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I’ve heard a lot about Bollywood movies and how popular they are in India but I was still quite surprised to hear that Bollywood is actually the biggest film industry in the World. In fact, it is far bigger than Hollywood. The industry produces over 1,000 movies per year, which is more than double the rate of Hollywood. That’s why when I got the chance to visit India, watching a Bollywood movie was included in my bucket list.
Our Indian friend and guide suggested that we should see the newly released film called Ram-Leela. According to him, it was the most popular Bollywood movie at the time. We chose the nearest Cinema complex which happened to be at Connaught Place – a popular upmarket district in central Delhi – and asked him to take us there.
Photo credit: bollywood.com
Outside the Cinema, beneath the bright billboards with huge hand-painted portraits, a large crowd was milling aimlessly around – hundreds of mostly young Indians. We didn’t see any foreigners. We joined the long queue leading to a far-away ticket booth and patiently waited our turn. As we stood among the sea of noisy locals the sharp smell of sandalwood fragrance wafted around like an appetizer before the main course. After about 20 minutes, we finally faced the glass window of the ticket booth.
Despite the fact that English is widely spoken in India, often the miscommunication problems arise from the different usage of terms and idioms. For that reason, we let our Indian friend do the talking for us. We wanted to get good seats for our unique cinematic experience. The Indian lady in the booth giggled at something, we paid 100 rupees (less than 2$) per ticket and were ready for our true Bollywood experience in the heart of New Delhi. How much more authentic you can get? I was surprised at the low ticket prices, and I’ve learned later that there are no taxes on movies in Delhi so, in addition to the fact that the movies are locally produced, the tax exemption also help to keep the prices low and the people happy.
A sign above the ticketing window caught my attention. It read: “The cinema goers are requested to cooperate with the cinema management for body search in order to avoid any unfortunate incident and for safety of their life”.
One of the requirements was to leave all your bags and devices in designated area for “safe keeping”. We were guided by our Indian friend through a narrow passage to the back of the cinema where the “designated area” was located.
It was a simple shed guarded by two mean-looking dudes. One of them had skeletons and skulls printed on his t-shirt. After a great amount of assurances from our Indian friend, we removed the wallets from our handbags and half-heartedly handed the bags over in exchange for numbered wooden tags. I felt uneasy. Even my wooden tag looked little like a skull to me. Full of angst and uncertainties if we will ever see our handbags again we stepped back into the Cinema complex. I was glad my handbag was not Gucci.
We struggled through the crowded entrance of the theater and into the lobby. The smell of popcorn and human sweat enveloped us as we began the search for out seat. The theater was already packed. Walking down the red-carpeted aisle toward the enormous screen we begin to wonder how far from the screen our seats were. We pass row after row and finally we found ours. We looked at each other in disbelieve. It was the very first raw in front of the giant screen.
We found our seats and collapsed into them with utter resignation. But hey! When you are given a lemon, don’t frown, make lemonade instead. Remaining positive, I’ve realized that I had never watched a movie in a cinema so crowded and full of over-excited people. I’ve never been deprived of my handbag in order to watch a movie either. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve never watched a movie from underneath the screen. All uniquely new experience – I murmured to myself trying to stay positive.
I tilted my head up to include the whole screen in my field of vision and to check if my neck will not snap. It didn’t. I felt uncomfortable on many levels, but true to my nature I convince myself that I was up for it. I was soon to discover that I wasn’t.
My survival instinct kicked in and I looked around searching for the nearest sign with the familiar word “Exit” or “Fire Exit”, just in case. I found one, and as I did, my right foot instinctively changed its orientation to point my toes exactly towards the Exit sign. My entire body was fully mobilized and prepared for the unknown now. I had my escape plan well plotted and I felt slightly more comfortable. Looking around the theater I saw people chatting and laughing while waiting for the movie to start. There were so many people that some were actually sitting on the red-carpeted steps.
I did my neck test again and mindlessly marveled at the huge, heavy red screen curtains, wondering how long will I be able to sustain this position. Finally, after what seemed like ages, the lights went out. It was as dark as dark could be and my eyes instinctively went to the red EXIT sign again. But Instead of making me more comfortable like before, the sign started to bother me a great deal now. I began to wonder why the exit sign is RED… Is it to signify even greater danger lurking behind the Exit door?
Then, the light shone on the red curtains and people began hushing each other with uncommon diligence. The curtains parted to reveal the big white screen and the commercial adverts began, all in Hindi of course. Next came the trailers of coming new movies. From the audience reaction, it was clear how much they love locally-made action movies.
Finally, the main feature began. The soundtrack playing at an ear-splitting volume only added to my discomfort of keeping my head in such unnatural position. As if that was not enough, soon, to my horror, I’ve also discovered that the movie was entirely in Hindu and without any subtitles. It had never occurred to me to ask. I just took it for granted that in a country where English is so commonly used everywhere, the blockbuster movie will also be in English, or at least with English subtitles. I was wrong.
Photo credit: bollywood.com
As I looked at the screen, dazed from the deafening soundtrack, the physical discomfort, and the irritating inability to follow the story, I began to plot my ‘revenge’ on our Indian friend who helped us buy the tickets. I suddenly realized why the ticket lady in the booth giggled. It was all a practical joke, and the joke was on us.
The laughter of the beautiful heroine on the screen brought me back to the movie. The next dose of loud music and song made me stuck my index fingers in both my ears and I tried to focus on the visuals alone. They were incredible and mesmerizing – a visual feast of brilliant colors and fluid movements, so typical for all good Bollywood productions. My enchantment didn’t last long, however. Soon, my neck started to ache, my fingers began to feel like they were part of my ears, and the discomfort was too much for me to bear. My friends felt the same and we decided to terminate our Bollywood experience at about one-third mark of the film.
Photo credit: bollywood.com
Photo credit: bollywood.com
Outside was dark already and the scruffy area at the back of the Cinema complex was strangely quiet and badly lit. Without the company of our Indian friend, it felt quite creepy. When we tried to collect our bags we had to wait for about fifteen minutes for the “Key Keeper” to come from somewhere and open the shabby door guarded by the same mean-looking dudes playing cards. They were very surprised we are leaving the cinema before the film’s end. From their not-so-friendly mannerism, I felt like we were the only ones ever to do so… “But not because we didn’t like the movie” – we tried to explain with friendly smiles. There was no response. Happy we got our bags back and clutching them tightly, we almost run towards the main street and hailed a taxi back to our hotel.
That concluded our unforgettable Bollywood experience and provided me with the following insight: If you’re interested, by all means, go to see a Bollywood blockbuster in a good cinema, but go there without any handbags or large cameras. Make sure to choose a movie with English subtitles and screening that ends before nightfall. And last but not the least; bring with you a pair of good earplugs.