The Bollywood Experience
Pink dusk is settling on Mumbai, like a foggy blanket. We walk through twisting dusty alleys, under washing lines and creeping plant growth. It’s my first night in India. We flag down a rickshaw which sends us buzzing along, zig-zagging side to side, stopping at-the-very-last-minute for dogs, bikes, cars, and pedestrians who couldn’t care less about the crazy traffic around them.
The movie house is a big ugly peach-coloured rectangle, falling apart at the edges. It is plastered in posters of light-skinned indians with dramatic expressions, titles in twisting hindi characters. We’re late for the showing, and as we walk into the huge dark cinema hall people are whistling; a slow motion close up of the hero flashes onto the screen and I realize the crowd is cheering for him.
The movie is a typical special agent action flick, but displaced into an eastern context. In Ikrit, Syria, 40 nurses – 25 Indian and 15 Pakistani – are held hostage in their own hospital by Abu Usman head of the ISC terrorist organisation. The United States will launch an airstrike within 7 days to kill Usman. ‘Tiger’ our protaganist, and his squad of RAW special agents embarks on a secret mission to rescue the nurses before the airstrike takes place.
We fall head first into hand to hand combat sequences, motorbike chases, the introduction of a sexy female spy character, maniac shooting and spectacular explosions. On the day of the airstrike, at the last moment we see the squad emerging successfully – only, no! Tiger is trapped in the headquarters – and we see a spectacular explosion behind the escape vehicle.
India and pakistan share an unusual moment of unity; despite their conflict the indian spy squad has collaborated with a pakistani squad save innocent lives from both countries; both hindu and muslim. The school bus of laughing hugging hostages cross the syrian border; out of one car window, the indian flag protrudes, loud and proud, out of the opposite, pakistan’s flag flutters in the wind -slow motion- flags flying together – and the crowd cheers wildly, loving it.
My host is a script writer here in Mumbai, and it’s him who translates the Hindi for me, interspersing the story with a lot of insider trivia about the bollywood industry here. Who’s who, and what Mr Tiger was like in real life when he worked with him on a soda commercial, film budgets, facts.
The audience is still anxious over Tigers death when we cut ‘One Year Later’ – and see him laughing in a phone booth – What! He’s alive? The camera shows how he escaped the blast at the last minute (theme music blares) and the audience is thrilled, whistling at their hero’s clever escape.
Actually, the audience watches the entire movie like a sports match, cheering goals (slow motion backflips out of car collisions). Everyone is so openly enjoying themselves. They whistle at the slow motion machine gun sequences, laugh at the fat man who reaches for a broom instead of a gun, roar their approval when Tiger emerges from a poison gas chamber with his shirt tied around his face – conveniently exposing his bodybuilders physique.
The movie is two and a half hours of suspense, plot twists and action with excellent cinematography and production quality – a lot of fun to watch, but it’s the wonderful audience that puts a big fat smile on my face.