Back from a hectic (and somewhat drunk) weekend in Bombay (have I mentioned how much I love that city?)
Was very excited to discover that there was a Satyajit Ray special running with three of his films being screened, including one - Aranyer Din Ratri - that I'd never seen before. So my friend S and I show up at Fame Adlabs Friday evening all enthusiastic (after a quick visit to the Landmark store next door). We buy corn, recline our seatbacks, kick off our shoes, and when the movie begins, discover that there are NO SUBTITLES. No, they won't start after the title sequence. No, the dialogue won't switch to Hindi / English when the characters get to the forest. There it is, the movie, in pure, unadulterated Bengali - a language that neither of us speak.
Surprisingly, the film turned out to be rather fun anyway. Partly because it's Ray, so the images themselves are both lucid and exquisite. Partly because the plot (or at least the parts of it we managed to figure out) is fairly simple, so there isn't much scope for confusion. Partly because when you really put your mind to it, it's impressive how much of an unfamiliar language you really do understand.
That said, I have to wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of setting up a screening of Ray's films in Bombay, supposedly with the intention of making these classics accessible to a wider audience, and then not bother providing subtitles so people could follow what was being said.
I'm also intrigued by what theatres in Bombay have done with the National Anthem. In the old days you got the standard issue national anthem: just before the start of the movie a sign would come on asking you to stand. Then you'd get the familiar chorus singing Jan Gan Man accompanied by a visual of the Indian flag in extreme close up. You'd wrestle your way out of your seat balancing pop corn and soda. You'd stand awkwardly in your place wishing the uncle-ji next to you would stop singing along in his horribly off-key voice. You'd hear that voice grow more and more desperate, as though the fate of the nation hung on it finishing the song two bars ahead of everyone else. You'd hope uncle-ji wasn't going to cry or something. You'd watch the last minute stragglers push their way into the centre of the row, treading unapologetically on the toes of their impromptu fellow patriots. You'd wonder, now that it was too late, whether you shouldn't have gone to the bathroom after all. Then suddenly the thing would be over and everyone would sit down with obscene haste, as though a little embarassed by what they'd been up to, as though afraid of being the last one left on his / her feet.
But in the two theatres I watched films in this weekend (Fame Adlabs and the Juhu PVR ) the staid old Jan gan man is, apparently, no longer good enough. Instead I got first a music video featuring the usual suspects (Lata, Asha, Jasraj, Bhimsen, Rehman, etc) singing an ornamented and somewhat inchoate version of the anthem, and then, next day, a rendition of the song with extra orchestration that sounds vaguely like it comes out of loony tunes. It's as though someone had decided that upmarket urban consumers wanted something more sophisticated, more stylish, in the way of national anthems.
Now personally, I think this whole national anthem before movies thing is bit of silly jingoism, so I find the idea of making it more 'fancy' fairly amusing, though I can't help thinking it's missing the point a little. I wonder where all this will lead. I suppose it's only a matter of time before we get the 'remix' version of the national anthem with dhin-chak beats, faux rap solos and a troupe of nubilely female dancers the indifference of whose dancing is made up for by the shortness of their skirts.
 Where I watched an extremely mixed bag of shorts about Paris called Paris je t'aime. Some lovely little pieces by Isabel Coixet, Alexander Payne and the inimitable Coen brothers, but also a lot that is predictable and trite, most excruciatingly Gurinder Chadha's five minute cliche fest.