So here's the promised post about my ultimate film watching experience.
While I was in college, for a set of very complicated reasons, we didn't get to go out much, and movie-watching was limited to once or twice a month. Our pocket money was limited too, and while we had enough to pay for the movie outings - including tempo fares and chaat and popcorn and cold drinks - we did not have so much money that it didn't matter having to spend it on a bad film.
We used to keep an eye out for new movies in the local halls. Our options were limited, of course. We never got to see any good Hollywood or other foreign movies. But we could choose between, say, the new David Dhawan film or the new Mani Ratnam film in Hindi.
I was a great one for experimentation. New faces, new cinematic voices, and up I jumped, ever willing to check those guys out.
One fine day, I saw amongst the listings a film called Bal Brahmachari. Starring a girl from a powerful filmi khandaan, Karishma Kapoor, and the son of a film star, Puru Rajkumar.
It was hard to tell what the film might be about (we didn't read film reviews back then) but there was something about the poster that suggested comedy. I like comedy. My friends like comedy. So I began to persuade them to plan our next outing around this film.
They were reluctant. Who's this hero, they asked? What's the story? I clicked my tongue. I reminded them of Prakash Mehra's filmography. I invoked a film called Brahmachari, starring Shammi Kapoor. That was a decent watch, I said, so why will this one not be decent? It sounds like contemporary, youthful fun!
Finally, I prevailed. Me and the other girls went to the cinema. We bought our Rs 17 balcony tickets. We settled down on the rickety seats. The film started.
There was something odd going on, though. The film seemed to have begun on a note that was first struck in the 60s perhaps. All of us squirmed uncomfortably in our worn-out seats. This did not bode well for a comedy. There was something about a couple in a car. My memory fails me now but there were villians around, and the good man was killed; the good lady was heavily pregnant, and running for her life. She ends up in the temple. A hanuman temple. Where the priest was a brahmachari. And therefore, unable to touch a lady.
It is a wild and stormy night. Temple bells are tolling like mad. The lady begs and pleads for her child's life. If I remember this scene right, the priest blindfolds himself and proceeds to deliver the baby. Blindfolded! Without medical assistance. Hmm.
While I was 'hmm'ing to myself, from the corner of my eye, on either side, I could see my friends glowering, first at the screen, and then at me. In a whisper, I comforted them: "Abhi set up ho raha hai. Ye scene background establish kar raha hai. Iske baad aayegi comedy."
We waited for the scene to finish. Memory fails me yet again (a good sign, because it means I was not deeply scarred by the experience) and I don't quite know how the baby turns into Puru Rajkumar. But he does. And this baby is a brahmachari too. Because of the Hanuman temple connection. Hence, the saffron scarves and jackets and shirts, which seem to be a staple in all the songs, while a lissome lady attempts to seduce him, dressed in all the colours of the spectrum.
The heroine is a go-getter type who isn't afraid of boys, as robustly evidenced in this song; (I really want to know who choreographed this; so much, erm, energy!) she somehow falls in love with the lady-shunning brahmachari. Minutes tick past, agonizingly.
None of us is laughing, except during one dialogue where Deepka Tijori's character - the hero's best friend-cum-brother - informs Karishma's character that his buddy even wears a red langoti, all because he is a devout brahmachari.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice more pronounced glowering. My friends have abandoned all pretence of watching the film. They are staring at me. I whisper, "Dekh, abhi set up ho raha hai. Matlab, iske baad comedy shuru ho jayegi."
Another half hour passes. Somehow. My friends are restless. They want to leave. This is a new development. We NEVER walked out of films, because our meagre pocket money did not allow us to simply forget about the wastage. We'd rather sit through a half-baked plot and heavy hamming. But in this case, my friends were determined. It was insufferable, they said.
So I whispered, "Let us wait until the interval. Shaayad interval ke baad comedy shuru hogi."
Shaayad. I was feeling very guilty and very small, under the sulky glares of my friends.
We waited until the interval. Ate our samosas, drank our colas. The hall went dark again. I crossed my fingers.
