Three Thousand Stitches, p.9Sudha Murty
I am a storyteller at heart, so it isn’t surprising that I fell in love with movies.
When we were children, Bollywood was very different from what it is today. Most movies were in black and white. Then, there were Eastmancolor movies and black and white movies with some songs in colour, until finally, the move was made to colour feature films.
Meena Kumari’s tragedies often brought tears to my eyes while Madhubala and Asha Parekh’s beautiful song sequences remain etched in my mind. I can’t let go of Sadhana and Waheeda Rahman’s effortless beauty, while Sanjeev Kumar’s powerful acting and Rajesh Khanna’s charisma will remain with my generation until we are gone.
I have followed the evolution of Bollywood through the use of technology and also from simple innocent romances to the aggressive and bold portrayal of it today and from classical dances to the drill-team type of dances to breakdance and now, twerking.
Movies were generally taboo in those days and considered a luxury in a village such as mine. We lived in Shiggaon without access to a movie theatre. Besides, there was no electricity in those days. But to our absolute delight, we did get touring talkies in the summer, which were tents set up specifically to screen movies. It was the Lord’s answer to our desperation! If we really wanted to see a film, we were accompanied by an adult and our chaperone would decide which movie we would watch. We could only see religious and inspiring movies such as Sri Krishna Tulabharam, Rama Vanavasa and Girija Kalyana. Occasionally, an exception was made and we were allowed to watch a children’s movie under adult supervision. We would then go and tell our friends about it. On the big day, my cousins and I would eat early and fill our stomachs so that we wouldn’t have to take a break during the movie. We would talk about the film for days on end after the screening. However, the movie-watching days were rare throughout the year.
But nothing stays the same forever. Life changed and I came to the small city of Hubli for my education where there were plenty of movie theatres. And yet, the taboo remained—a teenage girl shouldn’t see romantic scenes. So while I happily saw them when I went with my friends, I had to listen to my aunt and close my eyes when I saw the same scenes with her or other senior members of the family.
As the months went past, I became bolder. At the end of every exam season, a bunch of us girls would go together to the movies. We would lie to our families that we were going for a film like Dashavathara (about the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu) and go watch a film of the dreamy hero Rajendra Kumar. All of us had secret crushes on the heroes but we felt awkward sharing this with each other.
When I made it to college, I became what must have been considered ‘really bold’. I told my parents, ‘I refuse to watch religious films. I have seen enough of them to last me a lifetime. Now, I want to see Rajesh Khanna’s movies.’
I lived in a joint family and it was clear that the elders in the family felt astonished and perhaps a little embarrassed at my intensely transparent desire to watch a superstar’s movies, especially a hero known for his ridiculous good looks and charm and the ability to drive away all common sense from a girl’s mind.
From that day on, my aunt kept a close watch on my grades. The slightest hint of a fall would earn me the comment, ‘It is no wonder that your marks are going down. The crappy romantic movies have distracted you and you are no longer able to focus as much as you should.’
Poor Rajesh Khanna was often blamed for my cousins’ and my low marks. If only he had known!
Later, I made my way to Bengaluru for my post-graduation. It was heaven! The area known as Majestic boasted of at least thirty movie theatres such as Sangam, Alankar, Kempe Gowda and Majestic, on either side of the road. I frequently managed to watch two movies in one trip.
Once I was left to my own devices in the working ladies’ hostel in Pune, there was absolutely no one to stop me and my love for films grew by leaps and bounds. It grew to such an extent that I could study only when movie soundtracks were playing in the background. Many of the students made fun of me.
One day, a few girls gathered at a friend’s home.
Someone said to me, ‘Movies are a wonderful source of entertainment. But it is like eating dessert every day. It is not good for your health and you will start disliking it at some point.’
‘No way,’ I protested. ‘You can eat different desserts on different days and you’ll never reach a point of disliking it. It’s the same thing with movies.’
‘Easy to say. Not so easy to implement. Are you willing to see a movie every day?’
‘Of course I am.’ I had no doubt that I could.
My friends were quite thrilled. ‘Well, then let’s bet on it. If you see 365 movies in 365 days, we will give you one hundred rupees and honour you as Miss Cinema.’
I nodded, quite excited. Thus I began my filmi journey.
Pune was a great city for watching movies. In those days, Nilayam Theatre would screen Raj Kapoor movies—a different one each day. There, I saw all his movies—from the earliest one to the most recent. Once that was done, I switched to the famous director–actor Guru Dutt and watched all his movies in Lakshmi Narayan Theatre. Boredom was nowhere in sight. Just when that was nearing its end, Prabhat Film Company, a pioneer in Marathi movies, began showing their films in Natraj Theatre, which was a stone’s throw from my hostel. Some of these were movies from before my time and were those my father had seen when he was a student. So I watched them too—Manoos, Kunku, Shejari and Ramshastri, among others. During the days movies were in short supply, I stocked up on English classics at Rahul 70 mm Theatre—Gone with the Wind, To Sir with Love, Come September, The Ten Commandments, films featuring Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and other silent movies with subtitles. Occasionally, Deccan Theatre screened Kannada movies too.
