American student Elizabeth Camuti,in the city on an exchange programme,explores the make believe world of Hindi cinema,through the film Rowdy Rathore,as she battles her way through the unfamiliar language,the confusing plot and the audiences
When I approached the box office yesterday evening to buy a ticket for the movie ‘Rowdy Rathore,’ the man behind the window seemed confused. You know it’s in Hindi? he asked. I nodded sheepishly. Without English subtitles? he said,looking at me skeptically. Again,I nodded and silently prepared myself for two and half hours of utter confusion.
As an American,and a first timer to a Pune movie theatre,I ventured to see ‘Rowdy Rathore’ with the promise from friends and acquaintances in the United States that seeing a Bollywood film in an Indian movie theatre is an experience not to be missed. Movie-goers cheer and clap,they laugh out loud and talk back to the screen. It doesn’t matter that the language barrier may result in misinterpreting the plot some experiences translate in any language.
I will admit – I did miss the plot. For those unfamiliar with the plot line of the film starring Akshay Kumar,it is centered around a case of mistaken identity. Shiva,a small-time thief in Mumbai is thought to be Vikram Rathore,a courageous cop who fights against a vicious gang lord. While the typical Hindi-speaking viewer was probably clued in to the fact that Shiva and Rathore are not the same person within minutes,I was unable to distinguish between their subtle differences in mustache styling,and thus spent an hour and a half trying to interpret,what I thought was,one very confusing storyline. Luckily for me,eventually both Shiva and Rathore are featured in the same scene and Rathore’s slightly more stylised mustache becomes more apparent.
While both Shiva and Rathore are played by Akshay Kumar,in my defence,without the language to assist me,I was forced to concoct my own narrative. One that involved reincarnation (Had Rathore died and come back as Shiva?),and memory loss (I think at one point Shiva hit his head. Did he forget he had a daughter?),as well as infidelity (Rathore is married. So what is he doing with Paro?). All of these were assumptions,of course,incorrect,but as my ideas were disproved again and again,figuring out what was happening became an imaginative exercise that turned out to be surprisingly funny.
Despite the confusion,and my tendency to laugh at all of the wrong times,my experience at a Hindi movie was certainly a positive one. The great thing about Bollywood,and the aspect of the film genre,which makes it popular across the world,is that understanding the language isn’t a requirement for enjoying the film. The images are vivid,the music is catchy,and the enthusiasm of Indian movie-goers is contagious. Getting out of the day’s heat in an air-conditioned theatre isn’t that bad either. While I’m unlikely to start changing the language setting on my DVDs to Hindi,I hope to make it back to a movie theater again during my stay in Pune.