By Aarti Virani
Courtesy Beth Watkins
Bollywood blogger Beth Watkins with a miniature figurine of megastar Shah Rukh Khan.
When Bollywood holds its equivalent of Oscar’s night at Toronto’s Rogers Center on Saturday, Beth Watkins will finally get a chance to rub shoulders with the stars, directors and producers she has written about for nearly six years.
Ms. Watkins, 37, was first acquainted with Hindi cinema in the 1990s, as a graduate student in museum studies, thanks to an Indian television channel that was an off-beat—yet addictive—accompaniment to her Sunday morning coffee ritual. In 2005, she began sharing the obsession on her blog, “Beth Loves Bollywood.”
“It’s a world that’s very different from the one I live in, and a mode of story-telling that really appeals to me,” said Ms. Watkins in a phone interview ahead of the awards. She describes herself as a Midwesterner “with a few detours,” having mostly grown up in Illinois.
“I think wanting to surround myself with things that are not exactly my own experience comes as second nature to me,” added Ms. Watkins, who is now an education coordinator at the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She credits her parents, both history professors, for her boundless curiosity.
“When I started watching Bollywood films regularly, I couldn’t keep my reactions inside,” she said. “So I thought, I’ll just chuck them out there on the Web and see what happens.”
In her blog, Ms. Watkins fuses an academic’s eye for research with the infectious zeal of a “First Day First Show” devotee, as Indian fans who make it their aim to catch a movie’s very initial run are known. What she’s trying to do, she says, is provide the sort analysis and social commentary that she feels is largely missing from the current writing surrounding Bollywood. “I’m having fun with it, though,” she said.
Unlike many Bollywood bloggers, Ms. Watkins steers clear of feuding stars, and pesky baby bump rumors and announcements. “I’m not into gossip. I don’t care whether Aishwarya Rai gained a kilo or not,” she said. Her entries range from entertaining dissections of vintage Filmfare magazine spreads that she excavated from the depths of her university library, to witty reviews laced with an inventive lexicon.
If a viewer has been “(Karan) Joharred,” for instance, she has usually been subjected to an extreme treatment of an idea, a reference to the glitzy director Karan Johar’s signature, over-the-top style. Other notable Beth-isms include the “flare and stare,” a technique typically undertaken by actors trying to (unsuccessfully) channel emotion through “overdone facial expressions and wild nostrils,” as demonstrated by Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s 2010 mercy killing opus, “Guzaarish” (A Plea).
It’s this candid approach that has garnered Ms. Watkins’ blog a loyal following although, with nearly 4,000 unique visitors last month, it isn’t yet huge in terms of traffic. This week, readers, can look forward to Ms. Watkins’ blogs from the International Indian Film Academy awards—if she manages to get a Canadian SIM card, that is. She mentioned that she had got tickets to the event in a giddy update in May on her Twitter feed, where she also chats with other overseas Bollywood bloggers like Irina Costachescu of Dolce and Namak along with a range of Indian movie reviewers.
Ms. Watkins’ popularity and deep familiarity with the Hindi film industry underscore the fact that it’s not just the Hindi movie fan that is global—the face of the Bollywood critic is also no longer necessarily an Indian one, transcending conventional borders with the help of changes in film distribution networks and technology. She catches the latest flicks at The Art Theater in Urbana-Champaign and scours the aisles at Indian DVD shops on Chicago’s Devon Avenue for older titles.
Despite being a history buff, Ms. Watkins says she likes several movies coming out of contemporary Bollywood, spotlighting Dibakar Banerjee’s 2010 film, “Love Sex Aur Dhoka” (Love, Sex and Betrayal) with its overlapping stories about an honor killing and a sex video scandal, and Imtiaz Ali’s 2007 romantic hit, “Jab We Met” (When We Met).
Ultimately, though, she admits remaining partial to the films of the 1970’s (She’s especially smitten with the dashing Shashi Kapoor, whose great-nephew, Ranbir Kapoor, and great-niece, Kareena Kapoor, are household names today). “In a lot of these movies, you know exactly what’s going to happen but you have no idea how,” said Ms. Watkins. “It’s knowing the two babies separated at birth are going to find each other but not knowing whether there will be 500 back-up dancers, a robot or bubbles under water.”
Aarti Virani is a New York- based arts, culture and entertainment writer. You can follow her on Twitter @aartivirani.
Via: India Real Time