It's almost unfair that I say anything about Adhurs at all. I knew going in that it was unsubtitled and I would therefore miss a lot, even though the plot about twin brothers separated at birth (and one is a tough guy while the other lives with priests) sounded awfully familiar; on top of that, our screening was beset by massive technical difficulties. We made it aaaaalmost through the first song -
which offered the motto "Life Is a Cocktail" in its chorus and reminded me of Bluffmaster's "Boro Boro" with fedora-ed strongmen posse
and skankily-attired writhing ladies surrounding the hero in a nightclub, but with a lot more kicking in the dance steps - when the sound cut out. And then the picture stopped. And then the house lights came up. Pause for five minutes. Picture, no sound. Pause. Sound, no picture. Etc. The film lurched along like this for another half hour or so, and the theater staff came out to apologize and explain that the projection equipment cannot go backwards, meaning we couldn't backtrack to catch the bits we had missed. Long story short: no dialogue and inconsistent visualization of plot = huh? Even in the sections that worked properly, there was obviously a lot to this film I didn't catch.
But I gotta say, even after the pragmatics got ironed out and the film was running smoothly (I'd estimate at about 45 minutes in), I was not inspired to stay past interval. I had read in several reviews that this film, like so many others, suffers from The Curse of the Second Half (meaning it's really not as good after the break), its greatest strength was comedy (which I knew I had no hope of understanding without subtitles), and the best song was in the first bit, so my friend and I cut our losses and went for cocoa with no regrets whatsoever.
Here's what I did manage to get: the credo of this cast and crew seems to be "Why do an interesting thing once when you can do it at least four times? MORE IS MORE!!!!!! Why would you...
- have the loser in a car accident flip over once when you can immediately re-show the clip a few more times before moving on to something else?
- let a bullet simply fell someone when it could send him flying into a light-up miniature of the Eiffel Tower?
- use a normal-sounding kick when you can have a deafening swoop?
- show any establishing shot at a normal angle when the camera could be tipped 20 degrees?
- zoom in and out once when you can go back and forth for ten solid seconds?
- hold the camera still when you can shake it?
- have one villain when you can have at least three?
- simply show a heroine winking at the hero when you can accompany that cute little gesture with a slide whistle?
- react with a simple look when you can bug out your eyes?
- dress a heroine in a bikini top when you can also add fuchsia plastic flowers to it AND to her ears AND to her skirt?
- just show the hero dancing when you can also back him with a giant screen blaring his image?"
[Pause to bask in the joyful glow of the opportunity to see an Indian film in the theater every month. This is big, big news for a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Illinois!]
To end, an ethnographic note: even though I didn't have any idea of it when I started watching Hindi films, I quickly discovered that Indians in the cinema are, behaviorally, my people. I have always been an exuberant movie talker and thus shushed, glared at, and generally avoided in my home culture and everywhere else in the world I've seen films. Except India - and, gloriously, in American theaters full of Indians! I love it! Want to have a running commentary with your friends? No problem! And why should it be? Art is supposed to inspire thought and exchange! Side note: my favorite take on this difference between American and Indian cinema audiences comes from a friend from Delhi, who said "We're a much bigger country. You can't shush all of us!" The communicativeness of the audience is my favorite part of the experience. When NTR Jr. made his entrance, people hooted and clapped (and a bunch of stuff exploded and flipped over). (No such treatment for the heroines, interestingly. Not a blip.) My usual experience of technical difficulties in US midwestern theaters is that we all sit quietly trying to figure out, without talking, who will get up and tell the staff about the problem, and it's a battle of unspoken internal worries about appearing too bossy or demanding. On the other hand, when the sound and picture crapped out in Adhurs, people booed, kids ran around, and everyone just turned calmly to their neighbors and resumed the chats they had started before the film began. Yesss! That is the way to deal with obstacles to one's afternoon happiness. It's also just an amusing experience to be a visible minority without leaving my own town, where I am generally indistinguishable at a quick glance from a large proportion of the other residents. But whenever an Indian film plays, the numbers and colors flip-flop, and I get a little taste of what it's like to stick out and get stared at. And in its usual generous and beneficent way, Bollywood culture has somehow arranged for this to be a good thing for me most of the time: sometimes I make new friends before the show starts when people lean over and say "Do you understand these movies?" or our usual film organizer (whom I am dying to interview!), who recognizes me, pushes through crowds to hand me a ticket when the queue system breaks down (which it often does, another fascinating flip of standard US event procedure - see my post on the Unforgettable Tour for a scarier instance). He wasn't there today, and this time, when I walked up to the ticket counter and said "One, please," the man with the roll of tickets started and said "For the Telugu film?" You betcha, yaar! And for next time, will someone please teach me how to say that in Telugu?