Films / Reviews

Shalom Bollywood shows the other side of how Jews helped spark Indian cinema

Shalom Bollywood is showing Jan. 15 at the Miami Jewish Film Festival. I was provided a screener link for this film for purposes of this review.

You can get more information about the MJFF by clicking here. It lasts from Jan. 11-25. ❤

When a good friend of mine, Igor, told me that a Jewish community in India helped spark what we know today as Bollywood, I was surprised. But I was also intrigued, which led me to Shalom Bollywood, a documentary by Australian filmmaker and director Danny Ben-Moshe.

This is a documentary that is broken down into separate acts that start with how Indian cinema began its rise, thanks to Jewish women. Indian women were not allowed to be on-screen at the time, so what were Indian directors to do? Well, about 100 years ago, there was a small percentage of Indian Jews. Actresses like Sulochana thrived in the black and white era because, like the doc suggested, the skin tones were a bit darker on film and led to the believability that, yes, these are Indian women. I loved learning about Indian cinema’s early days because I am infatuated by Bollywood, myself.

The way Ben-Moshe tells each story is supplemented with cartoons, Bollywood footage and B-roll of India. This generallyworks as a nice escape from the interviews. However, I found the narration to be a bit spotty. The dialogue is at its best when it doesn’t try to get cute. When the narrator says, “chicks” and uses other phrases to try to spice up the documentary, I get thrown out of the moment. It’s a bit distracting, but as the documentary progresses we hear this less and less. Most of the interviews are engaging outside of a couple where the audio sounds as if it’s in a tin can. I chalk that up to not having the interview subject mic’ed properly. This isn’t Ben-Moshe’s first doc, so it’s surprising to hear audio issues from time to time.

Where Shalom Bollywood succeeds is in its education. This is a side of cinema that a majority of people might not know of, so breaking up the story into different acts allows for an easy-to-follow timeline all the up to how Bollywood’s been shaped today. During the middle of the doc, there is a weird stretch where it’s almost boring. Not because the history is boring, but I think it’s the doc getting stagnant. This clocks in at just over an hour, so maybe Ben-Moshe could have scooted the story along at a better pace.

The interview subjects make this doc worth watching, with their emotion and animation. Shalom Bollywood is a decent attempt to explain how much you thought you knew about Indian cinema and why you still have much, much more to learn.


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