South India – Bollywood Theater


Short term memory loss

– What the hell was the name of that village… – I muttered trying to remember but my mind was blank. 

– Can’t recall. – replied calmly Norbert. – But how many theaters in the area can be playing tonight? I’m pretty sure someone will know where it is.

With that optimistic thought we left the hotel. Hotel boy had no clue where the theater was going to be performing. Neither rickshaw driver although he offered to take us “there” for extremely expensive 80 rupees. Having no idea where to go we took on… our right. By asking anyone we’ve met about the play we’ve managed only to get an idea that the way leads through the forest. So there we go to that forest but but but… some friendly villagers try to persuade us not to.

– It’s dangerous! – they say – There are snakes!

Well, yes, this might be dangerous, as we won’t manage to the drama on time if Norbert starts to chase after them. After lively discussion, lots of shaking heads, finally one of villagers says:

– I’ll taaaake you there! On this… – here he pointed his old motorcycle under his butt. His breath smelled with beer and he had some difficulties in standing straight – thus at one point in time he sat on his machine. “Crazy motorcyclist”, as we called him, was feeling adventurous and we couldn’t not take it to our advantage. It seemed pointless to ask about helmets. We were late already so not thinking much we got onto the bike, the three of us, and again, we went with the flow. 

Crazy motorcyclist and his family
Crazy motorcyclist and his family

The night was beautiful, warm wind smelled with jasmine. The road was mostly dark, sandy and curvy, giving rider a hard time. Somehow though keeping balance on two wheeler seemed to be easier for him than on two legs. For a moment I thought we will never get there. The guy has no clue where we are going, nor where the play is happening. Then I saw it. The scene lightened in red arose on the left side of the road. Ocean of heads was spread below it, some of dark hair were decorated with white jasmine flowers. Crowd was full of color, somehow elegant, although sitting on the ground. Listening, watching the Bollywood play that has visited their village with full attention.

Bollywood Theater
Bollywood Theater

We stopped with a loud “roar” exactly in front of the scene making bit of sensation. “White faces? Here??? No way!” the air trembled. Trying not to disturb anymore we moved toward the scene, to get better view. We sat on the ground like the rest of spectators and finally all the eyes turned back to the play. Not for long. A “manager” of the crowd came to us and energetically started pointing on the only two chairs standing near by. Chairs that were already occupied by an old grandpa and his grandson.

“No, no, no, we’re good here, thank you” – I said slightly shocked. I knew white face means a lot in Indian village but, come on! 

The guy forced grandpa and the boy to get off those chairs and we still insisted on staying on the ground. Manager went off somewhere for a moment and we gesticulated grandpa invitation to go back to a chair which he thankfully did. He sat there maybe for one minute until manager came and again, thrown him away from the chair.. Whole fight about chairs took some 10 minutes. Finally we noticed that no one is actually watching the play anymore, everyone watches us. Both us and grandpa gave up finally and set down wherever manager wanted us to, we felt quite uncomfortable. Four hours later though we were quite happy we’ve got those chairs under our butts.

Bollywood Theater

Yes! The play lasted four hours! Actually more, as we were about one hour late. It was required to enable play intrigue to be fully developed and of course allow some Bollywood dancing on the stage. That’s how the story went:

There was a beautiful and rich girl. Well, her father was rich at least. The girl liked a lot the colorful saris that her father was buying for her and he bought many. And so she tried them on every hour, enjoying they colors, sequins and embroidery beauty. The girl have never had to worry of anything, she’s always got what she wanted but she wasn’t a bad person. Just innocent, playful, naive. Her name was Ambika. Well, I don’t really recall the name but my friend, Ambika, was playing that role.

There was a poor man who was completely crazy about that girl. Although shy, he made himself do things he would not think of he’s capable of doing. Like asking her to marry him. But the girl did not give him answers. She played with him, led him by the nose. In love and in doubt, he kept being close by her side awaiting the verdict.

