Let me be clear. I hate Bollywood movies. They represent everything I dislike about movies – over acting, escapist stories, suddenly bursting in to song for no reason, formulaic plots, etc. Add in Tollywood, Kollywood, and for good measure Hollywood too. I love Film – capital F. I’ve spent countless hours studying the great Films and my list of favorite Directors – Kieslowski, Welles, Kubrick, Lynch, Coen, Malick, Almodovar – show you where my bread is buttered.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I made my way to Hyderabad for the premiere of Panjaa – a Telagu film that was produced by one of our friends and shot partly on the streets of Calcutta.
The plan was to go to one of the old cinema halls to watch the film with “the people.” I felt this was an inspired idea. So we loaded up in our cars – about 30 of us in all – and headed to the Sandyaa 70mm theatre.
As we turned into the drive we were suddenly stopped. Thousands of people crowded our car, banging on the hood and trying to look inside to see which “stars” had arrived. I thought to myself “They are going to be really disappointed when I step out of this car…” A couple transvestites tried to extort money out of us so that we could enter. Our driver slowly bumped them towards the entry. Finally we jumped out of the car and were ushered inside. The crowd went crazy. We made our way to the balcony level and as we entered it seemed like we were late for a huge party. Confetti – seemingly cut into money shaped sizes – was constantly being thrown in the air. People were dancing in the aisles, screaming with excitement.
And the movie hadn’t even started yet.
Each time the lights dimmed, or another person who “might” be an actor entered, or if someone simply jumped up on the stage and started dancing, the crowd would erupt in to what I can only describe as a “happy rage.”
Finally the movie started. I was trying to figure out where they could take this – how much crazier could it get? The star of the move is Pawan Kalyan, an actor who is quite popular but has “only” made 15 films – a paltry sum in India cinema where the big stars will have 3 or 4 films a year.
Despite the film being in Telagu (with no subtitles) and having a translator who ignored me (thanks, Latha) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Sure, seeing Calcutta on the screen was exciting, and the colors and directing were engaging, but I think the biggest reason was that Hall. The excitement was contagious. When Kalyan suddenly started dancing, I wanted desperately to cheer and jump to my feet like the rest of the crowd – but I was like a child, learning to walk, and sat there most of the time in wonder at the whole experience, unsure of how to particpate.
During the intermission – when the party didn’t let up at all – it suddenly hit me. THIS, is Indian Cinema. The movies are made – not to entertain someone sitting in their living room with their big flat panel screen or even the person who ventures to the multiplex in the mall. The movies are made for the crazy masses. The people who drive our cars, serve us food, and work construction. Getting these people so excited and letting them escape into a fantasy is the complete goal. And if it works, if you are good at this, then they will see your movie many times over.
Leaving was the same “star treatment” experience, as we ducked out the door and ran to the cars as the crowds screamed. Standing in line they looked as if they were going to burst in anticipation. Like they hadn’t eaten in days and this movie was a meal that they couldn’t wait to devour. A meal they would want to be spicy as possible.