Another string of developments occurred. Tijori's character lands up in hospital. Puru's character rushes to the medical store to get a life-saving drug. Apparently, he cannot find the necessary drug (I can't remember why, maybe the shop was closed or the pharmacist was missing), and so he lifts the whole almirah full of medicines and carries it to the hospital.
Ram. Lakshman. Hanumaan carrying the mountain on which the life-saving herb grew. Get it? Hanuman-bhakht. Get it?
At this point, all my friends turned around in their seats, facing me. They were pointedly staring at me as if they would have liked to strangle me with my own dupatta right there, if only they weren't too polite to do so in public.
I gave up. We all stood up and, muttering 'excuse me' to the patient knees blocking our way to the exit, walked out.
This is the first film I ever walked out of. It has been thirteen years since, and none of my friends have allowed me to forget. Even now, each time we meet, I get cursed and laughed at and teased. "Comedy, eh?" "Comedy hogi, comedy hogi!.... all because of this idiot."
The years rolled on. In the interim, I saw good films and bad films and walked out of only two, perhaps because of the insane prices in multiplexes. Then, there came along this project called Kambakkht (Kambakht?) Ishq.
I am pleased to report that I did not actually see it in a hall. I was out of the country, and was told that Bollywood movies could be downloaded off the internet if there was a really fast connection.
What the movie was about, I will not say. I cannot say. The writers themselves (rumour has it that there were more than three people involved) seem to have conflicting notions. For instance, they cannot seem to decide whether Kareena's character should be a supermodel, a high-society' girl or a struggling part-time model who is actually an aspiring surgeon (look at the wiki entry: all three are mentioned on the same page, and rightly so. The script reflects all three).
For now, I will content myself with quoting other people:
"Noyon Jyoti Parasara from AOL concluded, "The film has nothing going for it. It has a worryingly bad script, horrible screenplay, traumatising dialogues and unpleasant music.".... Rajeev Masand from CNN-IBN, who gave the film 1 star out of 5, noted that Kambakkht Ishq "is a loud, vulgar and seriously offensive film".... Rachel Saltz from The New York Times concluded that "[the film] has only one frantic desire: to entertain. It spottily succeeds, despite its frequently crude humor, relentless pace and a few unpalatable racial bits."
But I will say this: it was the time in my life that I found myself wanting to get up and leave the room, every few minutes. Had I been alone, I probably would have switched off the TV and that would have been that. But I wasn't. Besides, after the first one hour, I just became curious to see how far this could go, just what kind of disaster course this particular vehicle of randomness was doomed to take. It was no longer just a movie. It was like a survival course I was enrolling myself into.
So, yes, I survived. But only barely just. I complained bitterly and went to lie down in my room. But two hours later, I found myself sitting up in bed, wanting to throw up. I was that angry.
Parasara is right. It was a traumatic experience! A part of me was deeply galled that reasonably independent, confident young people, especially the women who were part of this project, allowed themselves to do this.
Take a look at the wikipedia page. Whoever has done the character descriptions seems not to have watched the film. The heroine is described as a 'firebrand' and a 'hardened feminist'. A feminist! Feminist? Dude, go out into the world and look at what feminists are like; or just come meet me. I'll show you firebrand.
Oh, forget that. Forget the feminism. The female lead is even described as being in possession of some 'caustic wit' and a 'sardonic tongue'. Where? Where? I like women with wit and sharp tongues. But which frame? Which scene?
It isn't just bad cinema any more. It isn't just something that tested the limits of my patience. It isn't just something that wasted time, money, hell, even bandwidth! I came away feeling insulted. As a viewer. As a woman. As a writer. As an Indian. As an Indian woman, for god's sake!
And there is nothing I can do about it, of course. There probably will be many, many more movies like this. All I can do is breathe deep, and put it down on record: this is now officially the worst Hindi movie I have ever seen.
Sometimes, I comfort myself with this little daydream: I will get to meet the team - the director, the writers, the actors - and I will shake their hands, and give out little trophies with 'Kambakht Ugh!' engraved on them. Congratulations.