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Studies in the influence of Bollywood: Moulin Rouge

Studies of Bollywood influence on Western films:
Moulin Rouge

While I was creating my lesson on a classic Bollywood film called Pyaasa, I realized that I had seen this type of musical and plot structure long before I had ever started watching Bollywood film clips. It was in the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge! with Nicole Kidman. The characters and tragic love stories in both films were similar to each other. I decided to search a little more into the making of Moulin Rouge! and had discovered, indeed, that Baz Luhrmann was directly influenced to make a musical film after visiting India.

Baz Luhrmann is the Australian director for Moulin Rouge!, based on a famous dance place in Montmartre, France. He said:

"Catherine Martin (his wife as well as the production designer of the film) and I went to India to work on "Midsummer Night's Dream." We went out one night and there was a big poster up for a Bollywood movie. I said, "Let's go see that." We did - 2,000 audience members, high comedy, high tragedy, brother kills brother, [they] break out in some musical numbers, all jumbled up together in 4 hours of Hindi. We thought that was amazing. So our question was, "Could we create a cinematic form like that? Could a musical work?" A musical must be able to work in western culture again, and could it be comic-tragic? So then began this commitment of moving toward "Moulin Rouge." I decided I'd do "Romeo + Juliet" and then a musical film."

To clarify, Baz created a film trilogy of the following movies: Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!, all with similar editing and artistic technique. Who knew Shakespeare, Bollywood and Moulin Rouge could have anything in common? It's quite clear that coming up with unique films that Baz comes up with requires inspiration from a variety of sources.



China Gate
China Gate is a 1998 Bollywood movie from which the song "Chamma Chamma" is used in the "Hindi Sad Diamonds" song in Moulin Rouge!. Here is the original song from the Bollywood movie, in which a woman describes "chamma chamma" as the pretty noise that her anklets make.



Here's the same song, re-worked in Moulin Rouge! for the play within the movie. Also using lyrics from the song "Diamond's Are A Girl's Best Friend" made famous by Marilyn Monroe, this working is slightly more ominous and suspenseful than its upbeat original.



The Little Clay Cart
The movie may also have been inspired by an ancient Sanskrit play called The Little Clay Cart. Also known as Mṛcchakatika, it was written in the 2nd century BC by Śhudraka. The play consists of romance, court intrigue and comedy - with various twists and turns. Much like Baz Luhrmann's film, the story is about a young man named Charadatta who falls in love with a rich courtesan (nagarvadhu) named Vasantasena. This love affair is complicated by a royal courtier who is also interested in her. Much like Shakespeare's comedy plays, the plot is filled with mistaken identities and the issue of class - all while maintaining a fairly comedic tone.

The main plot in Moulin Rouge, as well as the play within the film "Spectacular Spectacular", are reminiscent of The Little Clay Cart.

Ending note


The kitschy, escapist appeal of movies such as these bring idealism and fantasy into everyday lives. I encourage you to find influences of any kind in the movies/TV you watch and the books you read.

- lucyinthesky


Images: Tira Kita, PBS


  1. deepu_hny saidSat, 03 Jan 2009 19:19:37 -0000 ( Link )

    hey nice way of gathering information…..

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  2. KirstenWinkler saidMon, 05 Jan 2009 19:19:40 -0000 ( Link )

    Very interesting. :) I did not know, now I do (another piece of the puzzle).

    Really a great job. It’s in articles like this you see how globalisation works :)

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  3. lucyinthesky saidSat, 10 Jan 2009 12:54:45 -0000 ( Link )

    Thanks! I’m sure there are lots more examples out there just waiting to be figured out.

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