Law 36 of the 48 Laws of Power states, “Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them Is the Best Revenge.” Admittedly, I have regarded the whole Bollywood scene with a bit of disdain, and I’ve tried my damnedest to ignore it. Of course, that was until Anthony and I had the chance to go to the premier of Swades, the new Shah Rukh Khan film, last night.
How did firangis like us get invited to the premier, you ask? Well, it turns out that Anthony’s voice has a bit part in the movie! In fact, his American-accented voice may have even landed him a commercial or two. That remains to be seen. At any rate, I’m completely jealous. But, at least, I get to accompany a rising star. Right?
The premier was at the Fame Adlabs multiplex in the Inorbit Mall in Malad, a (for lack of a better word) bedroom community that has built up around the Bollywood film sets and suburban tech companies. I’ve lamented about the infrastructure in Bombay’s outlying neighborhoods before, but I think the roads to Malad were some of the worst I’ve seen. At 9pm they were as crowded as the Belt Parkway at rush hour on a summer Friday. At one point the three-lane highway was holding up to six lanes of traffic. There appeared to be some makeshift quarries on either side of the road, and the dust from the rocks covered the streets and polluted the air. There could have been at least a million of us heading uptown all on a dirt path. I’m surprised there isn’t more road rage in this city. I know I was ready to kill, and I wasn’t even driving.
To compound matters, our driver wasn’t quite sure where the cinema was, so we kept pulling over to ask the rickshaw drivers and paanwallahs how to get here and there. I lose faith easily, so I muttered to Anthony that we should just turn around and head home. It was 9:30, the film was set to start at 9, and we still didn’t know where we were going.
Luckily, things in Bombay never start on time. Correction: things in Bombay start on their own time. So, when we arrived at about 9:45, the film hadn’t even begun. Why, SRK hadn’t even made an appearance. Thank god for tropical timekeeping. And, maybe just maybe, thank god for the traffic.
Having been in the car for about two hours, we jumped out at the first sight of the cinema. Little did we know that there was a driveway for arriving invitees. But, it was just as well, as our little, unglamorous Honda was dusty from the drive.
There must have been several hundred, if not a thousand, people lined up outside the mall to get a glimpse of the premier guests. We scuttled around the back of them looking for an opening and finally landed on the red carpet. No big deal. We scaled a few marigold-lined steps and then we saw them: crowds and crowds of camera-wielding fans lining the walkway, cordoned off by hundreds of guards. I don’t know if the people realized that we weren’t anywhere close to famous, but they clicked and “oohed” anyhow. It was kind of fun, but a little disconcerting, especially because it lasted the entire three floors up to the cinema. I wish I would have taken pics of the crowd, but I was dumbstruck.
Then it was time for us to be starstruck. Once we entered the cinema area, we saw television cameras and eager entertainment reporters everywhere trying to get the Swades scoop. If someone was being interviewed, I snapped a pic of him/her, even if I had no clue who he/she was. Still, there were a few that I recognized from the Bombay Times. Aamitabh Bachchan arrived shortly after we did, but he had such a posse around him you could hardly get a glimpse. Anthony got a slightly better look at the actor while he was in the bathroom (again with posse!). His only comment: “He’s kinda short.” So A.B. must be somewhere under 6 foot 3.
The circus outside the theaters got tired quickly, so we took our seats without having seen Shah Rukh. The film started shortly thereafter. Anthony’s speaking bit happened within the first 10 minutes and that was about the only English in the entire movie. Keeping up with the Hindi was hard, even though the theme was easy enough to understand: SRK is an Americanized Indian working for NASA who has to go back home for some reason or another. While there, he rediscovers his homeland and finds himself. Something like that. Intermission came at 12:30 ? way past our bedtime on a schoolnight ? so we ducked out then. I’m looking forward to getting the DVD when it comes out so I can follow the story with subtitles. In the meantime, the soundtrack is slowly tattooing itself on my brain.
So, Bollywood, I guess I can’t disdain you anymore. Maybe it’s time to move on to Law 37: “Create Compelling Spectacles.”