I grew up watching them in the air-conditioned comfort of Nani and Nana's sitting room on those hot Karachi summer nights. The flash of the Hindi Film Board certificate, the title in Hindi, Urdu, English, and we were off.
Nani dozed off at exactly 11 and Nana, the best husband ever, turned it off soon after so she wouldn't miss the ending that we had all predicted at the start.My grandparents' neighbour, in fact, rented out these movies, and Cuz One was in charge of crossing the hall and getting a beautiful black VHS every night; I, being female, was forbidden to do so. I used to stand in the doorway and hiss at him not to get one with too much maar-faar, no blood and guts, please. He, of course, smiled mischeiviously back at me, knowing the power of his gender even then.
I grew up with the classics, Dil, Kyamat Se Kyamat Tak, and of course, my all time favourite, Mr. India, which, after my 18th rental, the movie man refused to lend to us anymore, insisting others must have a go. My mother used to have a heart attack whenever she came into the air-conditioned den and saw her little girl glued to the screen where one blood-drenched good guy took on ten gun and/or dagger-wielding bad guys who appeared on cue out of the shadows, all of whom cursed each other's mothers and sisters while throwing punches with exaggerated dishoom-dishoom sounds.
I especially recommend minute 1:41, the epitomizing moment
In Canada, it all ended abruptly, mainly because I didn't know where to get the goods. It wasn't until I went to Korea and met Monica, a Korean teacher at my ESL school, that it all came back. Monica had majored in Hindi, spoke it fluently, and loved the films. She befriended me because my middle name was Shahrukh like Shah Rukh Khan, and it was through her that I discovered the underground world of Desis in Korea. My first Divali happened in the outskirts of Seoul and spared no details: we began with with a pooja, followed by a recital of Om Jai Jagdish- which of course I knew, not because I was Hindu but because of the fil-lums I'd seen- and continued into the wee hours with a rousing game of Antakshari. When I got pneumonia and spent weeks in the hospital, Monica brought me the soundtrack to Mujse Dosti Karoge (Will You Be My Friend), along with a touching letter about why our friendship meant so much to her.
After she left, I loaded my Walkman and immediately, a high-pitched female voice filled my ears, its familiarity sending goosebumps down my spine. But it was the last song that did me in. A medley of old classics and recent hits, it sent me on a roller-coaster of memories, and I cried and cried and cried. Mind you, at that point, I'd been hospitalized for well over a week, but that wasn't what made me cry. It was that reminder of the air-conditioned room, the brown sofas, Nani Nana by my side, that made me cry so much for so long that the Korean woman taking care of her ailing mother in the next bed over left her mum to come stroke my shoulder and hand me her extra large Kleenex box.
Minute 10:07 was what got me (ignore the subtitles, learn Hindi instead)
And that's how this Desi Girl came back with a vengeance. I made CD mixes, took dance classes all over town, had Hindi movie dates with whoever wished to come, or with myself, it didn't matter. Living in London, I tried every Indian dance company in central London, feasted regularly at hole-in-the-wall curry joints, and bought pirated DVDs, four movies in one, on the pavements of South Hall and East Ham. For my birthday, I dragged all the friends I'd made to Bollywood Night. They say you know who your true friends are when you drag them to a Bollywood Night and they feign enthusiasm for shoulder shaking and light bulb screwing and that night was definitely one for the record books.
Now I live in the Bay Area, the India of the West. With my ICC membership, plethora of Indian restaurants and fast food joints to keep me full all weekend, and Bollywood movies in regular cinemas, I'm home.
You can see, then, why Bollywood has seeped into my novel in various forms and proportions over the many drafts. Most of it had to be deleted, though not without saving a draft for a future Hindi movie somewhere down the line. But the manuscript is not void of Bollywood. In fact, I think I've struck a good (healthy) balance.
And if you are still reading this, next blog entry, you will be rewarded with a sneak peek at the novel itself.