During our stay in October I finally went to the movies in India… A little post on this! (those of you who can read my French have had a little preview of the event here). Almost ever since the beginning of my interest in Bollywood, people had been telling me / I had been reading about the experience which was an Indian film, when and if you went to watch it at an Indian cinema. Spectators singing the tunes while watching the film, because the songs are released in advance, and everybody hears them on the radio, some people clapping, crying and laughing out loud, some others entering the hall for the hero scenes, and leaving as soon they were ended… I had also heard about the legendary Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur and had half a mind to see a film there this time, but things turned out differently… So anyway first, our experience of the movies was very Western, and then we didn’t go to the Raj Mandir, but at two other cinemas, one in Agra and one in Delhi.
Very Western because the cinemas we went to were nothing more really than mall cinemas which we are accustomed to going to in Europe: the long corridors, the lifts, the entrances with the ticket collectors, all those doors and finally when you’ve reached your hall, the usual combination of adverts, previews and feature movie. Not many people on the whole, so there wouldn’t have been the crowds of cheering fans anyway. But the Indians too were very westernized: a quiet audience, with now and then the amused laughs, but no rowdy behavior, no clapping, no moving around… At the end of the film, everyone left quietly, by groups of twos or threes, the lights were almost off and silence settled in the large empty spaces. We went outside to meet our taxis and returned to the hotel.
It’s true that it had been a little more difficult to get the information from people at first. We surprised the hotel staff when we told them that we wanted to go and watch a movie: “do you mean an Indian movie? Are you sure?” We had to get things organized, somebody to take us there, because they didn’t want us to walk; there was only one film to see in all Agra, and almost the same in all Delhi… you could see two, in fact, but we’d already seen the first one while in Agra. At Connaught Place where we were told we had to go to have a choice, only the Agra film was showing (Shaandaar), but we were lucky to find a helpful guy who checked his i-phone for the other film (Pyaar ka Punchnama 2), and indicated us a taxi cab stand to get to the cinema in time for the show. We realized later that it would have been easier to take the metro, but well you have to encourage the night workers, don’t you.
So we saw two films, one after the other…?! The reason for this is really my colleague’s interest, as I more or less knew from a greater exposure to bloggers and reviewers what to expect from the available films… I didn’t mind trying of course, but honestly, I would have satisfied myself with the first film, Shaandaar. That would have been experience enough. In fact, it wasn’t that bad: the second film was actually watchable, with a hip sort of style and pleasantly sophisticated. Nothing unforgettable mind you. I wouldn’t have missed that much. I didn’t understand much anyhow, my hindi being what it is, a bare A1. But what was fun was that my colleague, who really doesn’t know any hindi at all, fell asleep during PKP2, and snored too! This added to the enjoyment of some of my neighbours…
OK, so a few words about the two movies: first thing I said before, the experience was not such a great one because of my poor hindi. I could understand a few sentences here and there only, and only the shorter ones. As soon as it gets quicker and longer sentences are exchanged, I’m lost. I could rely on the global picture but missed out much of the fun. Nevertheless, as I said, Pyaar ka punchnama 2 is so-so. It centers of the recipe already cooked up in the n°1 of three boys meet three girls, and I understand that the sequel plays a lot on the references to n°1, and even what people thought of n°1. It’s all rather cheesy but acceptably so if you’re ready to overlook the recipe and just enjoy the final stuff. I was. But Shaandaar in spite of the effects and “double levels” is a real strain. First the gal (Bhatt): she can’t act and so one is constantly asking oneself: what the f* is she doing there? What’s that smirk on her face? Her love interest is all right (Shaheed) apart from his hair which must be plastic. The rest of the film is more or less junk.
I was lucky on the plane to have landed on Chirodini Tumi Je Amar 2 (Bengali Director Soumik Chatterjee) just after taking off from Paris. This is a social film which, even if it isn’t perfect, especially in terms of acting, contains some worth. You probably know the story, that of a young guy from the country who arrives in search for work in the capital (Kolkata) and finds some helping job thanks to a roadside salesman. There are lots of good descriptions of life in the street here. Bhola (that’s his name) unfortunately falls in love with a strictly chaperoned young woman from a slightly higher class who’s working for some rich people in a compound nearby. He can’t even enter their gates to follow here there. In the family where she (named Jyoti) works lives a carefree schoolgirl, a sort of half-bimbo who can think of nothing (apparently) but mobile phones, music and vanity. She in turn is spotted by another dweller of this compound, the son of a divorced lady with political friends. The scary type. His mother, who probably feels guilty and distrught because of her situation, lets her son to his own resources and he has all the material goods he doesn’t need. Hard work and responsibility isn’t for him. He’s still in high school, but has a car and plenty of unused time. He dabbles in drugs, because this is what you do if nobody tells you otherwise. And he’s spotted the pretty little thing in short school skirts next doors: he’s determined that he’s going to have her.
If you haven’t seen the film, I’ll stop here, but what’s good about it is the clash of interests and how the “mistakes” of the affluent society can wreck the lives of the lower classes. A system of solidarity is denounced in which the rich are made responsible, through their vapid way of life, of the consequences it has on the poorer classes. But these in turn have no influence, and if the possibility existed, especially through the institution of justice, of a counter-balancing pressure, it is bought out of their hands by the corrupt intermediaries who have everything to gain from the well–to-do, and nothing from the street-rats. So a very sobering and pessimistic picture emerges from the film, that of a materialistic society that has sold its soul to money, power and pleasure, while the hardships of the lower classes are deprived of any real possibility even to have access to their rights. As in the best of Rohinton Mistry’s novels, the underdogs are ruthlessly crushed under the gyrating wheels of an uncaring society where the middle classes, in their rise to comfort and independence, don’t want to have anything to do with the street, where people very much like them would probably remind them too much of what they’re trying to forget.