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Tell Me that You Love Me!
May 20, 2000

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Gregory and I head into the sold out movie theater
Pushing past beggars and vendors, I make my way down a busy Bombay street. I feel as if someone is staring at me, and look over to see the man of my dreams. Astride a sleek motorcycle, his muscles are rippling under his tight shirt. He takes off his sunglasses, and our eyes meet.

Everything freezes. The beggars become showgirls, the vendors start waving and cheering. My beloved whips a guitar out of nowhere, and suddenly I'm caught up in a whirlwind of song and dance. I climb on the back of his motorcycle, and moments later, we're running down the beach, singing and laughing. I know that I am a poor girl, who isn't from the right caste, and that his parents will never let us marry -- but I won't think about that now. I'm in love!

I wake out of my daydream, surrounded by the dirty chaos of Bombay. These daydreams are one of the hazards of watching Hindi films. I've discovered. "Bollywood," Bombay's stylish alias, produced over 27,000 feature films in the twentieth century. The beginnings of Bollywood date all the way back to the early 1900s, when the pioneers Hiralal Sen and F.B. Thanawalla began making short films in Calcutta. In the hundred years that have passed since then, the industry has grown and evolved into something much akin to the Hollywood of the United States. The current rage, known as "masala" (mixture) films, blend action, romance, mystery and MTV-style musical numbers with slick dance routines.

I'd heard of Hindi films before. They are really popular all over the Middle East and Africa. In many places, they seemed to be more prevalent than Hollywood movies. In Morocco, for example, people were calling out the names of Hindi movies and Hindi stars to Kavitha, and crying "I love my India!"

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Another Hindi hit...same plot, different names and costumes
People either seem to love Hindi films or to hate them. The people who hate them say that they're overly dramatic: the plot is always the same, they're completely unrealistic, and they're cheesy. Those who love them say the exact same thing. Of course they're ridiculous and corny -- that's what makes them so fun!

I met Gregory at the youth hostel, and he insisted that we go to the latest, biggest Bollywood hit, "Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai," or "Tell Me that You Love Me." "It's great! I've seen it three times, and I've even got the soundtrack!" he said. I was not convinced, but I went, ready to walk out rather than spend three long hours suffering through a bad movie in a language that I didn't understand. The theater was completely packed with Indians of all ages, eating popcorn and ice cream, anxiously awaiting the show.


alias - an alternative name or nickname
busker - a street performer, often a musician
intrigue - a secret scheme
sensual - fleshly
prevalent - widely and easily found
was - to speak emotionally or poetically
aspiring - seeking to attain a certain goal

Within minutes, I was caught up in the drama, the intrigue, and the action. "You don't know what they're saying," one friend told me, "but you KNOW what they're saying!" Yes, the story is about a poor boy and a rich girl who fall in love...but there's so much more to it than that. Mystery, adventure, and glitzy song and dance routines kept me spellbound. By the end, I had tears in my eyes and was singing along..."Kaho naa! Kaho naa pyaar hai!"

There are a ton of sites out there about Bollywood. This one:
links to virtually all of them! Check out your favorite stars, new releases, read about the history of Bollywood, and more!
The male lead was played by Hindi idol Hrithik Roshan. Take the face of Leonardo DeCaprio, make it Indian, put it on the body of Arnold Schwartzenegger and make him dance like Michael Jackson. Wow! I'd get on the back of his motorcycle any day! And the lead female...ok, I didn't pay as much attention to her... but she was really beautiful, and fit! I really liked the fact that she wasn't a skinny little Kate Moss wanna-be, but a shapely, athletic woman.

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Bombay is noisy, crowded, and dirty.  Lots of people, women and children included, work as hard laborers.  Here they're digging a pipeline.
I think the reason they're so popular is that they are such an escape from reality. People are walking past beggars and seeing poverty and filth every day. They don't want to see depressing, "realistic" movies. Also, they are very innocent and not offensive to people with "traditional" values. Unlike American movies, the furthest these lovebirds went in the whole three hours was one quick peck on the lips! Yes, they were sexy and the dancing was sensual, but they weren't married... so of course they didn't do anything sexual!

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I chill out with the up and coming stars -- other extras on the set.
When we got back to the hostel, there were two men there from the movie business looking for "western faces" to be extras in a film shoot. "COOL! Sign me up!" I said. "Maybe I'll get to meet Hrithik! And the Odyssey could use the extra 500 ruppees (about $11)."

The next day I was whisked off in a taxi with Jasmine -- not Odyssey Jasmine, but a 15-year-old from Australia here on vacation. Instead of the huge Bollywood film city north of Bombay, we were taken to a part of town built by the British, with big, European looking buildings. The road was already packed with a large film crew -- a cameraman, a dozen lighting guys, actors, directors, and lots of extras. The lighting guys were moving around big lights and huge black and white panels that they used to reflect or absorb the light just so. It was all very precise and complicated. I almost forgot I was in India... until two cows walked right through the set!

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She's beautiful... and she smells great!  What kind of deodorant does she use?!
Unfortunately, there were no big stars. It turns out that our shoot was a commercial for deodorant. We spent the rest of the day being a crowd on the street, walking by as a beautiful model waxed lyrically about her favorite deodorant. Poor Jasmine just had to stand there, pretending to be listening to a busker. I, on the other hand, got to walk back and forth for hours and hours over the same 10 feet, as they took the shot repeatedly from every angle. All this for a 20-minute commercial spot! How tedious and boring! I'm glad I'm a writer and not an aspiring actress!

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My one millisecond of fame.  Don't blink!
The highlight, though (after the free lunch) was the last hour and a half, when we filmed close-ups of us, pretending to be surprised. It turns out that the sexy deodorant vixen walks off with the little green guy from the crossing light on her shoulder. "Stop, point, mouth drop open. Great. Next."

Oh well. Not exactly the glamorous moment of Bollywood stardom I was hoping for, but it sure gave me some insight into the film industry. And I'll be seen in houses all over India as that white chick looking surprised in the background of a deodorant ad. If you're in India next month, be on the lookout, OK?


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Andrew - Tibetan Odyssey Part I: Honk If You Love Yak Butter Tea
Andrew - Tibetan Odyssey Part II: There's No Place Like Home - But Tibetan Exiles Make Do in Dharamsala
Jasmine - Bundle of Joy... if it's a Boy
Jasmine - Mother, Sister... India
Kavitha - Good For What Ails You
Team - Making a Difference: Beavers Build Them, So Why Shouldn't We?

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