Review: Bollywood Icons

By Suzanne Shuttleworth

The Bollywood Icons exhibition running at the National Media Museum (8 March – 16 June) is curated by Irna Quereshi and gives visitors the chance to glimpse into the world of Indian cinema, but does it really focus enough on Bollywood’s Icons?
The exhibition which is being held to commemorate 100 years of Bollywood, will run at the same time as Bradford’s International Film Festival, which also pays tribute to this important birthday in South Asian history.
Bradford born Irna, who is known as somewhat of an expert in the field of Bollywood has been giving a series of tours around the exhibition. As a novice on the subject I’m somewhat intrigued by this genre of film, but profess to know very little, so having attended one, did I come away feeling a bit more knowledgeable?
It’s fair to say a half hour talk definitely doesn’t do the topic of Bollywood icons justice, but nethertheless Irna gave it a good go. Our guide did cover good ground explaining the importance of the Kapoor family who were instrumental to the growth of the Indian film industry and it was clear that there have been a lot of complicated romantic relationships for many of the stars whose on screen dalliances often turned into off screen ones.
The thing that confused me was that the icons were somewhat limited and although the exhibition was put together with limited space and posters because some of the older art work simply isn’t known to exist anymore, the icons really concentrated on two of the major male stars Amitabh Bachchan and of course Shahrukh Khan. But I wonder if the exhibition focuses too much on these two actors and whether it would be a bit like only concentrating on Robert De Niro and Brad Pitt? They were given two whole walls out of the four, the Kapoor family where given one wall and anyone else shared the rest.
The actresses were given little space, which is a shame considering that some of these female filmstars aren’t just in the films to look pretty, they play huge roles in their own right, but they seem to have disappeared into the background here – is that real to life?
The exhibition is vibrant and there are some fabulous posters depicting some of Bollywood’s classics, but to many a novice Bollywood-ite, Indian film is unique, it’s more vibrant than any West End musical, far more dramatic than any Eastenders cliff-hanger and as far as I know it’s entrenched in symbolism and mystique. Coming from a white British background it is a bit of an exotic enigma and rather than just concentrating on the Icons and a few of the classics, it would be nice during this special celebration of Bollywood, if I could have unlocked a bit more of what it all means.

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