You don't have to be Indian to blog about Bollywood

Special to The Globe and Mail

Beth Watkins of Illinois holds her doll of Shahrukh Khan, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood.

"This is my collection of Bollywood DVDs, which I'm quite proud of. There are five shelves and [they're]bursting at the seams," says Irina Costachescu, showing off her carefully catalogued compilation with a grin in the living room of her cozy North York condo.

Although Ms. Costachescu, 30, grew up in Romania at a time when black-and-white Bollywood movies were shown on TV, she didn't begin to obsess over them until 2008, when she took a Bollywood dance class at the Harbourfront Centre Community Centre.

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Her burgeoning passion led her to start the blog, Dolce and Namak Talk Indian Movies, last year. Now, she's part of a league of extraordinary Bollywood fans - devotees who have not grown up with these films as part of their culture but who regularly watch, research and blog about them. And next weekend, this global community of bloggers will get a chance to meet and indulge in their hobby as the 2011 International Indian Film Academy awards take centre stage at the Rogers Centre.

During her first Bollywood dance class, Ms. Costachescu found herself dancing to Kajra Re, a song from the caper movie Bunty Aur Babli, which she sought out online. One YouTube search led to another and soon she was hooked.

"I thought Bollywood movies were about silly love stories, women wearing saris and running around trees … But here they are doing all these crazy stunts with a Jet Ski, and here they are dancing to hip hop," she laughs, as she describes watching the cops-and-robber movie Dhoom.

Scouring the Internet for more Bollywood connections, Ms. Costachescu found Katherine Matthews's blog, Totally Filmi.

Bollywood had always been on Ms. Matthews's radar. A former Rexdale resident, she watched the neighbourhood starting to change in the 1970s from Ukrainian and Italian to West Indian and Pakistani. It wasn't unusual for her to surf the TV channels and stop on a Bollywood movie playing on the then CFMT channel.

"It was something I just turned on, on the weekend, and did my laundry to," says Ms. Matthews, 50, who now resides in Guelph and designs knitting patterns. An avid fan of other world cinema - French, Italian and Hong Kong to name a few - she finds that Bollywood movies just speak to her. "Some of it definitely has to do with the spectacle - the music, the dancing, the colour. All of that stuff really does connect to my early cinema-watching experience, watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

"It also connects me to the wacky French films of the sixties. Even though they are different traditions, I see the common threads of what they are entertaining people with."

Meanwhile, the threads connecting Bollywood bloggers continue to cross. Beth Watkins saw one of Ms. Matthews's knitting patterns called Rani online and reached out to her. As it turns out, Ms. Matthews had been reading Ms. Watkins's blog, Beth Loves Bollywood.

"In fact, in the picture for Rani, Katherine had used a Filmfare [Indian film] magazine, and I was in that magazine - they had done a series on non-Indian Bollywood bloggers," says Ms. Watkins, 34, over the phone from Champaign-Urbana, Ill. "I thought, 'We both love Bollywood and knitting. We must be friends.'"

A fan of Jane Austen adaptations, Ms. Watkins first came to Bollywood through Bride and Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha's Bollywood-ish version of the literary classic.

"I went to the website and Gurinder had put a list of Bollywood conventions that she was playing with," says Ms. Watkins. "And I thought, 'Why haven't I seen these films?'"

Since Ms. Watkins prefers Bollywood classics from the 1970s, she usually doesn't pay much attention to the IIFA awards, which typically celebrate new releases. But with the 2011 show coming to Toronto, Ms. Watkins, who spent two years in the city pursuing a museum-studies degree, is looking forward to rediscovering her favourite haunts while also taking in all of the Bollywood glitz and glam when she flies in next week.

She'll also get the chance to connect with her Bollywood blogging peers: Ms. Costachescu, Ms. Matthews and Ms. Watkins have all been poring over the IIFA schedule. This is the first time they will be meeting in person and the IIFA weekend is the perfect excuse for them to get together, says Ms. Matthews.

"We're going to the Bollywood showcards exhibits [at the ROM] we'll hang out at the red carpet for the awards and just take in the Bollywood party atmosphere," says Ms. Costachescu.

As for the awards show, only Ms. Watkins was lucky enough to score a ticket. The initial 7,000 tickets were snapped up in five minutes, while the entire show sold out six months in advance.

"I am expecting great spectacle, even though I am sitting so far back I am not sure what I'll get to see," says Ms. Watkins. "It'll be great people watching."

"I would have loved to go to the awards," says Ms. Matthews. However, given that watching Bollywood movies can be isolating in their offline world, "[sharing the entire IIFA experience]is more important. It's more lasting."

Special to The Globe and Mail

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