Normally, when you think about celebrity stalking, it’s the crazy fan stalking the celebrity. In my case, celebrity stalking has turned the tables on me. I’m the one being stalked. By a Bollywood star, no less.
And it’s all happening via Netflix.
I had watched a serious period piece set in India called Water–not like anything you’d normally think of in association with the term “Bollywood” (no songs, no dances, no wackiness). But it prompted Netflix to suggest a whole slough of Bollywood titles. At that point, the only name I knew in Bollywood was Aishwarya Rai (from Bride and Prejudice, which I consider “Intro to Bollywood for Stupid Westerners”, and one historic-epic called Jodhaa Akbar from the local library). I thought I would start exploring Bollywood in earnest by looking for something else with her in it, just to start out. But the list Netflix had me looking through didn’t seem to have any of her movies. I was forced to forgo stepping stones of the familiar, and strike out on my own–daunting for a girl who is no fan of change and gets edgy stepping out of her comfort zone….
Deep breath. Big girl pants? Check!
I skimmed through the suggestions and narrowed it down a comedy about a female cricket player who dresses as a man to make the team, and a kids movie with a magical nanny. I chose the kid-type film, Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic. It was actually good if you’re a kid movie fan (which I am). The kids were cute. The songs were catchy and I thought the two adult leads were funny–very good with the kind of comedic acting I enjoy.
Since I’d been so successful with that first choice even though I didn’t know any names, I decided to continue being brave and pick at random again. I chose something that looked like a standard romantic comedy, Hum Tum. I was relieved when my second choice had both of the same lead actress and actor as the first film (did I mention I like my comfort zone?). Again, I really enjoyed it. As with the first, the musical numbers were catchy, and they didn’t completely throw me–something I’d been expecting from Bollywood based on everything I’d heard. In fact, one of the songs wound up so firmly embedded in my brain I wound up going to Amazon to download it.
So my Bollywood appreciation grew and I thought my random-choice methods were doing me a service.
My next choice was supposed to be an epic romance, Veer-Zaara. The little image on the screen did not appear to be either of the two leads with whom I was familiar, so I thought I was really breaking out! Being brave! Trying something new! Until the female lead from the previous two movies showed up again. She was the lead on the B-plot frame story, which it turned out, was really my favorite part of the film (it was about a young attorney, how could I not like that?).
By this time, I’d gone to IMDB to find out the woman in question was named Rani Mukerji (or Mukherjee). Good to know. Since I’d at least gotten her out of top-billing on my previous choice, surely, my next random choice wouldn’t involve her at all. Not that I minded her–she’s got great facial expressions for comedy, and the serious role she’d had as the attorney in Veer-Zaara was incredibly well done. But with a population as large as India’s and so many films made each year, there had to be other great actors and actresses I could get familiar with. Time to bring those on!
I was ready for something else funny, so I skimmed back to one of the ones I’d nearly started with, about the woman who masquerades as a man to make a cricket team, Dil Bole Hadippa!. Not even 2 minutes in…THERE SHE IS AGAIN. Since I hadn’t known anything about the actors when I read the summary that first run through (which, remember kids, was 3 Bollywood viewings before…even watching back to back with no stops that’s, like, 6+ hours), and since the images on the screen for selection are so small, I had no idea I was walking right back into another film where she had the lead.
This is when I realized, there is some huge conspiracy going on here. Paranoia laid an icy hand on my shoulder.
I was pretty sure Rani Mukerji was stalking me via Netflix.
Stay, cool, Cammy. You can escape this.
The next time I literally closed my eyes and pointed the Wii-mote at the screen to make my choice.
Oh, look. Rani Mukerji. Again (in Baabul).
Yup. Definitely stalking me.
I mean, what the hell? Was this chick like the William H. Macy (aka “That guy who’s in everything!”) of India?
I could have actively sought to avoid her at that point. It would have been pretty easy to just check IMDB to make sure my choice was “Rani-Free”. But the part of me that has a bizarre interest in testing the limits of statistics was determined to keep picking at random to see how long I could keep this up. I decided the best way to go was to continue with the closed-eyes method. I’d aim the remote to the Wii, shut my eyes, scroll back and forth randomly for a few seconds (I briefly considered pulling up a random number generator to establish the number of seconds I would scroll in a given direction, and the number of times I would swap directions….but that seemed a bit too nerdy, even for me), then punch the big round button….
What resulted was statistically improbable: 10 straight films starring the same woman. Ten.
India is just way too big to have that much of a Canada Problem in their film industry. Even when you factor in that the Netflix recommendation algorithms were pulling from the catalog based on cast as much as language and genre, those recommendations lists generally have about 75 films, and these shift and change after each new movie you view. Obviously, not all 75 had this woman because she hasn’t made 75 films, and because Netflix doesn’t have everything that she has done to date. Combine this with the aforementioned Indian population numbers–which would suggest that the pool of potential film stars, if proportional to the general population, should be quite large–as well as the fact that India puts out way more films per year than Hollywood, and factor in my randomized selection process, and it’s beyond creepy that I could get 10 in a row.
If this flaunting of probability was my one chance to do so, I’m going to be pissed that it was granted on something this goofy instead of something where it would be really nice to buck probability, like Powerball.
And why this actress? She’s good and all, and I’ve really enjoyed these movies, but…this many films in a row? Really? And if my Netflix was going to be a stalking tool, why couldn’t it be stalking by a hot guy? Richard Armitage maybe? Or if we need to go with Bollywood for the Netflix stalker, John Abraham would work nicely. Or Hrithik Roshan. Even Saif Ali Khan, who has been the male lead opposite Mukerji on multiple films would work out (he’s not on my “Mama liiiiiiike” list, but he’s funny and grows on you).
So, after what was probably more than 20 hours of Bollywood viewing, on the 11th choice, I finally broke free! Though I’ve found out since then that the female lead for #11? Is a cousin to Rani Mukerji. But whatever. I broke the streak and shook the stalker off my tail.
In a vaguely Stockholm-syndrome-esque way, I’m sad. Part of it is that I was really hoping to keep up the improbable run for pure amazement purposes. But mostly, I’d gotten so used to seeing her in everything, it was almost strange to watch an Indian film that didn’t have her in it. I’ve checked and Netflix still has at least two more films of hers I’ve not seen. So the potential for her to continue popping up in my movie choices does exist. And from IMDB, it looks like she’s still making new films (plus there are some much older ones that Netflix doesn’t seem to have available right now), so future opportunities to be stalked seem to be possible.
This odd little adventure was an interesting “Welcome to Bollywood”, that fueled me to absorb more movies in a short period than I might have otherwise. And I’ve genuinely enjoyed most of them. Yes, the song-and-dance numbers are kinda strange sometimes, but not as much as I would have thought. As a fan of old Rogers & Hammerstein-style musicals, the idea of people spontaneously breaking in song and dance numbers in the middle of streets or parks really doesn’t phase me. There’s plenty of cheese and cliche, but I love queso and I have a tendency to revel in tv and movie cliches. I also really, really love that the films are long (even a rom-com will be over 2 hours, usually)–I don’t come out feeling so short-changed. I feel a little bad that I’ve neglected Bollywood this long because there’s plenty of entertaining faire to be had here. I’ve got a growing list of movies I’m willing to recommend to others now (translation: hey! I’ve got more posts for the blog!).
Just beware that if you follow any forthcoming recommendations, Rani Mukerji might start stalking your Netflix listings.