As snow fell over London’s East End on Saturday night, CineVue were invited to beat away the winter blues by sampling a little spicy chatpati, a lychee martini or two and some vintage Indian cinema at Rich Mix’s Bollywood Bitesized, a sell-out event aimed at bringing the glamour and full-on kitsch of classic Indian movies back to the big screen.
If you’ve ever watched a Bollywood film, you’ll know they’re long – really long. We’re talking The Lord of the Rings runtime as standard. So when former journalist Sadaf Ahmed put her mind to reviving old Bollywood for new audiences, she decided to cut down the films into easily digestible parts, with some explanatory banter and dance interludes thrown in along the way. And it works a treat. Saturday’s screening of Mehboob Khan’s Aan (1952), one of Bollywood’s first technicolour pictures, drew a diverse crowd, some already familiar with Bollywood films and other first-timers who didn’t know their Shahrukh from their Imran Khan. Aan is hugely epic in scale – in many ways it set the standard for the grandeur that is synonymous with Bollywood, and paved the way for what would become the world’s most productive film industry.
But the great thing about Bollywood Bitesized is that it makes no pretence that the films are somehow perfect cinema – indeed, the audience were positively encouraged to embrace the hilarity of the dodgy editing, cheesy baddies and overblown close-ups. Through reshaping Aan into its major plot points, the event brought the essence, colour and classic storytelling of Bollywood to new audiences, not only those who have never seen an Indian film, but also younger, British Asian audiences who have managed to escape the more obscure Bollywood of the 50s beloved by their grandparents.
There is clearly a market for this type of event, as tickets for Bollywood Bitesized sold out weeks in advance. Not only was there film, food and drinks on offer, but there were also performances from Bollywood Dance London and a DJ set after the film. It marks a promising addition to the scene of Secret Cinema and Jameson Cult Film Club style events, which offer an entire night of intrigue with the celebration of landmark films at their centre. And the good news is there’s more to come from Bollywood Bitesized, with the promise of future events at venues around London.