I saw a Bollywood film in Hindi and I understood it completely. Perhaps because there wasn’t a lot to understand. Indian films of today are equivalent to Italian Opera in the 1800’s; they are popular, they are very long, it is clear how they are going to end, and every now and then the cast starts to sing altogether. But they are useful to understand the country. If European cinema reveals our qualms, Indian cinema illustrates the aspirations of the subcontinent. We show what we fear we have become. Indians show what they want to become. Sunday afternoon, Inox theatre of Bombay, screening of the 15:45 movie, Rs 180 (three euros) for the last seat available in the fourth row. The families which arrive on foot from Marine Drive are already seated, and they demonstrate a military discipline. The film is called Aitraaz, adapted from Disclosure for the Indian public. Plot as follows: the attractive executive of a hi-tech company puts her eyes and hands on a robust married employee. He is troubled but (more or less) resists. The girls in the audience are with the bride who risks loosing a husband; the men wouldn’t mind to be in the shoes of the employee. Understandably. The temptress is Priyanka Chopra, and she is breathtaking – not less than the original (Demi Moore) ten years ago. Miss World 2000, the young Indian is still learning to be an actress. She may not have succeeded yet, but she shows she deserves the title sho won four years ago. The encounter with the protagonist Akshay Kumar is epochal. No kisses, but the rubbing is memorable. One wonders how those two do not go up in flame – not so much for the passion, but because of the friction. The most entertaining things are the dances, which explode like firecrackers at the most unexpected moments (for me) but in a manner most obvious for the Indian audience. In Aitraaz the dance on the beach is unforgettable, with a violin that springs out of nowhere. Evene better is the dance on the pirate’s ship. How pirates come into a film taking place in a firm selling cellular phones, it is not clear. But the public seems enthusiastic, hence it is ok. Even more interesting are the dialogues, which often close with an exchange of remarks in English, useful to guide a foreign spectator (something like: “Don’t be late.” “Of course not, baby.”) The outfits are fascinating. As nudity is prohibited, temptation is mandatory. The clothes of the actresses seem like they are riddled with holes from a sub-machine gun. Finally, there is the furniture. The dreams of the newlyweds are the cinematography projection of an Ikea catalogue. Modern furniture on a clean/waxed floor, glass shelves, coffee tables and the lot. There is no doubt. Bollywood speaks of India as TV ads speak of us Italians and of the Americans. Every year about a thousand films are churned out— and cinema represents well the new Indian middle class. A harsh and realistic film like Salaam Bombay (Mira Nair, 1998) can be useful to know the dramas of the city. But for knowing the brighter, lighter side of urban India, Aitraaz is good. Let’s consider women. Although 90 percent of the Indian population has dark skin, Bollywood leaves the impression that a woman who does not have fair skin is not beautiful. And this is not my observation. It is Indian author Arundhati Roy’s opinion, as expressed in her book The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile (in Italian: “L’impero e il vuoto”). I quote: “The growing international fame of Bollywood films worries me. It almost always proposes terrible and degrading values. The poorer classes of the population i.e. the Dalits and the Adivasis always have dark skin. This discrimination functions like a system of apartheid.” This statement seems to me too drastic, but it gives you the idea. Bollywood proposes an ideal beauty that all other media follow obsessively. Before understanding the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, the tourist knows who are Priyanka, Kareena and Aishrwarya. One should therefore not be too amazed, to find advertisements of creams like ‘Fair and Lovely’ or ‘Afghan Snow’ in newspapers, which promise to make the skin fairer. By the way: the lovely and ubiquitous Aishrwarya Rai, Miss World 1994, now starring in Bride and Prejudice, does not need any this stuff. She is Indian, but she could appear in an Italian ad for mobile phones and speak with a Roman accent. You may say: this is not surprising. That’s how Eroticism & Exoticism function nowadays – worldwide. The Orientals wants to look like the Occidentals, and vice-versa. Obviously, it is also true for the male actors. The protagonist of Aitraaz, Akshay Kumar, seems like he has stepped out from E.R. or Miami Vice. He has languid eyes, workman’s biceps, and hair sculpted from the wind of a convertible. Maybe because of this the girls at Mumbai’s cinema are all for him, and they look puzzled when I turn around to watch them, finding their intent faces more fascinating than a predictable plot. Leaving the Inox cinema, I tell one of them that I liked the pirates’s song, Tala Tum Tala Tum. And I ask another why the scorching dance on the beach is called Gela Gela Gela! (in Italian: “Freeze, Freeze, Freeze!”). She turns and replies in English: “You know what? To understand Bollywood, a little bit of Hindi would probably do you good”.