Bollywood: Old and New

We have decided that monsoon in Mumbai is “boyfriend weather.” This just means it’s raining – like really bad, can’t see in front of you rain – enough so that it makes you want to cozy up to someone special with a cup of hot chocolate and movies in tow. Consequently we’ve decided to go to the local theaters twice in the last week.

[I should tell you that, again due to the weather, I streamed Student of the Year last night. This blog may shift to be more movie reviews than reviews of my follies.]

Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (YJHD) has been all the hype this season. Billboards everywhere, interviews, front page ads in the papers, etc. (The first page of the newspapers here are back and front full page ads so the third page is where the stories start.) We had just gotten back from Goa on the Sunday of YJHD’s opening weekend when the first rains came down in Mumbai. Movie time. If you’re the type to be interested in participating in Monday morning workplace chatter, YJHD is a must see. Every theater was sold out with the exception of the Regal in Colaba, which potentially would have been sold out had their online ticketing system not been down.

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This was quite fortuitous for us as I’ve been wanting to go to the Regal. It’s an art deco theater built in the 1930s and is one of / if not THE oldest theater in Mumbai still showing films. We raced down there (i.e. sat around in traffic for an hour) and scooped up four of the last tickets to the 11pm show. We had another twenty minutes to kill before they would let us take our seats. Because it was raining everyone was huddled together in the lobby and under the theater’s awning. When they finally opened the doors, the most ridiculous, and uncalled for, rush to get through security and into the theater ensued. Our group, initially holding hands, got pulled apart, turned around and pushed forward. We have ASSIGNED SEATS people!

The theater itself was clearly seasoned but had this old charm to accompany it. It had to have been a multipurpose space as it had a proper balcony and stage meant for live theater. Balcony seats are the most coveted at 250 INR a pop. The stall seats that we were assigned are the equivalent to orchestra seats but are much less desirable and thus only 100 INR each. There’s a sign on the lobby wall declaring the Regal Theater as an Indian Heritage Site and  apparently the Filmfare Awards were even hosted there one year. I really loved the idea of seeing this new Bollywood film in a theater with old Bollywood glory.

YDHJ starts. Our movie snacks included Thumbs Up, samosas, chakri, popcorn, far-far, and hippos (in our scramble to get to the movies we forgot to get dinner). At the first closeup of Deepika (which happens within one minute of the movie starting) the hooting, hollering, cat-calling and whistling ensue. Ohhhh so it’s gonna be THAT kind of movie. No idea what the first few sentences said in the movie were but you just had to laugh. The movie was what you’d expect of a bollywood rom-com: some interesting clothes, punchy songs, an item number with a beloved 90’s star, some terrible acting, a predictable story and happy ending. Naturally I loved it!

Monday morning papers had all sorts of criticism regarding Deepika’s performance – she only plays a modern girl, she repeats herself, etc. – but by contrast called Ranbir a sensation. This completely confuses me! While he is absolutely charming and I love most of his movies, he is playing the EXACT same character himself. Why does he get to be a sensation? Although it does appear that females in Bollywood rarely seem to be chosen or judged by their talent (I say this with conviction after seeing Student of the Year), Bollywood scripts only create roles for annoying girls so even if an actress was truly charming or talented you’d never know. The only person that got the story right, and by proxy a pseudo-review right, was The Vigil Idiot. Check out his comic of YJHD (and also Cocktail because it’s extra hilarious).

Let’s fast forward to this past weekend. Since DDLJ (Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) opened in 1995, the Maratha Mandir cinema hall has screened this film every day. The number of showings has been reduced to a single matinee showing a day, but it’s still the longest running film in Indian cinema. I had met Aditi’s friend Ryan last week at this really amazing charity event (raising funds for a girl who had grown up in India’s red-light district, had been emotionally and sexually abused, and has since overcome those unfortunate circumstances to gain a scholarship to Bard College – most surprising actually was that the vast majority of people at the event were foreigners including a large contingent from the US Consulate). I had mentioned to Ryan that DDLJ at the Maratha Mandir was top priority on my Mumbai list of things to do (largely given the indoors factor). Turned out it was on his to-do list as well. We went this past weekend with Katie and Kevin. Balcony tickets were only 20 INR. Basically the most economical movie going experience ever. The entire balcony was packed and surprisingly, with the exception of one group of girls, there were mostly groups of men in attendance.

I had forgotten how amazing this movie is. In many ways it’s similar to YJHD in that the heroine hates the hero yet through a series of song montages they fall in love on a trek BUT don’t tell one another. Given that basic story introduction however DDLJ is just magic on-screen. Maratha Mandir is very similar to Regal in that the crowd is very vocal throughout the movie. The main difference is we’ve all seen DDLJ before, so before the good parts actually start, the whistling begins. It’s kind of the best; it’s fun and interactive and adds to the entertainment value.

We were discussing that our love for DDLJ possibly has to do with the gradual character development (I mean it is a full three hours). By contrast in YJHD, Deepika takes off her glasses during a Holi festival and all of a sudden we’re meant to believe that everyone is good-looking and in love with each other.

Old or new, there’s a special place in my heart for Bollywood.

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