Although most people think of a Bollywood film as only a romantic musical, there are films in every genre, all going back to the foundation of Indian cinema, including interesting old Bollywood action movies. What makes the action genre in Bollywood so fascinating is that it has remained stylistically the same for decades, so that to watch a current film is to simultaneously gain an appreciation for the genre's history.
Cult Old Bollywood Action Movies
One of the all-time great cult Bollywood action flicks is Sholay, known in English as Embers, Flames or Flames of the Sun. Released in 1975, it was initially considered a commercial failure, but word of mouth drew an audience and it went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters in Bollywood history, running for 286 weeks in Mumbai. Not merely a fan favorite, Sholay was named "Film of the Millennium" by BBC India in 1999 and in 2005 was called the best film of the last 50 years at the 50th annual Filmfare awards.
The plot concerns a police officer determined to capture a bandit chief who massacred his family and cut his arms off, and is now terrorizing a village. The officer must enlist two small-time crooks to carry out his revenge. The two crooks find love in the village, even as they take on the bandits in bloody clashes, including one famous scene in which one young woman is forced to dance on broken glass. Eventually, the bandits are killed and good prevails, although there are two versions of the ending. Originally, the officer killed the bandit by trampling him with spiked shoes. India's film censors, however, thought a police officer should not be shown committing murder. The accepted ending has the bandit being arrested in the nick of time, although the original is available on DVD. A remake of the film is due in 2007, called Ram Gopal Varma Ke Sholay.
Style of Bollywood Action Movies
As demonstrated in Sholay, and often mocked by action buffs accustomed to modern films made in Hollywood or Hong Kong, Bollywood tends toward slow-motion for its action scenes. While Westerns by Sam Peckinpah made use of slow-motion during shoot-outs, both new and old Bollywood action movies tend to employ slow-motion for every action sequence in the film. In a fight, the hero will often leap up, freeze in mid-air, throw a punch that doesn't seem to land but yet sends his adversary flying. A Hollywood film can hardly be said to be reality based, but a Bollywood movie will have a hero whose abilities are almost supernatural. He can flatten twenty men in one go and at most will end up with a fetching cut on his lip or forehead. Not only that, but he must be a good singer and dancer, as even the grimmest film will feature musical interludes and give the character moments of pure joy. Good luck finding that in a Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis film.
The Bollywood Action Formula
The stories in Bollywood action movies have remained consistent throughout the decades. The hero works to discover the villain's intentions, finds the villain, tries to convert him to the side of good and in the meantime saves the women in his path. As with a James Bond film, all the bad guys are killed along the way in order of importance, with the villain dispatched at the end. The films can run long, upwards of three hours, and are expected to have a good dose of romance, tragedy, comedy, twists and exciting duels. You may not get much in the way of variety, but you certainly get your money's worth.
Popular Old Bollywood Action Flicks
If you're a fan of the genre, here is a list of films you have to own. Most of these are from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, so they are not "old" per se, but they are still considered the must-haves. They are:
- The above-mentioned Sholay
- Karan Arjun
- Dharam Veer
- Sabse Bada Khiladi
- Dharam Shatru
Crank up the DVD player, grab some samosas and have a good time!