I, like many other South Asians belonging to the Indian subcontinent, always floated on the periphery of Bollywood. I never understood the point of the huge musical numbers; that is until I heard Noah Centineo talk about them.
As someone who doesn’t speak or understand the language, I rely solely on subtitles. Even subtitles fail me, however, when it comes to Bollywood dance numbers. Bollywood famously breaks into song quite often and gives you full value for money every single time. Everything is big, bright, and a feast for the eyes. But it doesn’t always make a lot of sense.
Some of this is because the lyrics translated verbatim don’t actually convey the same meaning that the song intends. A lot of it, however, is because it doesn’t seem like the movie progresses during the song or that it signifies anything for the characters.
Thed most elaborate musical numbers have one purpose: introducing the Love Interest.
I had long since dismissed these sequences as entirely cheesy plot interrupters that don’t drive the already criminally lengthy movie forward. Naturally, the aforementioned translation of the lyrics didn’t help me make any more sense of it. So that was that. I would have to be in the mood for something ridiculous to be able to pay attention the next time The Love Interest dance number unfolded.
This all changed one night in the not too distant past.
While inanely scrolling through YouTube, I came across a video of Noah Centineo and Lana Condor reacting to Bollywood romance scenes. I started to tune out, scrolling through my phone, wondering when dinner would be, would curfew ever end, when suddenly I heard it.
Out of nowhere a flash of perspective knocked me over and questioned everything I thought I knew about my own opinions.
At one point during the video, Noah Centineo says: “It literally feels like they’re displaying how each of these people feels on the inside”. Lana Condor then clarifies: “so you’re saying that they all feel something on the inside,” to which Centineo responds “but they actually show like a representation of it for the viewer to look at as opposed to like a subtle thing on” and he gestures at his own face.
My mind was blown, my worldview was shaken. This simple observation that a white boy made casually had never crossed my mind in many years of watching Bollywood movies with passion and interest.
“They’re displaying how they feel on the inside” he said.
This was the perfect and simplest explanation: an external performance of a person’s innermost feelings. It suddenly made it all make sense to me. The illogical costume changes, orchestral performances, and the slo-mo. All this time I had seen it as a performance of an instant love connection playing out in a heightened reality. Instead, Centineo saw it as an effort to portray an inexplicable rush of internal human emotions on the external world.
That, friends, is how Noah Centineo, an American actor best known for his roles in Netflix films, changed how I thought about Bollywood. His perception has given me a new appreciation for these scenes and an entirely different understanding of them.
It’s strange to think that my opinion of Bollywood movies, a genre I have been exposed to far more than Noah Centineo, could shift with just one passing comment. For me, this foray into YouTube has reinforced the value of having an open mind and being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. In my particular case, this perspective may only be of superficial value and applicable to very niche moments in my life, but I’m still glad it happened.
While I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Bollywood movies the pinnacle of romantic portrayals and I might still find some humor in the spectacle of it all, I’m more open to the idea that the elaborate musical numbers are not about the spectacle, but the portrayal of feelings that maybe can’t be expressed any other way.
Where words fail, music speaks. And in this case, where words fail choreography, lip syncs, slo-mo, costumes, backup dancers, whole bands, and elaborate location changes speak.
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