“From Bombay to Bollywood: Fifty Years of Indian Cinema”

Hurray for Bollywood

The Northwest Film Center showcases the world’s biggest film industry in a ten-film series


Most American moviegoers don’t think about Indian films very often, but when they do they generally think of two things. One is the stereotypical Bollywood picture, brightly colored and costumed, full of lilting, hypnotic songs and graceful, precise choreography, and generally at least three hours long. The second is pretty much the opposite of those joyously artificial confections: the films of legendary director Satyajit Ray, which are often in black-and-white, full of poetic naturalism, and concerned with the lives of ordinary people in real-world situations.

Those are, though, just two points on a cinematic spectrum that runs the gamut—significant genres in what is the world’s most prolific national film industry, but still just a sampling. Imagining that you understand Indian cinema having seen nothing but the Apu trilogy and “Monsoon Wedding” is like thinking every American film was directed by either Vincente Minnelli or John Cassavetes. That’s where the current series at Portland’s Northwest Film Center, “From Bombay to Bollywood: Fifty Years of Indian Cinema,” comes in handy.

Title: AWAARA ¥ Year: 1951 ¥ Dir: KAPOOR, RAJ ¥ Ref: AWA006AB ¥ Credit: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / RK FILMS ]

Raj Kapoor’s AWAARA (1951) screens at the Northwest Film Center.THE KOBAL COLLECTION / RK FILMS

This ten-title survey, unspooling between January 9 and March 12 (with a break during February’s Portland International Film Festival), provides a fantastic opportunity to sample the variety that exists within a film culture that’s as idiosyncratic as it is inimitable. (Though some, including directors like Wes Anderson, Baz Luhrmann and Danny Boyle, have tried to replicate its charms.)