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Bollywood, by Michelle Schwartzbauer

Bollywood, by Michelle Schwartzbauer

When I was a preteen one of my favorite things to do was to go to the library to check out books, music and especially foreign films. There was simply something more alluring about films from Spain, Turkey, the Middle East and France.

Instantly, I devoured French films; loving the romance and beautiful language, hoping to one day see the breathtaking countryside and sip wine with cheese. I loved the quirky plot lines from Jean-Pierre Jeunet in films such as Delicatessen and City of Lost Children as well as films based on true events like the First World War in Joyeux Noel by Christian Carrion; even in the dark, cold winter, soldiers find warmth and peace on Christmas Eve night. Watching these films made me want to travel in the gorgeous countryside and the Mediterranean with the French.

My younger sister would complain about reading subtitles and never gave my movies a second glance. I admit to not having seen many of the movies from which my friends would quote and still watch to this day: Top Gun, Office Space, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I started to travel in my late teens and hoped to see, hear, and taste the fascinating bits of each film from countries worldwide. I toured France for a month and resided in Saint Jean, a quaint town near Leon, and felt a familiarity of sounds, sites, and people I had first known through cinema. Next, I traveled further east to Nepal, a complete change from France. I taught English and traveled the country, from mountains to desert. I was lucky to see a film, which contained not one word in English, and loved it nonetheless. The film on screen looked old, as new techniques in cinema and advanced equipment were very expensive. I had friends translate a bit for me, but had fun simply watching the audience clap and holler at every move the hero made.

I went to an international film festival in Marrakech, Morocco, another French/Arabic-speaking country and saw some unique themes and techniques in the local Moroccan films. Tales depicting life in the desert and lost loves captured my attention. As Morocco is located so close to Europe, I believe many advances in film technology are easier to acquire. The theater was new and beautiful with movie stars walking down the red carpet, myself pushing to take shots of Eva Mendes and John Malkovich. Unfortunately, I did not see any films made from India, the ‘Hollywood’ of the East. I knew one day that opportunity would come.

My hopes turned to reality earlier this summer when I flew to India.

My friend and I arrived in Jaipur, a fairly large city in the state of Rajasthan. We had only one day in Jaipur before departing for our next city, Agra. The rain poured down on our small guesthouse window. We knew there had to be a theater around. We asked the guesthouse owner and he was happy to explain the directions to the one theater in Jaipur.

We hopped in a tuk tuk, a small three-wheeled motorized vehicle and took in the speeding view of this red city. Once there I paid the 30 rupees, roughly $0.75 U.S. to the driver and we stood in front of a large building. There were locals and foreigners alike; looking at the two banners that hung over the entrance. One, with three Indian actors looking disheveled, angry and bloody. The other, with two beautiful young women and one handsome man all-laughing with a beach in the background. We quickly opted for the latter option and started to walk towards the front door. One attendant stopped us and in perfect English told us to go around to the side to get tickets. I was already shocked at how different this film experience would be compared. There were two lines gated off, one for women and one for men. Foreigners looked uncomfortable as their partner of the opposite sex waited in a separate line. The line was stalled; for the ticket sales hadn’t officially started yet. Our film, Cocktail, started at 6:30 p.m.; the ticket booths finally opened at 6:00 and people were pushing to get their chance at a seat. I found out quickly in India that it is a battle anytime a seat in wanted. Pushing, yelling, sweating – all a part of the daily queue. I asked for two tickets to Cocktail, costing 140 Indian Rupees, or around $3.75 U.S.

My friend grabbed the tickets and we entered the front door into a huge room. It was a giant circle with chairs for waiting. On the outside ran staircases up to different doors. Dim lights hung over the crowd rushing in only to wait for the theater doors to open. I walked up to the concessions counter to buy water. Warm samosas, deep-fried vegetables in dough, were wafting their glorious scent to me, but I asked for ‘ek pani.’ The cashier brought the cold water bottle to me and asked for 25 rupees. I handed him a 50 and he asked quickly if I had change. If you travel to India, you will hear this every day. Having small bills is a must.

“No, I don’t”

“Okay, okay”

He walked away and gave me a 20-rupee note and 5 pieces of candy. I just stared at him for a while and finally he said, “20 rupees, 5 candy. Okay.”

