So I was at this event that my wife and her colleagues organized at a local mall – Piah Dance Studio, in case any of you are interested – and I was suddenly struck by the number of kids that were hooting and tapping their feet to Bollywood numbers. At the end of the event we cleared all the props off the stage and invited the children over to show us some moves. One of them, a light-haired five-year-old girl in a pink frock and shiny blue shoes, danced to ‘Baby Doll’, lip-syncing to the words and emulating Sunny Leone’s gyrations well enough for the crowd to shower her with claps and whistles.
While the rest of them fawned over her – and she was good – something rankled in me. This is a five-year-old, I thought, and she’s dancing to Baby Doll. And the adults around her are egging her on.
A few months ago my wife went to Delhi to perform at the Folk Festival. On the way she met a couple and their two-year-old son. When asked to sing a song, he jumped off his mother’s lap, stood in the middle of the compartment, held up his four fingers and went: ‘Char bottal vodka…‘
Call me old if you will, but not too long ago children just learning to speak were taught poems and nursery rhymes. My mother made it her mission to upload into me her entire library of Telugu poems before I was two. (She did the old-fashioned way, by blackmailing me with starvation if I refused to learn.) Many of my friends first heard the word ‘vodka’ after they turned eighteen.
Our awakening was so painfully slow that I remember a certain conversation we had on the day of our high school graduation. It was a light, heady evening, so one topic led to another until we were speculating about the mechanics of the child-making process. All of us were pretending to know all about it, all of us were guessing, and all of us were wrong. Now at reunions there is an unwritten rule never to mention that day.
Then television spoke about the coming together of voices (mile sur mera tumhaara), while today it’s you, me, engage.
Without going into whether it’s good or bad, Bollywood seems to have taken over our lives. It’s not just a movie industry any more. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of art. Our role models come from there. We try and mold our lives into images of what we see on the screen. It wasn’t like this when I was younger; yes, movie stars were still famous, but the average Indian seemed to understand that it was all fantasy, that real life was different to what was happening on screen. But now, for all of us, whatever we see in our movies is real, and we aspire to the same values, to the same motifs.
The optimist would rubbish all this, of course. He would say that this is just the march of time, and I am hopelessly clinging to the past. Maybe I am. Maybe at age twenty-nine I am experiencing a back-in-my-day moment. I am yet to have children, so I don’t have any personal anguish over it, so I am quiet eager to hear from those of you who do. What do you think of this Bollywoodisation of India? Are you happy with your kids growing up with role models such as Yo Yo Honey Singh and Sunny Leone?