You see, we all crave for good stories, and thus whenever we get a book in hand we like to approach it as another story irrespective of the fact that the book is a work of fiction or completely based on facts. So, when I got my hands on Vamsee Juluri's book 'Bollywood Nation: India Through Its Cinema', I immediately started the quest for a thread.
Vamsee Juluri is a professor of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco but his roots are in India that too in a family which is closely associated with the Telugu film industry, so he was expected to bringforth two different sides of filmmaking. First, how the makers approach cinema as a product and second, how the audience perceive it.
Due to the fact that Juluri is an academician, he is quite familiar with current debates and their implementation in theories. He doesn't hide that this exposure to the world of cinema makes him confused at times but he proceeds towards a point where he can get a clear cut picture of what exactly is happening and how it brings changes to the psychic of the common movie enthusiasts.
The book has been divided into four major chapters and one supplementary chapter. These are named God, Country, Home, World and Life. Each chapter is a retrospect of films made in different eras and what they signified and how they helped the society in consolidating its ideas. One good thing about the book is that it has not delved into unknown territories and has confined itself to Hindi and Telugu films with occasional reference to films made in other languages. This strategy streamlines the readers' thought process and helps them in understanding the modus-operandi of a film fraternity.
Don't be confused, 'Bollywood Nation' is purely an academic work but it has been presented in a way which engages all sorts of readers. The tone adopted by Juluri is humble and that sometimes gives the reader an upper hand without making them realise that they have become a part of the book now.
Cinema is something we all draw references from; we treat it as a culture forming thing, and thus the attempt to understand India through its films is an attempt to reconstruct the history in an authentic way. Though historians would argue that cinema draws its inspiration from society but over a period of 100 years, the situation has changed a lot, in fact the popular culture is completely a by-product of films. Don't tell me that the society knew how the gods and goddesses looked before they were shown in the films and TV shows.
The book has been written with the purpose of keeping the traditional social fabric of India in mind, and thus it shies away from getting into religious debates. It was a noble notion to give the bird's eye view because our films also advocate the secular structure of India.
'Bollywood Nation' compares western soap operas and their films and how they have influenced the popular culture. At the same time, it talks about films like 'Hum Aapke Hain Kaun' and 'Lage Raho Munna Bhai' with nostalgia. This difference in textures used in two chapters brings out the real persona of the writer and how he sees India despite spending so many years in the West. Surprisingly, he becomes very neutral when he deals with TV shows entirely based in urban US.
The experience of being a teacher comes handy when Juluri emphasises on interaction rather than bombarding the reader with useless information.
It's not that 'Bollywood Nation' is not heavy or info packed but the fluidity of the arguments comes to the reader's support.
I guess it's quite evident that I liked the book for its flow but it's useful for one more important reason. It gives you a basic notion of what has happened till now in the film industry is based on a pattern, and once you understand it you are ready to predict the next stage of films and their content.