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July 20, 2004 > An Afternoon at the Movies, Indian Style

An Afternoon at the Movies, Indian Style

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

Like many others, my experience with foreign cinema has been limited to an occasional late-night samurai movie. Although the idea of a nearly three-hour film was a bit daunting, I looked forward to watching my first Bollywood production.

I met Alia and Mekala outside of Naz 8 Cinemas and as we approached the ticket booth, I whispered to Alia, "How do you pronounce Hum Tum?" "Hum-toom," I heard her say and, not wanting to sound silly, replied, "You ask." After paying fifteen dollars for three tickets, we made our way inside to watch Hum Tum.

Entering Naz Cinema, formerly Super Saver Cinema, I felt right at home. The theater was just as I had remembered-dark, inviting and a cool refuge on a hot day. The theater, although small by today's standards, is cozy and intimate, offering a quiet escape amid Fremont's busy city center.

We stopped by the concession stand and I asked the girls which traditional Indian food I should try. They both agreed on samosa - a flaky pyramid-shaped pastry stuffed with potatoes or ground meat. My inexperienced taste buds found the samosa to be on the spicy side but tasty. Both Mekala and Alia ordered a drink and popcorn, opting for traditional movie fare.

Once we purchased our rations for the two and a half hour movie, the three of us made our way down the softly lit hall to theater Six. Choosing optimal seats, middle of the row, down front but not too close, we sat, ready for the show.

Alia had chosen the perfect film for a Bollywood neophyte. Hum Tum, a romantic-comedy, is subtitled for those who don't understand Hindi. The only portions of the movie lacking subtitles were the musical numbers. A common perception of Indian movies is that the actors tend to break into song and dance at any moment. Hum Tum did just that and it was fantastic! The numerous musical numbers were natural to the characters of this love story. While some may find this convention perplexing, just remember such American musical classics as "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "Grease."

Alia and Mekala noted that there are three basic genres of Indian film-the war movie, horror film, and the love story. All tend to follow the same Indian cinematic conventions, inviting audiences to enjoy different variations of similar plotlines.

During the movie's fifteen-minute intermission, I stretched my legs and got a drink for the second half. I knew the movie would be long, as many Indian films are but time was flying by, thanks in part to the numerous song and dance numbers.

The romance continues in the second half when the principal characters, Karan and Rhea, cross paths in Paris. I instantly noticed that Amsterdam stands in for Paris and New York throughout Hum Tum. Mekala and Alia caught a few mistakes themselves and let me know this is not uncommon in Bollywood productions, since they can be immensely expensive to produce.

The character of Rhea begins to develop and offers some insight of her psyche. Rhea's mother, the delightful Kiron Kher, employs the help of Karan to find another husband for her daughter (her first husband, we learn, died in a car accident).

From the opening scene of Hum Tum, the viewer is well aware of Rhea's representation of Modern Woman. Her rebuke of Karan's advances, her quick tongue and her forward thinking let the audience know she is not open to an arranged marriage. I appreciated the honest look at arranged marriage and Rhea's fiery reaction to the concept.

By movie's end, I found myself dabbing my eyes with a paper napkin. I usually do not care for light-hearted romantic comedies but Hum Tum proved to be much more. Mekala and Alia acted as both language and cultural interpreters for my first true foreign film experience. And because of their ability to explain the nuances of Indian movies I plan on seeing another sometime soon.

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