Thu, 14 December 2006
Not long ago, in order to keep an outsider's perspective on our own culture, I decided to cultivate an interest in the South Asian cinema, more specifically the body of work produced in the city of Mumbai. This oeuvre is of course more popularly referred to as the films of Bollywood, though that nickname is based on the city's previous title, Bombay, so named by the Portuguese in 1534, as Bom Baia, or "good bay". It is a firm conviction of mine that, when Bombay was renamed Mumbai, the popular name Bollywood should have been changed to Mumblywood.
But that's neither here nor there.
What is germane is that I sought out and found, in the city of Artesia, southern California's Little India, a neighborhood cinema that showed only movies of Bollywood. Finding my seat, I experienced the dimming of the lights with a somewhat skeptical outsider's perspective, and began to make the acquaintance of the heroes on the screen: the Big B himself, Amitabh Bachchan, the suave rogue and trickster Shahrukh Khan, the boyishly earnest Hrithik Roshan. Caught up in the heady and somewhat arrogant rush of the cultural explorer, I unwrapped a tinfoil packet I had purchased at the snack bar, and found an intensely green leaf folded into a triangle, stuffed with sweet spices and seeds labeled "mitha paan: Fresh!" Imagine my surprise when, in the very act of sampling the exotic treat, I witnessed Shahrukh Khan on the screen, pop one of the very same delicacies into his mouth and start acting goofy, dancing with wild abandon, rolling his eyes, winking knowingly as he addictively consumed the little green triangles, his gyrations becoming absolutely manic and hysterical. I froze and stared at the treat in my own hand. Had my tongue suddenly become numb and tingling at the same time? Were the colors of the saris on the screen just a little brighter and more intriguing? Had everything in my immediate vicinity just become far more profound or at least hilarious than it had been just moments before?
With a gasp, I fled the theater in horror, images flooding my mind of myself as a lone dope-crazed dancer, running wild down the aisle, prancing and cavorting in front of the screen, to the complete cultural and personal embarrassment of all involved, being asked politely by the management to leave, possibly leading to my arrest and subsequent vilification in the press, and blacklisting by the podcasting community.
As I dried my tears in the alley behind the theater, and tried to steady the spinning world, a profound depression settled upon my reeling frontal lobes, which pervades still. Seduced by the illusion I could remain an impartial outsider, I am now trapped by the span of my lifetime. Shahrukh or Amitabh will never lay a hand on my shoulder and call me brother. I will stare at them across a cultural divide as wide as the world and as deep as the bottom of our souls, and wish that I could stand with them on the other side, in that colorful, vibrant land of adventure, music and life.
Category:Armbruster's Musings -- posted at: 10:20am PST