Play It Again, Sanjay

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In the city of virtually no nightlife, Udaipur does have cinemas, although I’ve only gone there in the afternoon. Celebration Mall, Udaipur’s first and largest indoor shopatorium, has a PVR cineplex offering quite a cushy moviegoing experience. The seats are large, overstuffed recliner-types with cupholders. Each seat has its own armrests, so there’s no elbow jousting with whoever is seated on either side of you. Some of the seats even have electric reclining adjustments, making it as close to watching a movie lying down as possible. It also makes it easy for me to take a nap if I don’t happen to care for the movie.

To get in, you go through a security check at the mall entrance, then another one at the cinema entrance where they check your bag for cameras so that idiots don’t record the film and post it on a torrent site. I’m a tourist, and I always carry a camera, but after Nirmal spoke nicely with the security guard, she let me in with it. So as not to get her into trouble, I was unable to photograph the theater lobby.

The Udaipur moviegoing experience was much more relaxed than the one I had at the Raj Mandir Cinema in Jaipur. There the Fascist usher insisted that everyone sit in their assigned seats, and a mountain of trouble was heaped onto the heads of anyone caught not in their proper seat. In Udaipur the ushers just waved you in the general direction of your seat and let the patrons sort out any conflicts in assigned seating.

After the movie trailers, there are two public service clips. The first one attempts to educate theater goers on cell phone etiquette, specifically, don’t use your phone during the movie. It’s completely ineffective. Blabbing loudly on cell phones during the movie happens a lot, much more in Indian movie houses than in the U.S. It’s the one thing my friends do that I wish they wouldn’t. But nobody wants a nursemaid as a friend, so I kept my yap shut about it. Hard to convince them not to do something that pretty much everyone else around them is doing, no matter how annoying it is.

The second is an aggressive anti-smoking video showing graphic photos of blackened and diseased lungs. I couldn’t even look at it. It is also ineffective, as Indians smoke like chimneys, including two of my three friends.

In 2005 the Indian Health Ministry, recognizing the influence actors and actresses have on popular culture, banned the showing of smoking by characters in films. They hoped that by eliminating the glamorization of smoking by movie characters, it would reduce the popularity of smoking by citizens. It didn’t work. People smoked as much as ever, and moviemakers railed against the ban. The ban was overturned by the Delhi High Court in 2009. What remains is the compulsory showing of the anti-smoking video at the beginning, the intermission and the end of films.

We saw two movies when I was in Udaipur last time:  Jai Ho and Gunday.  Jai Ho I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and everything about it was over the top. A great big thumbs down on that one. Gunday had a storyline that was much easier to make sense of, despite the fact that I don’t speak Hindi. There were two amazingly excellent child actors who ran the gamut of emotions quite believably rather than simply being put there to be insufferably precocious. Cinematography, excellent. Costumes, choreography, songs, all excellent. Production values, excellent. Characters and storyline fairly good, although it basically glamorized criminals. They weren’t really bad criminals, of course. They were only thieves, and they only killed a couple of people who kind of had it coming, but they redeemed themselves by giving tons of their ill gotten gains to charity. I object to that premise but overall, I still liked the movie.

Some Bollywood films I enjoy, although many I don’t. They typically run an exhausting three hours, an hour longer than the average American movie. While U.S. movies are more apt to fall into a defined category, Bollywood films try to be all things to all people, which I think is a mistake. Even action films will have singing and dancing (which in an action film is terribly out of place), comedy and a smattering of tear jerking. The comedy is forced and often slapstick, a problem I also have with the majority of U.S. comedy movies. I also don’t like having my action movie hero boo hooing all over the place to show us how sensitive he is like in Gunday. He should get mad, he should get even — and then some — and that’s it.

But what I really can’t buy is that Bollywood heroes are often fighting 137 enemies at once, each of which will politely wait in line to have a go at him instead of rushing him in a group and tearing him to pieces. He of course beats the crap out of each and every one of them. Oh, come on! U.S. films have the hero only fighting five to seven enemies at a time and beating the crap out of all of them. Much more believable…


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