Sunday, April 06, 2008

My first Indian cinema experience

In a bid to deflect yet another random man's attempts to strike up a conversation (sometimes I feel slightly guilty for my unco-operativeness - some of them may be perfectly genuine people just being friendly and wanting to practice their English - but I'm automatically suspicious), I waved a cheery "hi!" to the first westerners I saw and dashed to join them. My bemused new friends played along, and invited me to join them for a cool drink. They turned out to be French, and living in Chennai - Lorraine works for Alliance Francaise, and Ben and - I don't remember his name so we'll just call him Julien - study social work. They introduced me to their Indian friend DJ (also studying social work), who in turn invited me to join them (and some more friends) to go to the cinema for a Hindi film, "Chak De! India"

We took our seats in the upper circle. It was hot and sticky in the windowless, ventless theatre (makes a change from arctic-aircon Thai cinemas, I suppose). A large fan rattled away above us, blowing hot air down our necks. But the jovial atmosphere makes up for the heat.

In every cinema in every country I've been to, the audience just watches the movie. Indian cinemagoers apparently prefer a more active role in the experience, and there are whoops and cheers and shouts of encouragement as we follow the Indian ladies' hockey team through training and match after match (they beat Great Britain, but I assured DJ I wouldn't take his cheers personally). As the film reaches its climax, the hall is full of urgent whispers, and when India wins the game (I'm sure I'm not spoiling the ending for you too much if you should ever happen to watch the movie), the entire cinema erupts in enthusiastic, joyous applause. It was marvellous fun.


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