Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I hardly knew you, but oh how I loved you: Music World on Park Street

I am oddly saddened by the news of the closure of Music World—a chain store, and I don't tend to choose to patronize chain stores—in Park Street in Calcutta—a city I have spent all of ten days in and have no urgent plans to revisit. Here's why:
That's right: "Magic Moments of Soumitra."
It's not as simple as noting gratefully that Music World sent me home with 18 Bengali film DVDs, most of which I am certain I would not be able to find at the DVD shops on Chicago's Devon Avenue. (As for shopping online: granted the price of airfare to India ups the per unit cost of each of these DVDs, but if you assume I was going to be in India anyway, they're radically cheaper than buying online, where Bengali DVDs seem to go for around $15 as opposed to Hindi films that average around $7. I got this stack for about $85.)

It's also not as simple as remembering how much fun Amrita I had in there, both of fairly new to Bengali movies and genuinely freaking out with delight at how many options the store had, squeeing, bouncing up and down, constantly grabbing each other's arm to say "OMG LOOK! They have _____!" Or stifling giggles as the shop staff told us we should try Charulata—seriously, dudes, if we beelined for the old Bengali DVDs, don't you think we know about Charulata already? And then being thrilled that they could understand our attempts at the language when we asked for titles we'd never heard pronounced.

What was special to me about Music World was that it was three-dimensional, orderly, neon proof that there exists a physical and metaphorical space for Bengali cinema and that we could be a part of it. Its brick-and-mortar presence is one facet of this, but more importantly the store is evidence and support of a community of people who come to this place and do exactly what we were doing (if perhaps more quietly). The location of a cultural activity, if you will. Probably any DVD shop in Calcutta would have provided it, but Music World is the only one we found that was open.

It is also the only store selling Indian DVDs that I have ever been to—Chicago's Devon Avenue, London's Southall, and all over India—that used any women as organizing principles. I've griped before about how sigh-of-resignation I find it that movie stores seem to be organized around only men, and that too mostly around heroes rather than directors. Like the Filmfare cover that marks 100 years of Hindi cinema with three (and only three) heroes (and only heroes), the organizational and access scheme for DVDs is one of those things that flows painfully logically from the extreme hero-centeredness of the culture of popular Indian cinema. But not, at least, in this little corner of Calcutta. Suchitra Sen had her own section; if memory serves it was next to and overlapped with Uttam Kumar but was not subsumed under him. Imagine! Aparna Sen's works too had their own section, a clear statement of value for a woman's creative output. And of course the existence of that section derives from there being such a successful and well-regarded female director in the first place. Noticing these small-yet-huge features was like watching Julie and Julia (or the under-appreciated Naach): on the surface it may seem that a film about women having projects is not unusual, but I am very hard-pressed to name you any others that focus on women defining their own creative work only in terms of their own satisfaction and not to earn money, support children, demonstrate values to a community, etc. I've never seen another shop that so directly supports the idea that we viewers of Indian cinema can conceive of a film as having to do more with a female presence than a male.

And it doesn't hurt that they gave me so much Sonpapdi I went home with a tummyache. Thank you, Music World, for feeding us so well.

2 comments:

Andrea M. said...

I spent many hours in MusicWorld. End of an era.I still have my frequent buyers' club card around here somewhere.

korak datta said...

Well, Bangalore provided many a stores from where one could buy his type of stuff. But the little Music World always had more treasure than all other stores put together. Always.