Ode to Air India’s Film Selection

So I’ve never been on a flight that has offered so many video selections. I mean, let me compare this to the Air India flight I took over to London. One project screen, barely visible if you’re my height and sitting in the middle row some aisles back. You sleep through Mama Mia of course because, I mean, its just bad. It looked worse without sound though; however definitely sounded better this way.

Then you’ve got the after musical, musical of some Bollywood film that began as your regular rich guy spurns father and meets young girl who doesn’t give him a chance. Here’s where I fell asleep on the guy next to me who I didn’t actually know or ever talk to. Now cut back to me waking up here and there catching glimpses of the screen. And low and behold the film hasn’t changed but has added the interesting sub-non-plot of time travel. Yes, time traveling bollywood stars with robots that now drastically differ the film I started to watch but ended up falling asleep instead. But this is okay because even at half way through any Bollywood flick, you’ve still got an hour and a half for further plot development or the sheer failure of plot. Voting for the failure in this case.

Now we’re back to just last Saturday. Talk about time travel! When I get onto a much nicer looking Air India flight and sit down next to the window to watch the airplane wings raise and lower those steel feather contraptions that somehow contribute to the flight of a massive metal cylinder. Can you tell I didn’t take physics? So though my headset is having problems, I check out the film listing. Its all crazy remote control like and I’m automatically impressed. It even takes me a moment to figure out how to use it. For your film selection you can choose “English” “Hindi” or “Regional” I scout out the regional films but they all look, well, old, 80’s and just bad bollywood. If you can picture that. It looks something like a massive Indian wrestler dressed in tight leopard print spandex rolling barrels of flaming gasoline about to explode onto the safari-dressed young male hero who manages to save the girl but not the mother. The mothers always die. It’s tradition.

And trust me. I’m telling you about a real film I watched. Its in the Bollywood textbooks. I’ve got witnesses. Puja took place during the film screening. Hard green metal chairs for 8 rupees or sit on the ground for 3.

So regional films I pass by. I scroll to English which lists current English films, Classic English films and German films. Yes, german. Under the heading of German is. Hold your breath. 10,000 BC and Dan in Real Life. Because of course these are german films. What the heck? The Classic English films don’t look much better – Spartacus and Ben Hur. Its all Charleston Heston-esque spectacle bible based films. These Indian film viewers are particular about their films. Religion and spectacle. Some signing, dancing and chariot racing.

Now, under Current English films, there are quite a few. Many of them just look bad but I come to “Grace is Gone” and its got John Cusack so I stop. He’s great, funny, and easy to look at. I can kill some time here. Less than a half hour in I’m in tears on the plane. I remain in tears for most of the film and I’m sure I’m keeping the people up around me. “Grace is Gone” is this beautifully sad story about a family where the mother is in the army.  And the film is about a socially graceless John Cusack who, upon finding out his wife has been killed in battle, tries to find ways to avoid telling his two little girls about their mom’s fate.  Tears. Tears. Tears. They go to a theme park all in new dresses and I’m just thinking: Crystal Bartolovich’s class – here we are trying to escape reality by entering Enchanted Wonderland. It was brilliantly well done. The whole film really is. So if you need a good cry, watch it. Really quite beautiful and brings this whole terrible war into a personal perspective.

John Cusack in Grace is Gone

John Cusack in Grace is Gone

Now in contrast, I still had several hours left on the flight so I looked through the Current Hindi films. To be honest, they were pretty terrible even for my very open and accepting view of Bollywood films. Did I mention I taught myself a class on Bollywood? So, I had started to watch the Bollywood version of Casper with Amitabh Bachchan as the ghost and Sharakahn as the dad (that covers two of the three main Indian actors, anyone know the third? There may be a prize!). But after the 2cd grader goes to school and there’s a 15 min long dance of little kids dressed as gansters and cheerleaders and street whores in the playground. And they’re suppose to be little thugs when in fact they’re less than 10 yrs. old. That just turned me off. And they’re putting in every sort of materialistic culture they can find from fast cars to gold chains, I’m about ready to throw up (that would be #5!) but don’t. Instead I change to Classic Hindi films.

I’m on an Air India flight. I really should be watching some “Angry Young Man” films. I’ve only seen a few with the great Bollywood God himself in them. So I turn into Naseeb. Its 5 mins in and its about a waiter and a group of friends who buy a lottery ticket from a guy who can’t pay for his meal. I’m thinking: yes, waiter. This isn’t Amitabh (who is advertised as being the waiter in the film). I pause, I double check. I start watching again. Still confused. Where’s my Pen Guy?! Then a half hour in, it hits me. This was just the opening scenes! So in the first half hour, two of the friends group have ganged up on the other two and murdered one of them. They set it up so the one that gets away is framed with the murder. The two surviving friends who really did do the murder get the winning lottery ticket and set up a hotel. Each of these four men have sons. (This is a total bollywood film plot structural thing, its a must.) One of the wives dies in a natural disaster. (again, typical bollywood). And the boys of man who was framed for murder end up working for the two gentleman who did the actual killing.

Bollywood God

Bollywood God

I’m realizing how pointless it is to describe this about now. But its so classically Bollywood that it seems like it should be easy to describe! But let me try to outline it the best I can:

Sons of framed man must prove their value in society by being the good guys, avenging their father (who comes back and oddly represents all three major Indian religions – again typical Bollywood plot structure). Then they have to conquer some religious or social or other issue that involves why they can’t get together with the woman they love. Of course, there’s some elaborate scheme that involves them sacrificing their love for some larger concept. This of course pays off because they get the woman anyway. The woman have to provide some way for getting their men out of a mess. There are always couples and no one ever gets left out. In this case one for each religion. Like Amar, Akbar and Anthony. I can’t believe I just referenced that like it could be part of a normal conversation. Anyway, then the bad guys have to be killed in a way that is appropriate for bad guys but not by the hands of the good guys because then they wouldn’t be pure good guys anymore. So this generally involves natural disaster. And then somewhere in there one of the bad guys has to kill a mother figure. This is a sheer must as it demonstrates ultimate bad guyness.

So yup, that was the plot. Just like any other plot of the time  period. If you watch Bollywood film from this period, just keep your eyes pealed. (what sort of metaphore is that anyway: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-kee1.htm) because that’s what you get!

So that’s the flight back. A girl who can watch a bollywood film and still watch a regular flick after? This is dedication to the art of the movie.


One response to “Ode to Air India’s Film Selection

  1. Amitabh! … But… Amitabh as an Indian Casper?? Um.. No, Amitabh, say no! Why does India need a version of Casper? It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that translates very well.

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