Friday, January 17, 2014

A month in India, part 3: DDLJ at Maratha Mandir.

Watching one of my favourite films in the one theatre that had never stopped showing it seemed like a life goal I would in all likelihood never get to complete; fate would work its curious ways and me and my friend wouldn't find the theater, or go on the wrong day, or at the wrong time, or the showing would be sold out, or something would come between us and this piece of Indian film history. And yet, despite all my worries, things actually worked out. On an early December Monday afternoon, I sat down into a comfortable balcony seat, having paid the amazingly low price of 20 rupees, and got ready to watch Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at the fabled Maratha Mandir, Mumbai, during the 947th week of its run.

Of course, before that, me and my friend walked half a kilometre in the wrong direction, then stood mistakenly in the Dhoom 3 advance booking line for about 10 minutes, were relentlessly stared at by the fellow matinee movie-goers, for our goriness and our femaleness, chatted to some young mothers who'd brought their kids to see the film, trundled into the movie theater (though not before I'd irritably told one dude a piece of my mind in Finnish) and were seated by an usher who ruled the balcony like a dictator (and later moved us, seemingly for no reason). Then we stood up and listened to the Indian national anthem, glancing in every direction to see of other people were actually singing it, but nobody seemed to, at least not loudly enough to note.

To me, this was a familiar movie - indeed, one of the most familiar ones. I couldn't quite quote it from memory, but the dialogues, the scenes, the characters, the songs were all ones I had watched a dozen times or more. This was a film that I had rewatched throughout the decade I've been exploring Indian cinema, each time learning something new, each time understanding the Hindi and the cultural references in it a bit better. There wasn't a way to watch it with new eyes, even in this amazing new context, the legendary Maratha Mandir.

And yet, it was a completely new experience. To watch it on my own and chuckle at Shahrukh's Raj, still my absolute favourite character that the man has ever played, is not quite the same as having a whole audience appreciate his silly witticisms on the first half, or the jokes on the second half. There were some surprising elements to the crowd's engagement with the movie, as well. The way that Anupam Kher's flirtatious storyline with one of Simran's aunts brought the whole house down was definitely a surprise to me. The last two songs descended on the audience like manna from the heavens. It was a good time, observing these reactions, sharing them and just appreciating getting this experience.

For the most part, though, this was the same movie I'd fallen in love with when seeing it for the first time, and the movie I still fiercely adored. I know it's not the perfect movie, and on an intellectual level I can completely understand all the various reasons why others find it over-rated or cheesy or just plain unlikable. And yet, myself, I can't see any of those things when I watch it. DDLJ is a favourite, in a way where it doesn't matter whether it's a classic or not, even though it's nice to have one's love for a film shared by others.

Even if you don't love DDLJ, if you are ever in Mumbai and have a free afternoon, make the journey to go see this film in this particular context. It's a beautiful, old theater, the tickets are very cheap, and it's an experience that is truly a must for any fan of Indian films.

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