Mumbai: French-born Laurane Marchive is in the city to take in its sights. So a stop at Mumbai's longest-running theatre film is a must
AS a newcomer to Mumbai, I wanted to know more about Bollywood. Why is everyone crazy about it? And how is it possible to watch a three-hour long musical? Since I had a few hours to kill one morning, it was suggested that I go and watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ), a part of Hindi cinema's film history.
Last month, this movie did its 700th week at Maratha Mandir in Central Mumbai. In 2001, the movie broke the continuous exhibition record, previously established by that other movie great, Sholay, which played at Minerva from 1975 to 1980. My question: why do people keep coming? This is not something I had seen at home in France.
I was first surprised by the price of the ticket, very low compared to any other cinema hall. May be that was part of the answer and perhaps it was also why the balcony tickets were sold out. On a Wednesday morning.
After running for 14 years.
As I'd gone alone, and didn't speak any Hindi, I was apprehensive about the experience and whether I would be able to understand anything at all. Luckily enough, stories where people dance, fall in love and fight for each other seem to be part of a pretty international language; it was not too hard to figure out. Moreover, the audience was helpful: there had to be something funny going on when they all laughed, and something great when they clapped. It is crazy to see how enthusiastic people can be after seeing the same movie 60 times... After all "a love story with music and dancing" is more or less the synopsis of most Bollywood stories.
I could understand why some people found this movie good: watching Kajol and SRK dancing drunk in Europe was really funny, even if the lyrics were meaningless to me. However, I must point out that the Paris sequence doesn't have anything to do with what Paris really looks like. But I am French, and I cannot guarantee we treat India better in French movies.
The only other Bollywood movie I've seen so far was Partner (David Dhawan-directed, starring Salman Khan and Govinda) and I have to say that, well, I liked it better. No offense, but it's funnier and a little less dramatic. That intrigued me even more: what made DDLJ extraordinary?
"I think the audience keeps coming because it is a very nice movie, with amazing actors. It sometimes attracts even more people than new movies," explained Mr Rane, manager of the theatre. "I was manager here in 1975 when the movie was first released, and I have seen people coming repeatedly throughout the years; some of them have seen it 60 or 70 times. I don't know any other movie that would work so well." Junaid, a spectator, told me he had seen the movie more than 30 times, but was not bored of it yet: "The first time I came, I was with my girlfriend," he said. "Now she is my wife, she is pregnant and this movie brings back a lot of memories."
For Junaid, the movie in this particular theatre is a success because it is cheap while multiplexes are so expensive. So it is easy to come and see it as many times as you want. "Also, I love Shah Rukh Khan and I love to see him on a big screen; DDLJ is a romantic story, with good songsÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¦We can't have enough of it! I will keep coming as long as it keeps playingÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂ¦"
Ok but still...There are other good movies. And why watch it in a theatre while it is available in DVD? Do you need a big screen even after having watched it 10 times?
Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world, followed by Hollywood, and the other worldwide record-breaker is actually a British-American movie released in 1975: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is still played in a lot of US theatres, most of the time as a weekly and or a midnight show. This movie might help me answer my question.
The story is of a newly engaged couple who find themselves lost and with a flat tyre on a rainy night. They look for help and enter a nearby castle where strange people are holding their annual Transylvanian convention. Funnily, DDLJ and The RHPS have a lot in common while being totally opposite: both movies are record-breaking musicals and both play at unusual times: morning for DDLJ and midnight for The RHPS. But in both movies, people come to be part of the whole atmosphere. During DDLJ, the audience clapped and interacted with the action, commenting on it or knowing the dialogues by heart. The same thing happens at night in the theatre playing The RHPS; spectators sing with the songs, loudly comment upon the action, and even come in fancy dress.
Both movies share the same phenomenon: you go and see it on screen because you want to be part of the complete cinematic experience. And watching it on DVD just can't compete.
However, they are completely different: DDLJ is a sweet romance, the love story of two young persons who fight to be together, while The RHPS is a gory, exuberant story, humourous and ridiculous.
But I think those differences are mostly in the details. The strength of those movies is to be symbols, to represent two genres: the romantic comedy and the horror movie; they are timeless and that's why they've become icons.
Like it or not, it will always drag people into theatres.