Outlander’s Schedule Reminds Me of Bollywood

Outlander’s Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan)


If you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s mega-hit novel Outlander, you’ve undoubtedly tuned in to watch the series on Starz, which gave the book a whopping 16 hour-long episodes in its first season. That’s six episodes more than HBO’s  initial “Game of Thrones” season.


The catch is that there are only eight “Outlander” episodes this fall. The next eight won’t screen until early April, even though Starz originally set them to begin for January. The episodes have already been shot and need only post-production work.


Breaking from their frustrated moans, viewers have brought up dire predictions: New fans won’t return in April. Old fans will turn aside, too. The earth will stop spinning.


Starz may have wanted to whet the appetite of viewers and then leave them high and dry (note: that is abusive and controlling behavior). Perhaps they examined football and hoops and holiday schedules, shuddered, and said no thanks.


To me, though, the bizarre scheduling smacks of traditional Bollywood.


Classic Bollywood films are three hours long with an intermission, and what happens in the first half is quite distinct from the events of the second. Same actors, same relationships, but while the first half tends to be lighter and more humorous, the second half turns darker. There’s more threat if not outright violence, and themes that might be termed “mature”, even wretched, are introduced.


The reason for this is that classic Hindi-language films (Bollywood is named after Bombay, now called Mumbai, on India’s west coast – Mumbai is India’s movie and financial center, like a combo New York City/Los Angeles plate) are based on ancient Sanskrit plays. Traveling troupes would roll in wagons from one rural village to the next and begin Act I just after dinner. The intermission was timed for when children were seen to bed. After younger viewers were out of the way, the production’s raw meat could begin.


When plays became films, producers adopted the same division. In part this was a bow to tradition. Partly, though, it acknowledged that traveling projectionists faced the same conditions: project the movie against a white barn wall, and you’ll still have small children sitting on parents’ laps for the show’s first half.


This first-half-light, second-half-fraught practice holds for in-India movies and until quite recently even for films designed for overseas audiences. Take Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, for example (2000), the blockbuster film that launched the career of Hrithik Roshan, or 2001’s popular-outside-India Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, with six major stars including the king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan.


A shift away from this light-dark dichotomy has been very recent, as some India movies take on a mantle of Western film values. Luck By Chance (2009) and The Lunchbox (2013) come to mind.


The first half of “Outlander” (the first eight episodes) are not devoid of mature themes. There is pain and suffering, though we see much of it in flashback. Humor, though, and lightness, and the burgeoning of affection, we see those, too.


The second half, though, that’s where the real substance begins. Love and passion, betrayal and torture. The book readers know this, and producers and actors have hinted that the last half, especially the final two episodes, were very tough to film and will be hard to stomach.


People involved in “Outlander” may have never watched Bollywood films. Interesting, then, that they’ve unconsciously followed their pattern. Let’s hope that during this six-month-long intermission, they lose only younger viewers for whom second halves are too awful to bear.




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