Saturday, 26 January 2013

Decadence and dummies

Some friends and I decided to go to the movies the other day. I haven't been much while I've been in India, mainly because it's mostly Bollywood films that are shown and they're just not much fun for me without subtitles (though I can admire the groovy dance moves as well as anyone). However, the big blockbuster movies from abroad to get a showing, so we decided to troop off to see Les Mis. I was probably about 15 when I first saw the stage version, and having gone through a phase of being utterly obsessed with it I can still pretty much sing it from end to end. So the movie version was obviously going to be a must. It helped that this particular group of friends are a laid-back, creative-type bunch who could be expected to be a little more tolerant of the occasional irrepressible burst of singing-along.

So off we went to the mall. I've blogged before about the slightly surreal experience of going to the mall in Delhi. It's not just the sparkling, glass-and-chrome contrast with the chaotic streets of the city, but the fact that malls here take the concept of high-end retail and multiply it by 10, achieving a level of swankiness that most shopping centres in the UK could only dream of.

I wasn't prepared, though, for the experience of  "gold class" cinema ticket at a Delhi mall. Les Mis had two showings, one at 10 pm (gold class) and one at 11 pm (regular). Gold Class was, naturally, shockingly expensive for India, but still only about the average price of a cinema ticket back home. I knew it was a long movie and I'd had a bit of a long week, and having had a little bit of a windfall courtesy of Mr Taxman back in London I decided to treat us so that we could get home at a reasonable hour.

There were 35 seats in the cinema. We had four; two others were occupied. "Seats" doesn't really convey it though. These were the most comfortable things I had ever sat on in my life. Each of them had enough foot room for a giant to stretch out, they reclined to pretty much horizontal, and they seemed to have about a foot of padding across their whole surface. I wanted to take them home with me.

We all got a little bit excited and giggly at the ridiculousness of it. I mean, with six people in the cinema how on earth could this possibly be making money? So my friend Subhashani's camera came out as we lounged around and called out orders to imaginary minions (apologies for the picture quality).

Varoon and me. Overexcited.

Subhashani and me. Overexcited.

Vini. Vini is way too cool to get overexcited.

 Me looking especially taken with the complimentary blankets.

Once we'd actually calmed down enough to watch the movie, it turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag. But I'm not here to write a movie review. Suffice to say that when the other two people in the cinema left at the intermission, this was pretty much our cue to get overexcited and giggly all over again (and in my case, to sing along to Do You Hear The People Sing while wondering at the capacity of my friends for extreme tolerance). 

I have to admit that for all the ludicrousness (and apparently lack of a sensible business model) it was more enjoyable than your average cinema trip. Even despite the occasional burst of Indian-style sensitive customer service - in this case, showing up to shine a torch in our faces and present the bill for soft drinks at the very moment that Eponine was about to expire in Marius's arms. 

I can't help wondering though whether the lack of other attendees was down to an unwillingness on the part of well-heeled Indians to spend extra money on a luxury cinema seat or the movie itself (though you'd think that a film consisting almost entirely of singing would go down well here. No dancing though. Maybe that's it). I'm sure places like this exist in the UK too, but who would bother forking out the extra on a regular basis? Is there really a sustainable market for this kind of thing?

As we were leaving through the underground parking we came across one of the most terrifying things I've seen in India. The photos don't do it justice, but heaped against a wall of the car park was a pile of shop window dummies (I really, really hope they were dummies) looking for all the world like the victims of a massacre deposited, Laura-Palmer style, wrapped in plastic. Presiding over them was a horrific yellow giantess. I'm not kidding, it actually struck dread into my heart.

Of course, once the brain had made sense of the information provided by the eyes and the initial horror subsided, we obviously had to get out and make a dramatic scene out of it (as those who've seen my play at the Short + Sweet theatre festival will know, I have something of a latent phobia about shop mannequins anyway):

I think I capture a terrified pose a bit better than Varoon, who looks more like he's doing a funky dance moved of the aforementioned type. I can't imagine what shop would have actually used the yellow giantess in a display, or why these poor dummies had been abandoned so unceremoniously in an empty car park. But it seemed like a somehow fitting postscript to a slightly surreal evening that managed to be rather more memorable than the movie itself.


Sam said...

Can you write about PM Cameron's visit.

Why is so difficult for Britain to apologize for things they have done in India ?
Why can't they give back Kohinoor diamond ?

Why is there so much hatred in the comment sections in British papers about this apology ?

Chris said...

Hi Sam, sorry to be so long replying - I have been absent from blogging for a while for personal reasons.

It's not very timely now for me to blog about Cameron's visit, but for what it's worth my view on this is that one can't apologise for what one hasn't done. And note Cameron didn't apologise, but he expressed regret and acknowledged that events like the massacre in Amritsar are shameful ones in the UK's history. I personally think these were the right words.

Basically: where do the apologies stop? Groups of people have done horrible things to other groups of people throughout human history. Should Norway apologise to the UK for centuries of murderous Viking raids? Should Mongolia apologise for Genghis Khan? What about the numerous times when Indian groups have killed other Indian groups? Who bears the burden of apologising in those cases?

My view is that these things are historical events which need to be seen as such and learned from, as is colonialism as a whole. I find the Colonial mindset repugnant, but as a historical phenomenon it had effects that were positive as well as negative, including a good deal of cultural enrichment. It would be interesting to focus on how such positive exchanges might happen in a context of mutual respect and sovereignty, rather than a colonial one, rather than demanding apologies from people who weren't even born when events occurred.

Also, to say "the British" did certain things is simplistic: the Amritsar massacre was carried out on the orders of an individual general and was roundly condemned in the UK at the time (though the man responsible was, shamefully, never brought to justice). What purpose does it serve for Cameron to apologise for the actions of a specific man?

I remember once in Ghana a woman demanded that I express shame for slavery. But why should I? I have never supported slavery; even on some spurious "ancestral" connection I would argue that my ancestors were farming in Somerset at the time, not chaining people up. I think I have a duty to be aware that my country's wealth (and consequently the opportunities I have had) is partly built on a history of exploiting others' resources, and therefore I try to live my life by better values and to have a positive impact in the world. But I can't apologise for things I haven't done.

Large sections of the British press are jingoistic, nationalistic, and shrill. It's depressing but I'm not surprised they get upset at any perceived slight to the UK or loss of "national prestige". It's an ugly feature of my country.

As for the diamond, I don't know enough about that specific issue to comment.

Ophelia Balan said...

Hi Chris, I wasn't sure where to get in touch with you, so here we are! I've added your blog to my blogroll on as I really enjoy reading your posts and find them really funny :) we're from the same neck of the woods back home as well, so I'm sure that we have a lot of shared experiences! I've been living in India for about 6 years now, but only just made it up to Delhi for the first time a couple of weeks ago for eye surgery and to see the Taj Mahal :)

Chris said...

Hi Ophelia, thank you - I'm glad you enjoy my posts, rare though they are these days! I will have a look at your site :-)


amasc said...

Ah yes, the gold standard cinema experience. I did that, I reclined, I loved the blankets, I fell asleep, I missed the film. It was a really good snooze though.

Kushal Kumar Brahma said...

I did that too... But those places are damn expenses... We were in a YOLO mood, so I flashed my credit card in the counter to watch a pathetic movie (a movie I'm even ashamed to recall :P). Needless to say, after treating six people to the luxary of Gold Class I spent rest of the month eating peanuts for dinner. :P

Anyhow love your posts and I love Delhi... Can't wait to come back home!!!