Music Network came out with a new CD called The Rough Guide To Bollywood Gold. Chock full of information about the genre in an informative booklet, and featuring almost seventy-five minutes of some of the best music from the era, it takes you on a guided tour of the people, the songs, and the atmosphere that ensured its popularity.
It's hard for most of us to imagine a world where Indian culture is not a feature. The Beatles and Ravi Shankar made the sitar a commonplace word in our vocabulary, and probably everyone has heard it played at least once – whether they know it or not. But in the early 1960's when the first wave of Indian immigrants landed in Great Britain, and to a lesser degree North America, there was nothing of home there for them.