BRATTLEBORO — Epsilon Spires is offering a new monthly online series called “Vidhi’s Bollywood Film Club.”
Each month, Vidhi Salla, host of “Vidhi’s Bollywood Jukebox,” an international radio show that airs on community radio WVEW-LP, will introduce a film, give cultural context and facilitate post-viewing online discussions.
Born in Mumbai, India, Salla is, as described on her website, “what her friends and fans lovingly call a ‘Vidhipedia’ for Bollywood movies. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Indian films comes from early exposure through her father, a self-proclaimed film buff. As a child, Vidhi was introduced to vintage radio channels such as ‘Vividh Bharati’ and ‘All India Radio,’ and developed a fondness for Bollywood music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In her show, Vidhi combines her love for cinema along with her penchant for trivia and anecdotes, and provides a wholesome cultural perspective to the audience.”
“Bollywood specifically refers to films made in India’s national language, Hindi,” Salla said in an email. “What I admire most about Bollywood films is the way they absorb you completely. Hindi films have provided an escape from mundane life to countless Indians, and continue to do so. When my father recalls the days of his humble origins, saving a handful of paisas (equivalent to cents) to go watch the latest Bollywood film in the theatre, to me they sound like stories of hope — hope that these paisas will buy him a wholesome experience that he won’t find in his humdrum life.”
First up is “Mughal-e-Azam,” (“the great Mughal”), directed by K. Asif, originally released in 1960. Streaming of parts I and II on the Epsilon Spires website (epsilonspires.org) begins Saturday, with recorded introductions by Salla. The online post-film discussion will take place on Saturday, Jan. 2, at 8 p.m.
Salla describes the film as a fictionalized account of a chapter from the Mughal history of India, a dynasty that lasted about 300 years. Prince Salim (father of the future emperor Shahjahan, who built the Taj Mahal) falls in love with a beautiful courtesan named Anarkali and wants to marry her. Since it is considered beneath the status of royal families to marry anyone other than royalty, emperor Akbar, Salim’s father, is strongly opposed to the match. After much conflict between them, the prince challenges his father to settle the matter on the battlefield.
“The plot has plenty of drama, which is essential for a Bollywood film,” Salla said. “What struck me most about this film was the scale at which it was created. It was a big deal in the 1950s and ’60s for a director to spend millions on a dream project that took almost a decade to complete. And even though I was born in the 1980s, every child in India knows about 'Mughal-e-Azam,' because it was an historic film for our cinema.
“One of my favorite anecdotes,” she continued, “is about the film reels for the premiere arriving on fully bedecked elephants. ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ set a precedent and almost became a template for future Bollywood directors to create a cinematic universe that is aesthetically superior.”
In addition to the drama, another essential for Bollywood films is music.
“Hindi movies are all, with a few exceptions, musicals,” Salla said. “The singing and dancing are a really important part of typical Bollywood films. I often explain this on my radio show that Indian producers and directors in the ’60s and ’70s used songs as advertisement and promotional tools for their movies, like music videos. This created an entire ecosystem of composers, lyricists, choreographers, set designers and outdoor location budgets, all especially for shooting songs. Before we knew it, songs became inseparable from Hindi films.
“I like Bollywood songs for the same reason that other fans like them, and the reason why they’re made: for their sing-along quality,” Salla continued, “although this holds true only for Bollywood music up to the 1990s. People familiar with Bollywood films sometimes mouth dialogues in everyday conversation, and those exposed to the music can recall lyrics of at least a hundred songs verbatim. I haven’t encountered a more ‘film-y’ people in any other country.”
Salla said the songs of “Mughal-e-Azam” are based on Indian classical music.
“What I most enjoyed about the film was its music,” she said. “Indian classical music comprises ragas that are like various musical personalities. These ragas carry specific moods, and a specific mood is reflected in the song composed in that raga. Not all composers and directors in Bollywood had the vision or knowledge to create a music album full of classically-based tunes that would appeal to the masses. ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ achieves musically and cinematically what no other Indian film has.”
For the post-film discussion Jan. 2, Salla said she is curious to know the audience’s reaction to this film, which is highly regarded in India, whether the viewer is already familiar with Bollywood films or seeing one for the first time.
“The discussion will also help me curate future Indian films for ‘Vidhi’s Bollywood Film Club,’” she said. “One of the reasons we’re calling this a film club is that we want people to engage with the series actively rather than be passive recipients, which they’re doing anyway through streaming and OTT platforms. It’s a good excuse to bring people together virtually in these socially distancing times.”