At the end of the year, I had successfully watched 365 movies and became such an expert that I could rate any movie that my friends could think of. I even understood the fundamentals for a movie’s successful run. Necessary prerequisites consist of a tight story, good music, crisp conversation, excellent script and dialogues, fine acting by the lead roles, appropriate costumes, outstanding direction and careful editing. Then there was the matter of luck which remains undefined to this day. I have encountered films with excellent storylines that have turned out to be box-office flops. So while there is no exact formula for success, too much melodrama and a non-realistic storyline dooms a movie from the start.
My deep interest in films took me to the next level—assessing the acting abilities of the heroes and the skills of the director. Thus I gradually turned into a movie pundit.
Now I am unable to watch as many movies as I would like due to my schedule, yet, I prefer going to a movie theatre, rather than watching it at home.
I also have an interest in visiting countries that aren’t considered popular tourist destinations. A few years ago, I added Iran, Poland, Cuba, the Bahamas, Uzbekistan and Iceland to the list. These less visited countries have many advantages. They are not crowded and have fewer hotel reservations. The flight tickets to these places can be obtained at a short notice and you have the freedom to walk about anywhere you choose. Out of these four countries, the Bahamas was the most exotic of them all, even as I was introduced to the other countries and their specialties—whether it be their markets, vegetables, customs, cuisine, fashion and much more. I enjoy going to farmers’ markets to sample the local goodies and always pick up something that I can carry around and eat.
During my visit to Iran, I was utterly fascinated to see yesteryear’s Persia, especially since I was aware that we use almost 5000 Persian words in the local language of north Karnataka. The historical connection goes back to the days of the Adil Shahi dynasty. The official language in the court and the military was Persian. So it isn’t surprising that many words and nuances of Persian architecture were absorbed by the locals in their language and can still be viewed in Bijapur and Bidar in Karnataka.
In the olden days, trade was an important part o
I decided to visit the local market in Shiraz, a prominent city, in an effort to better understand the culture and the type of merchandise and fare. At the market, I noticed a man busy making naans in a small stall and a few people waiting around for their order. The process was fascinating and the naans were ready to be served in a matter of a few minutes. When guests come home in Iran, women do not head to the kitchen and make rotis like we do in India. Instead, the man of the house goes to the naan and roomali roti (another type of thin flatbread) shop and gets them freshly made and in big quantities.
All the cooking made me feel hungry and I approached the man. ‘I want to buy two of them,’ I said in English.
It was clear that he wasn’t too familiar with English, but he understood my request. Soon, he handed me two warm naans on a paper. I noticed him observing my sari and the bindi on my forehead.
Since I didn’t know the cost, I offered him a higher denomination currency note so that he could charge me appropriately and return the change.
‘Amitabh Bachchan?’ he asked.
When I didn’t respond, he persisted, ‘Salman Khan? Shah Rukh Khan?’
After hearing the names of the famous Bollywood heroes, I realized what he was trying to say. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘I am from the same country as them.’
He smiled. ‘No money,’ he said.
Even when I insisted, he refused. He added, ‘India. Bollywood. Very nice. Good dance. Good dress. Good music. Iranian like.’
I understood. Iranians like Bollywood. Since I come from the same land as some of the heroes they like, the man didn’t want to take any money from me. He wanted to give them to me as a gift. He probably thought of it as a way of doing something in return for the heroes’ countrymen.
‘Salaam!’ His words broke through my train of thought and he moved on to the next client behind me.
I held those precious naans closely and came back to my room and turned the television on. To my pleasant surprise and amusement, I saw Amitabh Bachchan conversing in Persian with Jaya Bhaduri in the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. I had no doubt—Bollywood movies were definitely a rage in this country. The Iranians may not understand the meaning of the songs, but they must like our storylines, the beautiful and flowing silk lehengas, the foot-tapping music, the grandeur of the sets and the acting of the lead characters.
My next visit was to Havana, the capital of Cuba. The city is cut off from Western civilization and remains isolated from most of the world. The local language is Spanish and I couldn’t say a single word except ‘gracias’ or thank you. To my surprise, there didn’t seem to be any tourists from India. The weather was warm and there were beautiful sheltered markets that helped us escape the heat. The markets had almost everything possible on sale, including handicrafts, fruits and juices.
So with a glass of coconut water in hand, I wandered through the markets with my sister, who found a bag in a store filled with wooden and leather goods. As I helped her inspect the quality of the bag, she began to negotiate the price—a habit that is part of the Indian DNA, irrespective of one’s financial position. Using her hands, the seller indicated the price—fifteen pesos. I noticed a young man standing by watching the interaction with obvious interest. Meanwhile, my sister instantly indicated ten without knowing the true value of the item she was buying. The seller came down to eleven pesos but my sister proudly refused to budge. The woman grinned, agreed and said something in Spanish. I heard the names Madhuri Dixit and Aamir Khan thrown in as the transaction finally took place.
Just when we were about to walk away, the young man on the side finally spoke. ‘Do you know why that lady gave you the bag for only ten pesos?’ he asked in broken English.
