The Bombay Royale is colour, dance, disco, India, and psychadelia – all rolled into one. After kicking off in Melbourne with the goal of bringing retro Bollywood to the Aussie ear, the band wrote hits of their own and are about to rock them at MOFO on January 18. Read ahead to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Bollywood (but were afraid to ask).
STEPH: Top five genre-defining Bollywood films?
THE BOMBAY: Very hard to choose, but here goes: Sholay (Hindi western and longest running movie in history); Don (vintage Bollywood crime thriller with killer ‘70s soundtrack); Padosan (unlikely combination of slapstick comedy and sublime classically inspired music); Mughal-e-Azam (opulent historical drama from the ‘50s); and Guide (brilliant, quirky storyline paired with genius musical composition). These are all from the vintage era – there have been a bunch of great releases in more recent times as well, such as Delhi Belly and Tare Zameen Par.
S: Bollywood is the fastest growing film industry in the world, producing around 800 films a year. When will Bollywood finally take over Hollywood? Does Hollywood need better soundtracks or better costumes to stay in the game?
B: Bollywood and Hollywood can coexist in much of the world because they each have their strengths. We love good movies from anywhere, but the unique thing about Bollywood has always been the music. Hollywood stopped making musicals back in the ‘60s, but maybe they need to be revived.
Contemporary Bollywood is catching up with Hollywood in terms of realism, but for us the fantasy world of the old Bollywood movies still holds a lot of appeal. We’ve got enough real life already.
S: The popularity of film music in Bombay and Madras in the ‘70s and ‘80s saw its introduction into radio and mass distribution on cassette tapes throughout India. Why does Bollywood film music have such a cult following compared to Hollywood film music?
B: Hindi film music speaks to Indians across language and class barriers in a way that is unmatched by other popular art forms. There is an incredibly rich musical heritage in South Asia, but the average Indian on the street only got access to it when it Bollywood began blaring from their radios. It’s been an incredible unifying factor for India in the half century or more.
People have their different reasons for getting into Bollywood – sometimes it’s because of their love of India or Indian culture, sometimes just wanting to be different for the novelty factor. Bollywood has that element of surprise as well – it doesn’t follow the usual formulas that we expect in the West.
But vintage Bollywood is all about the music. The vintage era movies have a cult following because the music was so damn good!
S: A lot of the films coming out of Bollywood are Eastern remakes of Western films. Is this a way of spinning classic Western film formulas to give foreign audiences access to understanding Indian culture?
B: The remakes were more common 30 years ago when Bollywood was not international. Back then, it was partly because India was more insular and directors could get away with it. The contemporary scene is definitely telling more of India’s own stories. At the same time, Hollywood has the power of the dominant narrative, so the urge to copy is always there to some extent. In recent times though, the ‘remakes’ rarely do well.
S: How has your music been received in India?
B: To be honest, we haven’t put a huge priority on releasing our music in India – the rest of the world is keeping us too busy! Like anywhere else, we have a following over there, but it’s a different proposition for them. We are definitely messing with something familiar for the Indian audience so there is always going to be the traditionalists who won’t like it – a lot of them would prefer that we played covers. There are plenty of Indian people who love our stuff as well, as we see a lot of Indian faces at gigs everywhere. We are hoping to get over to India someday soon!
Get your Bollywood on at MAC2 on January 18, 5pm. Tickets available from http://www.mona.net.au.
This article featured in Warp Magazine January 2014