Bollywood. As I watch a homeless man being robbed on the street in Jaipur, I stare at two glass panes simultaneously. The television, in which a Bollywood film is playing is reflected in the polished window of the hang out space, behind which the harsh reality takes place. I experience this contrast as tremendous. Never before has it become more apparent to me how reality and fiction relate to each other. As I share my observation with my American acquaintance sitting next to me, she coolly responds that it's the same with Hollywood. Since I have not yet been in America, have no concept of reality there, and everything I know about the country comes from history books and the moving picture, this analogy surprises me. After all, Bollywood is so obviously unrealistic. Hollywood, on the other hand, at least tries to maintain a certain amount of reality, (I thought.)
I can't leave India without having seen a Bollywood movie with an Indian audience. Luckily, a nationalist Bollywood movie has just opened. An action film that once again catapults an ageing hero out of his alpine (or more likely Himalayan) peaceful family existence. The look of the film reminds me of ads à la Heidi on the alpine pasture. The curvy beauty, however, who uses feminist slogans to put a stop to her godlike husband, is definitely Bollywood. (Not because of the feminist slogans, but because of her curves.)
With my fellow travellers gathered (Australia, Germany and Canada), we each smuggle a 0.5l of coke and rum into the cinema. Whenever the audience laughs, and we don't understand the joke, we have to drink. Our drinks are empty before the movie is over. When opening our bottles for the first time, rum vapour spreads cheekily around. The overseers overlook our misconduct like stoics (alcohol is strictly prohibited), and no one of our neighbours reprimands us. They are too polite. As always in such situations, I am ashamed. However, I don't have much time to disappear into my seat. Before the movie begins, the entire cinema hall rises to sing the national anthem. Which, of course, surprised me in my thoughtlessness. Moments later we are drawn into a whirlwind of exploding cars, muscle-bound men in white shirts, slow-motion shots of the dark-eyed godlike husband and monosyllabic retorts of the leading lady. She saves him three times, but he rescues her when it counts. (The genre allows only so much bending.) The film is packed with comedic supporting roles and poetic moments. The bad guys are, in keeping with the times, ISIS and obscure Muslim extremists with wealthy support from Western forces. The greasy nationalism is amusing rather than contagious. The peace-loving Indians only become violent when there is no other way. But then save the world with Bollywood music backed slow-motion shots of half-naked male bodies. It's a feast for eyes and ears, with picturesque body parts flying around in the background.
The nicest part of this experience was the loud boos and the enthusiastic wow's of the audience. They make apparent: the Indians are much better at understanding reality and fiction than we. No one in the cinema has the illusion of seeing something real. (Or true to reality.) Everybody knows that it's a spectacle. It reminds me more of theatre and opera than of the cinema. My fellow western visitors find it difficult to digest this level of fakeness. They perceive it as an inflated production without meaning or reason. I, on the contrary, am delighted. How would you show a universal reality in a country like India where poverty, misery and injustice are everywhere? The people here are used to uniting vast spectrums of reality in their worldview. Why should that be different in art and entertainment?