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In Praise of Bollywood

To India! To visit from afar…
My journey there would be a dream fulfilled.
To visit Delhi, Agra, Bangalore,
To ride an elephant, pluck a sitar;
I’d see a thousand temples loudly filled
And visit ruins steeped in Sanskrit lore.

How I regret I’ve never studied Hindi!
I do not sport a handlebar mustache;
No henna is tattooed upon my hand.
Upon my forehead you will find no bindi;
I own no red sherwani with a sash—
But still I long to see this ancient land!

To dance before the Palace of Mysore
Or meditate beside the Taj Mahal;
To wade into the Ganges from its ghats
And burn incense; to stroll by Goa’s shore;
To skirt the rugged border with Nepal,
Or sample sambar stewed in giant vats.

I dream that I am saturated with
The vivid hues of Holi; I float free
Chagall-like over mandirs; pilgrims sing
Regaling me with history and myth.
I journal all these blessings over tea
Up in the mist-green hills of Darjeeling.

Alas, I fear my journey’s but a dream
And so I watch the films of Bollywood,
Where graceful women stun with saree fashion
And macho men wear gold and pearls which gleam;
The sets and costumes outshine Hollywood
As cameras capture spectacle and passion!

A servant boy, attacked by javelins,
Is saved by loyal royalists in league;
No pauper, he’s revealed to be the king!
Each winsome kiss is chaste as courtesans
And Mughal soldiers skillfully intrigue.
They fight with swords. And then all dance and sing!

These films remind me of a golden age
When innocence and elegance prevailed.
It’s 1940. This is M.G.M.
Romance is valued; holy men are sage.
The villains aren’t glorified—they’re jailed;
And wickedness is something all condemn.

The films made in L.A. now make me sneer.
They propagandize causes I disdain
With actors who are woke, depraved or high.
If you seek wholesome morals or some cheer,
A new Ben-Hur or Singing in the Rain,
Then join me. Let us journey to Mumbai.

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Bindi: a colored dot worn on the center of the forehead, originally by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains from the Indian subcontinent. It carries considerable religious significance to each.

Sherwani: a long-sleeved outer coat worn by men in India and other South Asian countries.

Holi: an ancient Hindu festival which takes place in the Spring. It is famous for its festival of colors in which participants exuberantly shower each other with vivid hues of paint. A mandir is a Hindu temple.

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Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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20 Responses

  1. Stuti

    This is home for me! I thoroughly enjoyed this and all the Indian references in this piece. How seamlessly you brought them altogether. I leave here with a smile. Also, I can volunteer to teach you Hindi.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Stuti. I have great enthusiasm for India and a life-long desire to travel to your amazing country some day. I’m glad that my Indian references worked in the piece. I would love to learn Hindi — it would be nice not to have to rely on subtitles! Unfortunately, I think I’m a bit too old for a new language but I appreciate the kind offer!

      Reply
  2. Rohini

    I thoroughly enjoyed this Brian! India and Bollywood are my heritage. The pace is perfect. If you do visit, though, you would need to steel your nerves.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Rohini! I’m very glad I got to honor your heritage with this poem. Although a trip to India might be challenging, I still want very much to go. To see the sights of this astonishing country would be well worth it.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    I know little of India, and have watched just one Bollywood movie. But having met a successful producer/director, I see why this kind of film has its own name and character. It seems to build on the fantasy fulfillment you describe in the poem–and this is something Indians at home and abroad, along with would-be Indians and others fond of fantasy, can’t get enough of. Romance, elegance, allurement, adventure, and the way everything usually turns out right in the end. It shows a definite respect for the taste of viewers who go on to become avid fans.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Margaret. I realize that not everyone might be the Bollywood enthusiast that I am, but Indian movies are well worth a look — especially those produced after 2000. India’s population is over one billion and its movie industry now simply dwarfs Hollywood. From a purely statistical standpoint, when one looks at who the most watched actors in the world are they do not come from Los Angeles or London — they come from Mumbai. And, yes, the movies of Bollywood carry all of these wonderful elements of romance, elegance and happy endings that used to be the hallmark of Hollywood. That — and the fact that they’re so full of unexpected music and dance — is one of the things that makes Bollywood films so special.

      Reply
  4. Joshua C. Frank

    Great poem! I don’t really understand Bollywood myself, but after reading your poem, I wish I did!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Joshua. If you’re at all interested, Netflix carries a huge number of Indian movies. Well worth watching — especially if you’re fed up, as I am, with so many American movies which usually make me feel worse rather than better.

      Reply
  5. Paul Freeman

    “They fight with swords. And then all dance and sing!” Love it!