One day father brought guest home. A man with mustache and in fine suit was charming and flirting with Ambika, made good first impression. Father planned to marry the two. As many fathers before him he felt responsible for setting his daughter for better future and he has just found a very rich husband, businessman, quite noble man. What more his daughter would need? 

Ambika considered this for some time, still thinking of the constant adorer that proposed to her some time ago. She simply couldn’t decide. Until one day her father decided for her.

In meantime, businessman occurred to be a gangster terrorizing Ambika’s sister and friends. They tried to tell Ambika what’s going on but she wouldn’t believe and they got more and more scared of the guy. Until one day his true nature showed and Ambika discovered that he is simply a bastard.

From that moment on, she knew exactly who she wants and whom she doesn’t want to merry. As wedding plans were in the air already it has been very difficult to convince her father about change of plans. It took a lot of time, a lot of dancing and tricking. Finally father saw businessman’s true, gangster face and true love of his daughter and poor village man. The story came to the happy end…

Every Bollywood play does! That’s I think the only one thing I like about it. And dancing, if it’s good 😉 

 

Most of village survived the play till 1 am in the morning without trouble. Us though, we had to fight with sleep that was trying to take us over. Fortunately, painful butts, literally, did not let us fall asleep too early.

As soon as the play has ended and villagers started to leave open air theater, we went to backstage. I’m quite familiar with different appearance of backstage from one place to another after years of dancing in folk groups. Some have super-modern dressing-rooms, bright, spacious, with plenty of mirrors, places to hang your costumes. Some are just small, cluttered spaces where the only mirror is the one you brought with yourself and if no one else was so brilliantly clever to take another one, there is a natural cue building up to use the single mirror available. It’s typically dark enough to make it impossible to differentiate if lipstick color is pink or red but enough bright to put it on your lips rather than on your chin. Our theater troupe was using the latter backstage, therefore floor was covered with not very fresh costumes, all the chairs and remaining pieces of floor were taken by exhausted actors but atmosphere was cheerful and loud, sign that the play was a success 🙂

Within next half an hour everyone had make-up removed, all stuff packed and was ready to go. We had a blast talking to actors about the play and small accidents they have had that evening, as every play has. Not that we have seen those, most of them went unnoticed of course, but it was fun to hear it from their perspective. When time to close the stage came, someone asked:

– How are you going back home?

Silence.

– We don’t really know… – we replied. We didn’t really give it a thought, counting it will get resolved on it’s own. And we were right!

– Well, why don’t you go with us, on our truck?

Ambika and Priya immediately nodded smiling “yes, come with us!”, as if we needed encouragement. Open truck at night with theater troupe? Who on Earth would need encouragement??? And so we went. Laughing, chatting, with warm wind in our hair, the way was way too short. We were not sleepy at all when we were jumping out of that truck and we’ve done it bit reluctantly. At least we knew in few days we will see Ambika and Priya again, as we were invited to lunch and girls made us swear we will come. They made me swear as well I will wear sari! I don’t really like it as it ties my ankles completely and I need to focus a lot on how I walk not to fall.. but I swore (and it’s quite pretty too). 

One of actors offered a lift on his motorbike to our small hotel so five minutes later we jumped off by the hotel gate. It has been closed and the hotel boy was in deep sleep. We’ve quickly made a decision not to disturb him and went over the gate, quickly and silently to our room, where soft bed and pillow have cuddled our sore bodies. The night was dreamless.

ohm-md

How to gain respect

– How did you get to the room last night? – manager of the hotel asked. – Boy was asleep, he says no one awaken him but you are here…

– We went over the gate, didn’t want to wake him up just to open it.. – explained Norbi.

– Woooooow, they got over the gate, over the gate, white people!… – manager announced to the rest of the crew. We’ve got a lot of applause and laughs, and Norbi has even got a shake of manager’s hand! Respect 😉

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