WANT to spice up your Sunday worship? Why not find inspiration in Bollywood: The world’s biggest film industry (BBC2, 13 and 20 August)? Anita Rani presented an engaging two-part survey of this mass-market art form.
Here is cinema that draws audiences undreamed of in Los Angeles boardrooms. Drama that breaks into song and dance at all key moments is no more absurd a convention than the artificialities of classical tragedy, Hollywood noir, or grand opera. It mirrors and confirms the passionate dynamism of Indian life.
The first part seemed uncritically to accept the godlike adulation offered to Bollywood stars; the escapism of the entertainment on offer, in which heroes always win the hearts of pure heroines; the moral world, in which virtue is always rewarded; and the wealth of film stars compared with the fans’ poverty.
The second episode painted a far more interesting picture: brave directors and actors breaking that mould; and hard-edged criticism of political and social norms, daring to offend religious and national pride. Here we saw films that begin to dismantle India’s ingrained sexism, and that challenge the staggering social inequalities. India is on the move, and in the vanguard is at least a section of its films.
In A Passage to Britain (BBC2, Tuesday of last week), Yasmin Khan traced the stories of some of those Indians who settled here in 1947, after Partition. Many were Anglo-Indians who expected — with good cause — that the perceived compromise of their racial history would make them extremely vulnerable. Surely their loyalty to the Empire would be rewarded by a warm welcome on our shores?
They suffered, of course, shameful discrimination: their lives of comfort and status were exchanged for poverty and menial jobs. The surprise was how positive a contribution they have made, despite this depressing start, to our nation.
The week’s most fascinating documentary was The Secret Life of Landfill: A rubbish history (BBC4, Thursday of last week). Dr George McGavin and Dr Zoe Laughlin showed us how the volume of rubbish that we generate has exploded; and, worse, how much its toxicity and danger has grown.
Nowadays, landfill sites are managed with a level of sophistication: you have to work it over and over to ensure against future collapse; you have to make the base impervious, so that the poisons do not enter the water supply; and you have to build in vents to draw off the explosive gases.
It concluded on a surprisingly upbeat note: developing technologies should be able to reduce the amount of waste, and the rubbish that remains can be harvested to recycle increasingly scarce minerals and metals. Perhaps the proverbial relationship between muck and brass will be realised.