How I Discovered Bollywood

April 4, 2013

LP cover - Bollywood - Tuhje Nahin Chhodunga (1991)

My first experience with Bollywood music came with a couple of cd’s back in the 1980s called Golden Voices from the Silver Screen, on a cool UK label called Globe Style. Vol 2 featured songs from the TV series Movie Mahal; the first volume featured classics from Lata Mangeshkar, her kid sister Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, and others. I was aware of the two sisters who held the Guiness World Record for most recordings. Lata was #1, Asha at #2.

I remember leaving KCRW once back in the late 80s and pulling into a Chevron Station in Santa Monica to fill up, with a cassette of Lata playing. An attendant came over and said, “you know our divine Lata?”. Yes I said smiling proudly.

Later came Bappi Lahiri’s “I am a disco dancer”. Another hit, “Pump Up the Bhangra” came shortly after Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Volume”.

I watched Satyajit Ray’s epic Apu Trilogy with the great soundtrack music from Ravi Shankar. I’d known about Hindustani classical Indian music all the way back into the 1960s, when Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan came onto the American scene. I remember a great Ali Akbar Khan lp on the World Pacific label called Sound of the Sarod. It featured a rhapsodic piece called “Chandranadan”. Hearing it engraved it into my memory forever.

When I taught World Music at UCLA Extension in the 1990s, I invited two people on Indian night. The first was a guy named Jac Zinder, who ran a wildly eclectic pop-up nightclub that featured Bollywood videos, music, as well as fluff from Herb Alpert and other light fare. Jac showed some of the wilder clips from classic Bollywood films such as Gumnaam, which my class loved. When Jac was done, a very flustered and annoyed Harihar Rao–who founded LA’s great presenting organization The Music Circle with Ravi Shankar in 1966–admonished the class, telling students “I hope this isn’t all you learn about Indian culture!!!” He was clearly rattled.

I was delighted to see Lagaan come to mainstream cinemas here. Four hours never went by so fast. I was also the host of the big Bollywood Show at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago; it was an unbelievable night, 18,000 people cheering. A.R. Rahman’s big entrée into Hollywood. A later show featuring orchestral versions of his soundtrack followed, but it lacked the spectacle and energy of that first show. I felt the second show was to show that Rahman can write orchetral soundtrack music for any film….not just Bollywood.

I wish Bollywood movies appeared at more mainstream theaters… LA you have to go to Artesia or in the past to Laemmle Fallbrook Theater, which has now closed and become another AMC venue. Channel 18 on Saturday mornings 11-12 noon; there are also Indian channels on Dish Network.

It may be that for non-Indians, following Bollywood is just something for those who know. It is fun and the films are produced in the most fantastic manner….you get it all: soap opera, musicals, dancing, spectacle, beautiful clothing. What’s not to like? I love it, and hope Bollywood finds a bigger audience.

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles 2013

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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Filed under Education, Film, History, Human Interest

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