Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bollywood Or Bust

I am now in Mumbai, India's economic and (pop) cultural powerhouse. For those of you unable to locate Mumbai on the map, try looking under Bombay. Yes, it is one of those irksome entities: places that have changed their names for jingoistic, nationalistic reasons (as you might have guessed, I'm not a big fan). I have nothing against changing names to reflect local pronunciation or original appellation, such as renaming Calcutta Kolkata and Rangoon Yangon, or even changing Karl-Marx-Stadt back to Chemnitz. What I do object to is when places like Bombay (and Madras further south), which were essentially built on empty plots of land, are renamed in, what appears to me, an act of denial. It may seem like a petty thing to get worked up about, but the colonial era, despite it not being a particularly pleasant time in India's past, forms part of the country, and so airbrusing it out like this is like denying part of one's self. The same thing has been done at a smaller level with the beautiful Victoria (train) Terminus, which is now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (and yes, it is spelt with 2 aitches).

I had been slightly dreading coming to Bombay, and had been visualising traffic-clogged streets, horribly polluted air, unending noise, pestering touts and generally other such disagreeable annoyances. I was pleasantly surprised to find pleasant, leafy areas in the centre of town, with imposing neo-gothic buildings that remind me of home (only it's rarely 30 degrees with 80% humidity back home). It also makes me think that, although the country was exploited and a lot of its wealth appropriated, there were some positive aspects to British colonialism (especially when I see the buildings of Bombay University, which are much more imposing than those of UCL my alma mater). Another advantage is language. Here, more than anywhere else, English is commonly used in everyday life. Billboards, radio commercials, magazines and shop signs are, more often than not, in English. The younger and more educated section of society especially, seem to almost exclusively use English amongst themselves (I find it fascinating to eavesdrop students' conversations to get a feel for their preoccupations and the little Indian-English idiosyncrasies). Apparently, according to the guy who sold me my digital camera (yay! I've finally bought one, so, once I figure how to turn the thing on, expect to find more piccies in my album in the near future), who was a really nice guy, but then I suppose you would be to someone who's going to hand you over a huge was of cash, the reason for the supremacy of English in Bombay is the profusion of so many people from all over India. And since most people have their own local languages and dialects English becomes the great leveller.

Bombay is also home of Bollywood, India's film-making hub. Indian films are known for their bombastic song and dance routines, lip-synching and atrocious acting. Foreigners sometimes manage to get minor, non-speaking roles in these films and the place I'm staying is a well-known casting ground, though unfortunately I didn't look "foreign" enough for their tastes, and so my aspirations of becoming a Bollywood star have been crushed even before they began.

1 comment:

Yann said...

Joyeux anniversaire !!!
vieux bouc !

1/4 de siècle !!!
Hein, ca te rajeunit pas !!!

J'espère que tu vas le fêter dignement, et pas tout seul.