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The musical elements of Bollywood's visual offerings have actually taken on a life of their own, to the extent that film songs, known as filmi sangeet, are the most popular tunes in India. "The airwaves in India are completely dominated by film music," Pereira explains. "There are no pop stars who are not involved in the film industry in some way. The soundtracks are played in restaurants, clubs, everywhere."
And filmi sangeet is arguably the most diverse genre of music in existence. As the ever-encroaching influence of Western culture slithered into the Indian consciousness, Bollywood composers began borrowing and overtly stealing from everything they heard, including non-Western music that made its way to Bombay. Still, no matter how many full string sections, synthesizers, electric guitars and drum machines find their way into the mix, the roots of India's classical music traditions remain at the core of the sound.
Explains Pereira: "Indians have been absorbing elements of Western culture since the days of the Raj [a name given to the British imperialist presence in India that lasted until 1947], but the music has always retained a bit of the tradition it came from. It still does. You can listen to any pop music today in Bombay and still hear the tradition that created it."
Perhaps the best known of Indi-pop styles is the rollicking bhangra. The traditional music of weddings and festivals for the Punjabi people, bhangra also began to enjoy massive popularity in European clubs in the 1980s. "The big bhangra explosion started in London," Pereira says. "There are a lot of Punjabi immigrants there, and when they began remixing traditional songs for the clubs, the music started to take on Western pop and rock influences."
The result is a funky hybrid of disco, mellifluous Middle Eastern vocals, rock, Handsworth dance-hall toasting and a backbeat of woofer-pummeling dholaks cut with hand-claps that sound like bones being segmented with a cricket bat. After the immediate physical response of the human body to bhangra registers in the noodle, it's not difficult to understand why pop music has become a staple in all Indian films and the basis for many of them.
Luckily for us St. Louisans, Seema Enterprises, the area's premier purveyor of Indian groceries, music and videos, brings first-run Bollywood films to the big screen at Northwest Plaza a few weekends each month. Seema's proprietor, Ashwin Patel, spills the peas. "Oh, we've been presenting the films in St. Louis for about ten years now," he intones, in a voice that could cure Calcutta road rage. Hey, thanks for finally letting us know.
Next up on the marquee happens to be India's very first science-fiction film, Koi Mil Gaya, a blockbuster hit in Bombay that's reportedly a message-laden masala of E.T. and Forrest Gump, with more special effects and song-and-dance numbers than you can shake a samosa at. What else needs to be said?