about Bollywood
and BollyWHAT?


  What's the answer to BollyWHAT?!?

BollyWOOD! is the answer.  It's a popular nickname for the most popular cinema on the planet: the Hindi-language film industry based in Bombay (AKA Mumbai), India. Last year alone, Bollywood sold a million more tickets worldwide than Hollywood did (source: Business Week, 12/2/02).  No wonder!  Hundreds of millions of people -- from Delhi to Dubai, Johannesburg to Jackson Heights, Perth to Prague and Southall to the San Francisco Bay -- recognize Bollywood as their first choice in entertainment.  If you, too, are in the mood for high drama -- whether it be an epic romance, a swashbuckling adventure, a revenge saga, a comedic extravaganza, or a reaffirmation of familial love -- why, then there's no other cinema for you.


  So why this site?

We're not all lucky enough to know Hindi. Though DVDs have improved matters, often it is still difficult to find Bollywood films with subtitles (and when one does, these subtitles tend to be illegible or inadequate). Also, even for students of Hindi, Bollywood films can pose a considerable challenge. BollyWHAT? is a site devoted to making these films accessible to fans everywhere! -- er, well, as long as you speak English.  The main directive of BollyWHAT? is to provide the Bollyfan with detailed synopses, vocabulary lists, and transliterated and translated lyrics for selected films, thus making it possible for you to watch, understand, and learn.

In spring 2002, due to sheer boredom on the part of the webmaster, BollyWHAT? also expanded to include some other stuff newcomers may have difficulty finding out about.  Bollywood Biographies presents biodata, filmographies, and a compendium of scandals for each of your favorite stars, patched together from a wide variety of old and new interviews and magazine articles. The Rental Guide features film recommendations from a variety of sources, so you can skip the bombs and educate yourself with classics and new favorites. Beyond Bombay addresses other film industries within India, and Filmi Philosophy features reviews and mini-essays on aspects of the Hindi film industry, including the sometimes deadly ties between Bollywood and organized crime. In response to several suggestions from visitors, we've also added a section devoted to the most unique aspect of Bollywood: its music and dance. Surf and enjoy!


   Why don't the characters ever KISS already?

As you can see in the still from Raja Hindustani, sometimes the characters do. But it's rare. The censor board is notoriously unpredictable; no one wants to risk getting Karisma and Aamir get personala rating that would scare away families. Also, Bollywood plays to a diverse range of people, from the illiterate and provincial to the worldly and urban. Ideas of morality differ widely from group to group. Why include a kiss when you can easily leave it out and avoid the risk of offending customers? Also, actresses don't want to lose their conservative fans, nor do they want to endure salacious flak from journalists. So they're not too keen on kissing on-screen, and many proudly trumpet their refusal to do it.


  What does it mean when you tug on your ears?

Salman, grovelingYou tug your ears in a variety of social situations, but mainly when apologizing, as a physical admission of wrong-doing and as a demonstration of repentance. Here Aishwarya, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, is about to let Salman out of the doghouse, though recent events would suggest her decision is misguided...

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  What does it mean when you touch someone's feet?

Manisha pays her respectsTouching someone's feet is a sign of respect usually accorded solely to elders, as in this still from Mann, when Manisha meets Aamir's grandmother. Why is this considered respectful, you ask? Well, Hindu theology, and Indian culture in general, holds the feet to be the most polluted part of the body (the head, farthest away from the ground and least likely to come into contact with it, is the most pure). This is why you take off your shoes upon entering a temple (your shoes have been in constant contact with the ground), and also why you should never point the soles of your feet at someone (very rude!). Therefore making a point to touch someone's feet is a sign of your immense respect for them: you honor them so greatly that touching even their feet is a privilege.

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  What does it mean when you press your palms together?

Karisma  and AamirYou'll see in the films that, upon first meeting someone, a character will press his palms together and say "Namaste." You can equate this to a handshake if you'd like, but pressing your palms together connotes a respect the handshake no longer does (unless you consider the significance of refusing to shake hands, the gravest of all insults, which accordingly implies that a handshake does, indeed, show respect -- but enough, back to Bollywood!). For example, in this still from Raja Hindustani, Karisma is facetiously paying homage to Aamir, pressing her palms together and bowing to him subserviently.


  What does it mean when you wave your hand at or over someone's head?

Swooning over SalmanIn the song "Yeh Ladka Hai Allah" from Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, Shahrukh (along with others) waves his hand at (usually it's over) the bride's head and then, making a fist of his hand, presses his knuckles to his own head (cracking them). This action wards off the "evil eye" by symbolizing his willingness to take onto himself any evil that may target her. It's actually a way of expressing admiration for how beautiful she looks (i.e., her beauty is so resplendent and her marriage is so auspicious that it's sure to excite jealousy and evil wishes). Similarly, in this still from the song "Saajanji Ghar Aaye" in the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the matron has done it because she is overwhelmed by Salman Khan' charms.

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   What does it mean when you wear a bindi on your forehead?

Kajol's bindi talks to her!Arguments have gone on for years, in classrooms and coffee houses alike, about the symbolism of the bindi. Some people claim it's the sign of marriage, though unmarried women wear bindis as well. Others claim its symbolism rests in its correspondence to an energy point, or "chakra," located between and slightly above the eyes. Everyone has a different opinion on bindis...but they sure are pretty, aren't they? At right, Kajol sings about her "bindiya's" words of wisdom in "Saajanji Ghar Aaye" from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Warning! Most bindis don't actually speak.


   What does it mean when you wear red stuff in the part of your hair?