    At college there were many Indian Asians in my hall of residence, and every Sunday they booked up a TV room for the scheduled Bollywood movie. As a matter of form anyone living in halls was invited, and several times I took up the invite. These were some of the more memorable times at uni.

    Oh, and my daughter learned Arabic here in the Middle East by watching Bollywood movies dubbed or subtitled in Arabic.

    To this day we can’t resist Golden Age Bollywood films. Your poem really brought this to life, Brian.

    Thanks for the read.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      My pleasure, Paul. I’m delighted that you enjoyed this poem and that it brought back fond memories for you. I was actually a bit shocked the first time I saw a Bollywood picture — I think it was Chennai Express — to see a serious plot suddenly interrupted by the leads bursting into song and being joined by 100 dancers for an elaborate number! Shocked and charmed. If you want to make it as an actor in Bollywood you have to be able to sing and dance as well as act.

      Reply
  6. Norma Pain

    Thank you for this lovely poem Brian. I love Bollywood music and dancing. I find it so beautifully uplifting and joyful, not to mention the colorful clothing that adds to the gaiety. I must check out the available Bollywood movies on Netflix.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Norma. I heartily agree about the music being uplifting and joyful along with the impressive array of boldly-hued costumes. The many very good Bollywood films on Netflix include Jodhaa Akbar, the one that Evan’s spot-on perfect photograph comes from. It is a very entertaining historical romance.

      Reply
  7. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, India, for me, was always the sitar playing of George Harrison. Your wonderful poem has saved me a shed load of cash in that, I feel, after reading that I have been there. This is a super piece of armchair travel with a reference to Ben-Hur, what a great movie that was.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Sorry, Jeff. I replied in the wrong place. Please see my comment below. As for that “shed load of cash” it’s true — a trip just to the golden triangle of India (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur — only a tiny fragment of the country) runs several thousand dollars. Netflix is much cheaper.

      Reply
  8. Brian Yapko

    Thank you for your wonderful comment, Jeff. I remember George Harrison playing the sitar in “Norwegian Wood” but I also know more than a couple of Ravi Shankar fans who have played albums of his sitar playing. As for Ben Hur, a fantastic movie which I never tire of. A bit of trivia — Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur, was governor of New Mexico territory in the 1880s. He wrote the novel in my home city of Santa Fe.

    Reply
    • Jeff Eardley

      Brian, the Ben Hur chariot race is re-enacted daily at the Puy du Fou re-enactment park in the Vendee region of western France. The show is called “Le Signe du Triomph.” It’s worth a YouTube and an entry onto the bucket list.

      Reply
      • Brian Yapko

        Thanks for telling me about this, Jeff! I just looked it up and Le Signe du Triomph is astounding! I’d love to see this in person — although I don’t detect the same ruthlessness or high stakes that you see in Ben Hur. Still, chariots in an arena! Who doesn’t love that?? And, by the way, I recently saw the silent version of Ben Hur from 1925 with Ramon Navarro and Francis X. Bushman. It’s actually excellent, if you don’t mind having to read subtitles. It moves at a brisker clip (so to speak) than the Charlton Heston remake.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, what a contagiously joyful and beautiful poem! ‘In Praise of Bollywood’ does all it promises in the title and more. Your exquisite depictions of India in the first four stanzas have me hankering after a trip to exotic locations in this intriguing country. A stroll by Goa’s shore and the mist-green hills of Darjeeling have caught my eye. I can feel the silk of a sari, I can smell the spices of my favorite curry… and (in the absence of a plane ticket) I can steep myself in the wonders of Bollywood. Your following stanzas speak of an era of entertainment full of vibrancy and wide-eyed wonder… glorious, smile-inducing escapism in an age before Hollywood became so jaded it faded into oblivion. The closing stanza says it all and thanks to your superb poem, I’m set for a Bollywood weekend! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Susan, for this fantastic comment! I’ve wanted to visit India most of my adult life — at least since I read Autobiography of a Yogi and saw “Passage to India” and “Gandhi” in the 1980s. Something about the culture and history draws me. Not to mention the food. (I’m with you on the curry front and I make a pretty plausible Chicken Korma.) But, since I’m not rich, I don’t know that I’ll ever make it there in person. So, yes, Bollywood provides a marvelous alternative.

      I’m especially glad you commented on the end stanzas of the poem because I very much wanted to call attention to the cynicism and jadedness that has befallen the West, so prominently typified in the amoral, bitter movies that are produced now which nevertheless insist on pushing depressed but woke agendas. As if Johnny Depp or Daniel Radcliffe or the executives at Disney or HBO had insight I was anxious to hear! So, yes, Bollywood is now the way to go.

      Reply

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