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Arey a Bhuvan!
“Daudo! Bhago! Ball ko maro.Arey a Bhuvan!” The words erupted around the theatre as I strained to hear the movie dialogue. Yes, I know I didn’t understand Hindi without English subtitles, but I never thought it was acceptable to be so rowdy in a theatre. I didn’t take my 25 rupee ticket for granted. The screaming continued till the end of the movie. Why did all these men take it so seriously? It was only a cricket game in a Bollywood movie. It wasn’t real.
“Amma, only 25 rupees for a ticket?” I exclaimed to my mother. “But, that’s not even a dollar! Twenty-five rupees would mean around fifty cents. So cool!”
It was unbelievably “cool”. Back in a land I call home (America) I had to pay eight dollars to watch a movie and to watch a Bollywood movie in a special theatre in Hicksville, about twelve dollars
“No subtitles! Do they not care about foreigners?”
“ Canna, paravalai, nan una help panarain,” my aunt comforted me in Tamil, assuring me she would translate the plot while we watched.
I remember the shock and disappointment my sister and I went through upon learning this news. So, knowing to read English and understanding the South Indian language of Tamil did not provide any aid to us in an Indian movie theatre, while as children we needed it the most.
“Lagaan” means tax. With a new word to add to my Hindi vocabulary I went with my aunt, mother and sister into this Bombay movie theatre. The movie took us back to a time when the British had colonized India and were far from amiable with the natives. Quite the serious tagline for a Bollywood film. The romances were heartfelt and real. I didn’t see fashions that were out of this world. It was normal Bollywood: an oxymoron. It was my first Bollywood movie viewing on the big screen and I had difficulty containing my excitement.
All peace left the theatre when the cricket game began. Indians versus the British. I will never forget the tremendous sound that surrounded me as all the males rooted on their fellow Indians. I sat there like a deer in headlights, squished tightly between my aunt and my mom. Even if I wanted to hear the movie rather than the men, my childish thrill of that moment could not be contained. So, I cannot deny my complete delight in having experienced this boisterous affair.
The music from Lagaan followed me back to my grandma’s house in Bombay. Bollywood music tends to have a very appealing effect upon listeners. It’s hard to not buy the music. So, I did, well, it took some hard work convincing my orthodox grandfather to buy me the cassette.
“ Thatha, it is not that expensive. It can be a gift for the last five birthdays, which are lacking in gifts from you,” I teased him. He protested, but gave in to my adamant charm.
The recollection of me dancing to the music in the little den in the Bombay apartment is still very vivid in the minds of my relatives, my mother and me. I was learning ballet around this time and felt quite embarrassed to dance and let out my energy in front of my Indian relatives. In my mind it didn’t seem appropriate. I closed all the doors to the den and tried to cover the windows making sure nobody peeped through the crack in the door. The music began and I started gliding and performing my arabesques and pirouettes.
Suddenly a giggle came loose and I could see two pairs of eyes through a door crack as well as in the window.
“Hey! Leave me alone, you can’t see!”
I yelled at them and pouted until I knew they left. Again I proceeded to dance but this time the dance went from traditional ballet to Indian ballet (Bharathnatyam). Takadimi takitatakadimi.. I removed my shawl draped over my head like the girl in the movie and swayed to the drum beats.
“ Orey chori, maarbhi le baaet mori…”
“It is you I have loved”.
I acted the part, not paying attention to the fact that my cousins, aunt and grandma started peeping again.
As a young adult, I look back at my eleven-year-old self on this day with more knowledge and thought. I realize how important Independent India is to Indians. So, maybe the men in the movie theatre needed to cheer on the fictional Indian team for their own sanity. Yelling “Arey a Bhuvan” must give them an adrenaline rush and a sense of pride, which I truly admire. Bringing my culturally clashed self to India, I learn more about my heritage, feel pride in my ethnicity, and experience my pride in a very poor country that is still very young in its independence with a long journey ahead.
Tonight I sit with my mother as she recalls a conversation she had with my Bombay Patti (grandma); “Nunna Aadara,” she dances well, says my grandma. Who would have thought that my western ballet could be appreciated in my orthodox Indian household? I certainly didn’t.