A few months ago, my cousin "V" recalled a movie experience and asked if I remembered it. I, of course, drew a complete blank. She was surprised that I didn't remember how "we went to watch a movie in thiruvalam and came out because of bedbugs in our seats!!!!!!!"
Perhaps that is why I never went to movies in India that much :)
The bedbug experience was before I left for the US. To the best of my recollection, over the last 25 years, I haven't been to any Indian movie--neither in the US nor during my visits to India. Of course, I don't count films by people like Mira Nair as truly Indian.
This time around, I thought it might be a fun experience to watch one. A friend, "S," recommended a Tamizh movie. But, I chickened out at the thought of three-plus hours of movie watching.
Eventually, I took the plunge when "X" and "Y" seemed enthused enough. They assured me that it would be a good one, especially because Irfan was in it.
I had no idea about Irfan. And it was a Hindi movie at that. But, I was game for it, and off we went.
The movie was Paan Singh Tomar.
As we walked into the hall, the larger seating capacity itself was a reminder that I was not in the US. I made sure I didn't lose my footing in the dim lighting.
When the movie started and Irfan appeared on the screen, I recognized him from The Namesake and Slumdog Millionaire. I liked his acting in both those films, and I could now sense why "X" and "Y" were confident about an Irfan movie.
As the story developed, I got even more excited. Not because I followed the dialogs. The excitement was because a good chunk of the story is set in the Chambal Valley, where I was only a month ago. A sense of "I know this place" made me sit up even straighter. I recalled driving over a river a little outside of Gwalior and wondered aloud whether that was the Chambal, and it was. I hurriedly took a photo:
And then I thought that perhaps I might even get to see men walking around with huge shotguns on their backs. Sure enough, soon there was one. He was pedaling away on his bicycle, with an automatic rifle tied around his back and a magazine across his shoulder. I didn't dare to take a photo of him, however, lest he unloaded a few bullets on me.
Anyway, in the movie, in one context, a character referred to the place Bhind. I couldn't control my excitement; I turned to "X" and said, "Oh my god, Bhind!"
My thanks to "X," "Y," and "Z" for all the excitement related to this movie, and for the experience of watching an Indian movie after all these years.
Oh, about the movie itself? It was definitely not your stereotypical Bollywood product, with mindless singing and dancing and running around in the Alps. There is, of course, a lot of melodrama, which could have been easily eliminated for a much tighter storytelling at within 100 minutes. I would rate Paan Singh Tomar a B+. And an A- it will be if I factor in all my excitement :)