I shook my head.
‘She says that she is a big fan of Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit. She wants you to tell them that they have fans in Havana and the rest of Cuba.’
I was surprised. ‘Can you ask the seller where she sees their movies?’
The seller smiled when she heard the question and said something to the young man.
‘She gets the DVDs,’ he turned to me and said.
‘Are they pirated?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I can ask her if you want.’
I decided not to pursue the conversation since we couldn’t communicate effectively. While I didn’t get all my answers, it was clear that Bollywood enjoyed a big presence internationally, and that I had got a five-peso discount because of it!
I recalled one of my visits to Mumbai where I had met a new-age Indian actor–director and had an animated discussion about movies, of course!
‘Bollywood is not just about cinema,’ I said. ‘If somebody talks about the importance of good values, it may impact one person in the crowd. If someone writes about them, then it may change a few more. But if it is shown in Bollywood through a powerful story, then the impact is much more drastic. As an actor, one must own the responsibility to spread the right messages.’
He agreed with me.
The influence of Bollywood is phenomenal indeed.
My travel adventures also took me to Bukhara, the fifth largest city of Uzbekistan. As I went for an evening stroll, the faint tunes of a familiar song ‘Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai’ wafted towards me. It was from the movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. Just like the children who couldn’t resist following the Pied Piper of Hamelin, my legs directed me towards the source of the music.
Within minutes, I found myself outside a restaurant by a pond—Lyabi House. As I attempted to enter, the doorman stopped me gently with a wave of his hand.
‘I’m sorry, but the restaurant is at full capacity today and all our tables are occupied,’ he said.
‘But that song is mine!’ I said, feeling as excited and proud as a six-year-old and pointing inside. ‘I am from the country of that music!’
The doorman smiled and stepped aside to let me in.
Hurriedly, I entered the main room and walked right up to the singer, focused on his performance. By now, the music had changed and this time it was ‘Tum Hi Ho’ from Aashiqui 2. ‘I am from India and this song is from my country,’ I said to him, the moment he stopped singing.
‘Hindustan?’ he asked.
‘Namaste!’ he grinned and nodded his head vigorously, as if to acknowledge what I had just said.
I looked around, and for the first time, I became aware of other people in the restaurant.
We tried to communicate quickly—he in Uzbek and I in Hindi with a spattering of as many Persian words that I could remember. We failed quite miserably.
Then he smiled and his melodious voice filled the air—‘Main Shayar To Nahi’. The song must have been quite popular among the locals because suddenly there was a round of applause from the people in the room.
This wasn’t about a big achievement such as a space mission or a sports victory, but about running into common people listening to a slice of India in an unknown corner of the world. My whole being felt a rush of mixed emotions—above everything else, a sense of pride that I belonged to a special country.
Even people in a country like England share their love for Bollywood dance. Indian restaurants are popular and are often based on the theme of Bollywood. Iceland also has a restaurant named Gandhi in Reykjavik. There is a statue of late Yash Chopra, a renowned Indian filmmaker, in Interlaken, Switzerland, and a poster of Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol at the entrance of Mount Titlis, a mountain of the Uri Alps.
Bollywood has also contributed to Hollywood’s food dishes. There is a drink called Piggy Chops in Milk Bar, West Hollywood, named after actress Priyanka Chopra, which consists of bananas, almonds, caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream and a splash of gin
Young girls now want to dress like these heroines. I have seen several girls in my friend’s boutique asking for dresses like the one Anushka Sharma wore in Band Baaja Baaraat or what Madhuri Dixit wore in Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.
Before my trip to Uzbekistan, I visited Iceland. I was a south Indian who wasn’t used to wearing a sweater at any time of the year. Then how would I wear five layers of clothes? I must be the only crazy one wanting to visit the country, or so I thought. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t run into an Indian there because of the freezing temperatures.
When I finally reached the country for a prearranged tour, I met a nice local guide who greeted me in an accent I could barely understand. ‘Do you want to see the locales of the “Gerua” song?’ he asked.
I didn’t understand a word and gazed at him in silence until he felt visibly uncomfortable. So he dug around in his bag and pulled out a DVD of the movie Dilwale starring Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan.
‘Yes!’ I exclaimed, as light dawned on me. I had seen the movie and had wondered where one of the song and dance sequences was shot.
On the way to Black Sand beach, he showed us the video of the song. The black pebbles and the floating icebergs took my breath away and we ended up spending a considerable amount of time there.
‘We all love this song. It has made Iceland very popular with your countrymen and enhanced our tourism prospects,’ he said.
As we headed back to the hotel, a Spanish fellow traveller next to me added, ‘That is very true. We have benefited from Bollywood, too. The “Senorita” song from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara which was shot in Spain has made our country popular. The movie also brought the tomato festival to the limelight!’
I nodded. ‘The movie has indeed made Spain a favoured holiday destination for Indians. We fancy the cities of Barcelona and Madrid and the La Tomatino festival. Somebody should consider giving an award to the movie’s director Zoya Akhtar for enhancing the country’s tourism income.’
Three Thousand Stitches by Sudha Murty / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes