With the temperatures regularly topping 40ºC the cooler evenings and nights are looked forward to at the moment. I have been told that the temperatures will drop when the monsoons break in a few weeks. When I arrived I would use the evenings to show films to the children. A few hundred of us would sit under the stars and project the films onto the school wall. I was quite rigid in showing them English Language films with subtitles to aid their English learning. Also carefully chosen the films would expand their experience of the world, so we watched films about dinosaurs, robots, floating houses, space etc. It was wonderful to watch with them as they cheered the heroes, gasped at the narrow escapes and booed the villains. A wonderfully responsive audience. I also had to be careful not to scandalise or frighten them, a cultural minefield, I have learnt that copious violence seems acceptable but no kissing on the lips! When the school year ended and the numbers dwindled, and also the IPL started (India’s Cricket League) I have changed tack. Now we watch Kannada language movies – with English Subtitles.
India makes more films than any other country in the world. The film industry is mainly centered on Mumbai (Bombay) hence the Bollywood tag. Last year over a 1000 films were released in Hindi, double that of the US. Taking into account that India also has a vibrant regional film making scene, some estimate there are an incredible 18 different regional film industries, often language based. Tamil is possibly the second most important based in Chennai, after Jackie Chan they boast the highest paid Asian actor in a chap called Rajinikanth. After Telugu, then the local Kannada language films are the fourth largest in India based in Bangalore. Referred to as ‘Sandalwood’ movies, I have spent the last couple of weeks watching these with a much smaller group of students. This allows for a lot of learning from my part. Many of the films are in the ‘Massala’ style which means they don’t conform to one particular genre, so amidst frequent and spectacular song and dance sequences, you will get a mix of drama, comedy, tragedy, action with a heavy dose of melodrama. I have really enjoyed watching them, and equally enjoy the students reactions. I have been particularly impressed by the knowledge that the students have of the directors names. Film is really appreciated as an art-form here and the famous directors get more household recognition than maybe in the West.
After a few films I think I can spot some common themes. Usually the film is based around a doomed love story. Often the relationship is inappropriate for crossing caste boundaries. Inevitably the police and politicians are portrayed as corrupt and buffoons. Usually there is a strong social message ‘the evils of drink’, ‘avoid gambling’ which is not so-subtly delivered. Presumably the films are made by an elite but certainly seem to be aimed at the majority lower castes, with the plucky hero and heroine overthrowing prejudice to let love conquer all. But also it has been surprising for me to hear the students defend, quite passionately the system of arranged marriages. The point made to me, mainly by the girls, is that their parents consult with them and they choose carefully. They don’t seem that persuaded about my arguing for total freedom or liberty. Looking at divorce rates in Europe and comparing them to here, it has given me some pause for thought. And almost all these students are Dalits, officially ‘out-castes’ so I was expecting them to be critically of the ‘economy’ of marriage here.