Yep, Paro is definitely married... At left, behold Aishwarya in the role of Paro, wife of a rich Bengali aristocrat in Devdas. She's wearing a red dye called vermilion in the parting of her hair (enhanced a touch so you can see it clearly). This, unlike the bindi, has one clear meaning -- she is married, and her husband is alive. If she were to be widowed, she would cease to wear vermilion in her part. Legend has it that this ceremony began due to a slew of brides being kidnapped at the wedding ceremony. The groom would fight for his bride, and if he slayed the would-be abductor, he would smear his bride's part with the fallen man's blood. (It wasn't all the man's job, though: according to tradition, brides of the Kshatriya class should carry a knife at the wedding to help defend their virtue.) Hindi filmmakers love this: watch a few action movies and you're sure to see the hero smearing the villain's blood into his beloved's hair.


   What does it mean when you wag your thumb at someone?

Naughty, naughty!In this still from Jaanwar, Akshay and Karisma, who seconds before almost kissed, are being upbraided by the wagging thumbs of fellow wedding guests. Making a fist and extending your thumb, as in the Western "thumbs-up!", then wagging it back and forth, is used as a "shame on you" gesture; also, occasionally, as a "nah nah" -- equivalent to the old "thumbing your nose" at someone, though that particular gesture fell out of fashion in the West a few centuries back.

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What does it mean when you put kohl on someone's cheek?

Salman: too pretty for his own good?When someone looks especially beautiful, it's assumed that she'll attract a great deal of jealousy. Putting a dot of black on her face as a makeshift "blemish" serves to ward off the evil eye that might otherwise be attracted by her perfection. This is most often done to babies, but women occasionally place a black smudge on their faces when they're especially well dressed. Bharatanatyam dancers, for instance, will occasionally wear one during a performance. In the scene at left, during the song "Aankhiyon ki Gustakhiyan" in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Aishwarya places a smidgen of kohl on Salman's lip as a compliment to his allure.


What does it mean when you wave a lamp on a tray?

Usually this occurs in two different contexts in films: when greeting a guest, and when worshipping God. In the latter instance, a lamp, or a burning dish of clarified butter (ghee), is waved in Salman worms his way into too many FAQ photos.circular motions around the image of a deity -- a ceremony called aarti. The person waving the tray is making an offering of the tray's contents to God. Oftentimes there are also sweets on the tray; after these sweets have been offered to God, they are given back to worshippers as sacred food, or "prasad." The tray is waved before human beings as a way of acknowledging the sacred within them; since guests are considered to be sacred, greeting them this way acknowledges their divine nature and conveys what an honor it is for them to visit. In the scene above from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kajol honors her fiance thus because as her future husband, he is a form of God to her (at least until Shahrukh shows up).

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What does it mean when you lift only your pinky finger?

The "hang loose" sign in a different context...It means you have to go to the bathroom...or, in the case of the still at left from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, that you just have. This explains Kajol's scandalized expression: she's just asked Shahrukh's character what took him so long in that church they'd been visiting. His wordless response prompts her to shriek, "In the CHURCH?!?"

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   And what's up with all the relationship terms?

Hey, it's India, home of the joint-family system. If your parents, your sons, and their wives and children all live under your roof, you'd better have a way to refer to each!

Believe it or not, this list comprises only the terms most commonly used in films. Also, you may hear the word 'jee' added on at the end: this suffix is used to show respect for the person being named.

pita, abba, baabul father
maata, amma, maa mother
beta son
beti daughter
bahin, bahana sister
didi, jeejee older sister
bhai, bhaiyya brother
bhaabhi, jeejee elder brother's wife
jeejaa big sister's husband
daada, baaba (daadii) paternal grandfather (grandmother)
naana (naanii) maternal grandfather (grandmother)
pati husband
patni, biwi, bibi wife
bahu daughter-in-law
daamaad son-in-law
sasur father-in-law
saas mother-in-law
samdhii father of daughter- or son-in-law
samdhin mother of daughter- or son-in-law
jeth (jethaani) husband's elder brother (his wife)
devar (devraani) husband's little brother (his wife)
nanad husband's sister
pota, poti son's children (male, female)
naatii, naatin daughter's children (m, f)
maamaa (maamii) maternal uncle (his wife)
mausii (mausa) maternal aunt (her husband)
chacha, kaaka (chachii, kaakii) father's younger brother (his wife)
taa'uu (taa'ii) father's elder brother (his wife)
phuuphii (pron. poopii), bu'aa paternal aunt
phuuphaa paternal aunt's husband
bahano'ii sister's husband
saala wife's brother (also an insult used by men to men: implies they've had carnal relations with the man's sister)
saalii wife's sister


   And what's up with the recurring title words?

A few people have asked for a rundown of words commonly used in film titles, so here are some of the most popular, with translations.

dil heart
pyaar, ishq, muhabbat, prem love
ham, hum we; also used to mean 'I'
main I
tu, tum, aap you (in order of ascending formality)
kabhi, kabhi kabhi sometimes
mera, meri my, mine
tera, teri your, yours
hamara, hamaara, hamari, hamaari our, ours; also used to mean 'my'
kya what (also used to indicate that a question is being asked)
sanam, jaanam, jaan, jaanejaan darling, sweetheart
chori, chori chori, chupke se in secret; quietly
huun, ho, hai, hain present tense conjugations of the verb 'hona,' meaning 'to be'
tha, thi, the past tense conjugations of the verb 'hona,' meaning 'to be'
kuch, kuchh something, some
koi, koii anyone, any, some, someone
kahaan where
kaun who
kaisa, kaise how, what kind
gaya, gaye, gayii, ga'ii past tense conjugations of 'jaana,' meaning 'to go'; verb also functions to add a sense of immediacy to other verbs.
jaayega, jayenge future tense conjugations of 'jaana'; see above
ka, ke, ki possessive; works like the apostrophe + s in 'David's hat'

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