Saathiya: South Asian Cinema Otherwise Known as 'Bollywood'

By Boltin, Kylie | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Saathiya: South Asian Cinema Otherwise Known as 'Bollywood'


Boltin, Kylie, Metro Magazine


INTEREST IN POPULAR INDIAN cinema, commonly known as Bollywood, and its global culture has literally exploded. What was once purely the domain of the diaspora of non-resident Indians--and before that, Indians within the subcontinent itself--is now distributed globally and available for Melbournians to see. The latest film to be released, Saathiya (Shaad Ali Saathiya, 2002) opened on 6 March for an extensive run and followed the distribution and release of the Reservoir Dogs-inspired, Kaante (Sanjay Gupta, 2002). Saathiya and Kaante are the first popular 'Bollywood' films to be screened within the multiplex arena by Melbourne-based MG Distribution.

The popular genre of Indian cinema is Bombay Popular Cinema, or 'Bollywood'. Bombay popular films fit a loose category of song-and-dance, masala movies. This term, originally coined by theorist Rosie Thomas, is a Hindi word which is used to mean a 'spicy' mix of at least eight song-and-dance numbers and, on a cinematic level, a seemingly inexorable combination of genres, narratives and points of view.

Saathiya fits within this definition of popular Bombay cinema. The directorial debut of 27-year-old Shaad Ali Saathiya concerns the story of Aditya, played by rising star Vivek Oberoi and Suhani (Rani Mukerjee). The two are star-crossed lovers, destined to be apart unless they change the course of their arranged fate, as determined by their parents, and elope. In the words of the director, Ali, Saathiya 'is contemporary, but adheres to the classic format'.

Aditya and Suhani see one another across a crowded platform, from Bombay trains travelling in opposite directions. Predictably, for a popular form of entertainment, the Bombay of this movie is imagined--the trains are not crowded enough, the scenes are too unpopulated and the streets too clean and calm.

The short courtship which follows is rejected by both families. Desperate, Aditya and Suhani elope to Tamil Nadu (the site of the original arthouse version of Saathiya) and, on return to Mumbai (Bombay), are greeted with disdain. The disruption to tradition and ritual these families undergo, following Aditya and Suhani's return, is echoed in dialogue by Aditya, who professes that he does not believe in god, and actively by Suhani who disobeys her beloved father. Suhani's father later suffers a heart-attack (broken-heart) and dies. To 'elope' or run-away from the family-unit is a standard trope of popular Bombay cinema, says film critic for India Today, Anupama Chopra. (1) It is a common form of dissent which necessarily must fail. In Saathyia, the disorder which follows Aditya and Suhani's revelation of illicit marriage is not redeemed until they themselves are faced with near-death. It is at this point that the family order is restored.

In the words of Fijian-Indian theorist Vijay Mishra, Professor at Murdoch University and author of the recent Routledge text, Bollywood Cinema: Temples of Desire, the cinema is 'a grand syntagm (grande syntagmatique) that functions as one heterogeneous text under the sign of a transcendental dharmik principle.' (2) The chaos and disorder which dominates the core of Saathyia and many other popular Bombay films is, within the scope of Mishra's analysis, outside the dharmic law of the cinema, and by extension, popular Indian culture itself. It is not until the dharma/law is restored (the characters redeemed, the family reunited) that spectator satisfaction is reached and equilibrium achieved.

Importantly then Saathiya, while challenging traditional concepts of love, marriage and family in Hindu-Indian national culture, remains within the 'laws' (or 'dharma'), of Bollywood cinema. …

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