What I understood of an Indian movie

Written by Lord Lansdowne

The other day my girlfriend brought me to see an Indian movie titled Pardesh, by director Subhash Ghai. Entering the movie theatre is not that much different from anywhere else I've been. However it's the little differences that make you realize you are not here to see the latest Batman flick. Although you can still order coke and popcorn, I was given Indian tea and Somosa, some sort of croissant with vegetables inside (kind of like a Spanakopita, if you like Greek food) all covered in Chatnee, a sweet-and-sour kind of sauce. I have to say, it was better than having popcorn.

Hour 1:

The movie starts: for a minute I was worried if it was going to be in Hindi or Punjabi, but the actors were all speaking in English. Luckily, that was not for long, since right after that it was all in Greek for me.. or Hindi in this case. Fortunately once in a while someone would say a word in English (i.e. "shit!" when something bad happened or "ahhhhh!" when scared or "hello?" when picking up a phone). This allowed me to get a general idea of what was going on.

Anyway, this old man returns to India, after having left many years ago as a poor young man, and now having returned with millions of dollars. He meets his old friend who takes him to his house placed in the middle of his fields. In the distance we hear the voice of a girl screaming: "Daddy! Daddy!"

At this point, series of strange events start from here throughout the 3 hour (15 minute break) movie.

First strange thing: the two old men look off-screen, where the camera picks up this beautiful (apparently) girl who is running in slow-motion towards them. The rich American guy is looking at the girl with obvious interest although the audience is left unclear of his intentions.

We learn afterwards that he wants his son to marry the above mentioned girl, so that she can bring that touch of culture that is missing from them in America.

In the mean time we get to meet the whole family, mother, father, daughters, kids, comedy relief, aunt, cows, dogs and the incredible amount of goats that are scattered all over the place. In fact there are so many goats, one has to think that someone accidentally spilled Kuleshnov1 all over the place.

While everyone is laughing and making patties out of cow dung for the fire, the neighbours (who wear purple suits and have their hair dyed blonde) freak about this uncle from America arriving. They don't want the above mentioned girl to marry the son of the above mentioned rich-uncle-from-America. Fortunately they tell them off and everybody is happy, the girl looks at the picture of the guy and finds him one hell of a stud and is happy too, and the little kids are so happy that they start dancing and singing to convince his uncle in bringing them to America.

Something weird happens here: as the kids are singing, the uncle is dressed with a sports outfit, but quickly disappears into the fog and returns wearing a kurta (long white pants, long white shirt on top) and starts singing "I love my India". The movie turns into MTV, with people dancing, women flying across fields waving long strings of fabrics, and the American uncle singing right in front of a cliff, so close in fact, that if he takes two steps back, the movie would be over.

In the meantime, the girl, Ganga, becomes a good friend with Rahul. Now Rahul is the best friend of the son of the American uncle, and he's got it all: looks, honour, smile and can play the guitar. But don't worry, they are just friends (or are they?)

Since the movie has three hours to play with, the director tool this chance to show how the son of the American uncle is too Americanised by having him react weird, and not understand half of what is going on during the engagement festivities. He also despises the culture, making (ironically) racial comments about the Indians. Fortunately his friend Rahul is there to help him out of a whole series of culture clash that occurs between the two families, the engagement works well and the two love-birds move to America. Rahul decides to stay in India for a while, probably to recover from all the hard work.

Actually before they go to America there is a weird fight where everyone runs around acting like gorillas and saying something that sounded like "cuppa-tea". I'm not sure how, Rahul wins, saves the girl from the above mentioned purple-wearing folks and everyone is happy.

All of this goes on just in the first hour. I'd explain the rest, except that I didn't understand what the remaining hour and a half were really all about.

What scares me here is to see that they make the little old grandmother understanding, wise and more open minded then the girl's parents. This makes no sense, since my girlfriend's grandparents look at me with the same love, affection and understanding that a .45 would have while ripping through my skull. I guess this was to symbolize how age is comparable to wiseness.

Another thing: the credits started to roll up, so I start getting up and I notice that the lights are still off and nobody else got up. I ask my girlfriend why, and can you believe, the movie is not over yet! The credits are rolling by, and you can still see the actors doing things on the screen, in this case Gangha and Rahul kissing, looking at flowers, laughing a lot and all that other mushy stuff love-birds do before they grow sick and tired of each other.

There is only one special effect: Gangha and the kids are riding bicycles and singing (of course). You notice a cliff dead-ahead of them, and everyone stops. Everyone except Gangha, who keeps going, goes over the cliff and keeps on pedaling towards the sun while waving back at the happy little kids.

"What's going on here?!" I asked my girlfriend. "Why is she flying?!"

"To symbolize," my girlfriend answered with a can't-you-tell-by-yourself? type of tone, "that she is leaving them to go to America."

Of course, I should've known.

What I found interesting to observe was to see how other parts of the world see "America" ("America," by the way, looks more like BC (no, not DC, BC It's different). Apparently wherever the story was taking place in the New Continent, it would be represented by a large bay with a few cargo ships, and several houses in a relatively quiet neighbourhood. Las Vegas is a nice quiet city that has very tiny rooms with people betting on an tiny table. Truckers drive small 4 wheeled trucks on a Toyota chassis. They also give a ride to the first Indian woman that comes running towards them.

Anyway, the movie follows the typical Indian Bollywood standard:

1? Girl meets guy, guy meets girl and they get to know each other.
2? For no apparent reason everyone starts singing happily.
3? Girl/guy get more sentimentally involved with each other.
4? Yet another musical so that both characters can express their joy.
5? Something happens, the two lovers are separated.
6? Sad song as hero sings and images of his love appear where the moon should be. If he holds on to a tree or rips her picture on top of a bridge right before driving away in some remote and unreachable place, the better.
7? Something crucial and dramatic (yet expected) happens changing the whole plot around. Good people turn bad. Bad people turn good. Hero saves the girl, the day (and his face although he just got the beating of his life from the bad guy).
8? Everyone agrees for the two love-birds to marry.
9? More singing, this time everyone is happier than before.
10? Credits roll up. Everyone is still happy.

If you get a chance, watch this movie. I suggest however you choose the subtitled version, unless you have a friend that speaks Hindi and is willing to translate on the fly. It's a good change from the usual shat playing lately in the theatres. It's got a good dosage of humor, love, action (not the type you might expect) and the usual poetic justice at the end. Worth the Chatnee that spilled on my pants.