Watching the BAFTAS on Sunday, I found my mind wandering back to the evening I spent ‘at the flicks’ in Lucknow, India. Ordinarily I wouldn’t head off to the cinema whilst travelling but Bollywood is as much a part of the Indian culture as visiting the great cities of Rajasthan so I thought I would embrace it. Anyway, the odd evening not spent swapping stories with fellow travellers is no bad thing.
I had wanted to visit Lucknow after becoming interested in the British Raj and subsequent mutiny whilst I was at school. Lucknow was the scene of an infamous siege during the uprising of 1857 that lasted from June to November. After a day spent exploring a very deserted and ruined ex-Residency I was quite happy to collapse in the nearest cinema which was showing, well it didn’t really matter what it was showing. I was going for the pure spectacle rather than cinematic experience – although it was certainly that in the end.
Beneath the bright billboards outside, with huge hand-painted portraits, a large crowd made up exclusively of men was milling aimlessly around. I patiently joined the end of the long queues at the ticket window. A sign above the window warned:
'The cinema goers are requested to cooperate with the cinema management for body search in order to avoid any unfortunate incident and for safety of their life'.
I bought a ticket for 25 rupees (less than 50cents). But where was another female compatriot?
I went through into the auditorium, accompanied by the stares of the local men - not unfriendly, just amazed to see me there. Then I realised why: the whole cinema was full of men - not a single woman was to be seen. I looked demurely down and took my seat - amidst this auditorium of men.
The adverts began, all in Hindi of course, and next, the trailers - every one was for a Schwarzenegger/Stallone style action movie or kung-fu film. Clearly, from the audience reaction, the more blood and guts that got spilt the better. Then at last the film started, the sound track playing at ear-splitting volume. This wasn't a problem though, as no-one else was listening to the dialogue. This audience wasn't here to follow the plot, they were here to see the action. Each fight brought loud cheers. I actually began to enjoy the sheer ludicrous plot and over the top dance routines – isn’t that what going to the movies is all about anyway? Taking yourself out of the humdrum of everyday life and perhaps putting a bit of a smile on your face…..The costumes were incredible, the love scenes even more so. The whole film seemed to be an explosion of colour, farce, life (albeit accompanied by quite a lot of death too), entertainment and fun.
It might not have been a great film, but it was certainly a brilliant experience and even all these years on, one I have never forgotten just like so many other adventures one enjoys whilst travelling. Jai ho indeed…