I walked away laughing at the transaction.

Each person has an assigned seat on his or her ticket. We walked around looking above the doors at the seat numbers. Finding it wasn’t as difficult as holding my ground in front of the door. People were pushing to get in first. I thought it was hilarious that even though there were assigned seats, people still wanted to push to get in first.

The doors opened promptly at 6:25 p.m., and all chaos ensued. People sprinted to their assigned seats. I was trying to find the seat aisle numbers, but was feeling a jumbled mess. An attendant showed us to our seats and we settled into the comfortable, air-conditioned atmosphere that would entertain us for the next three hours. Cocktail began without previews. After 90 minutes of romantic comedy, the screen rolled up and the lights turned on for intermission. My first experience with an intermission for one film. Ten minutes later the screen came back down, and on with the show!

Cocktail centered around one Indian female, Meera, who lost her parents and decides to move to London to be with her boyfriend. Once off the airplane, a good-looking man comes up to her and “plays his game” with her. She goes looking for her boyfriend, who’s furious that she would come that entire way alone, etc. She runs to a gas station crying. Another wild-child, Veronica, walks in. She has been partying all night and is quite a mess. She notices Meera and how she has been crying. Meera ends up going home with Veronica and stays with her until she can find a job. Guatam, the fellow from the airport, meets Veronica and falls for her. He moves in and Meera quickly realizes who he is. She is shy and uncomfortable for weeks.

After some time, Guatam’s mother comes to visit and the three stage a relationship between Meera and Guatam, as Veronica is not the ‘typical Indian wife’ his mother wants. Drama unfolds and the choice between friendship and love splits the two girls. Meera moves back to India. In true Bollywood fashion, Guatam travels back to India, Guatam, professes his love to Meera, and all is well in the world. Dance numbers end the film and I left satisfied and happy.

We walked out and looked for a tuk tuk driver to take us back to our guesthouse. I had the business card and showed it to one driver. He squinted at it for a while then said, “Okay, yes, okay 100 rupees.” We bartered down to 70 and were off. This man was the craziest driver in all of Jaipur. He may have had a drink or two before our endeavor. He speed around each car, barely letting his hand off the horn. It was dark and still drizzling; I thought we would skip off into another lane. Hitting potholes and bumps in the road, I was like a bobble head. He finally halted to a stop, “Krishna Palace.” My friend and I looked at each other and then to the driver.

“No, this is not right.” We gave him the card again — it was called ‘Krishanam Hotel’.

“You take us here,” my friend said.

“Okay. 100 rupees.”

We argued for a bit over his mistake of taking us to the wrong location initially, but finally told him we would pay 100 rupees total. We reached the hotel and gave the driver 100 rupees.

“No! 150, 150!” He yelled at us.

I got out and began to walk away. He kept yelling and finally drove away, leaving us to our Bollywood dreams.

Jennifer Haug, TESOL educator and world traveler, taught at the American Language Center in Marrakech, Morocco following graduation. While in school, she traveled to Thailand for study abroad, and Nepal for an independent study teaching English. Jennifer is currently in Northern Inda to explore new regions and cultures. 

You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® blog, The streets of Marrakech, by Jennifer Haug, world traveler and ESL (English as a Second Language) who taught in Marrakech, who writes about the French influence in Morocco and her teaching experience there.

French Impressions: Jennifer Haug on French Morocco and cross-cultural appreciation. Jennifer Haug, ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at the American Lanuage Center in Marrakech and world traveler, writes about her experience in Morocco and the French influence that remains throughout the country. 

In search of the perfect Moroccan slipper, by American writer Lisa Rounds who tells of her adventures in the North African neighborhood of Barbès in Paris searching for the perfect slipper in red, of course, for a Cosmo photo shoot. Her story of “living the dream,” working for a publishing company in Paris. 

The Little Paris of Buenos Aires, by Natalie Ehalt. Natalie writes about Recoleta, a premier barrio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, this irresistible Little Paris of South America. Until the sounds of thick Argentine Spanish reveal Recoleta’s true identity, a visitor might be fooled, stepping out of an urban rowboat and into a garden of 12,000 roses.

Text copyright ©2012 Jennifer Haug. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.