Hello, my blog, did you miss me? I am embarrassed to admit that with all the commotion over the holidays complete with a last minute trip across the Atlantic, I didn't get a chance to miss you. Now that I'm home though (as opposed to "back home"), I realize what an integral part of my life you have become. So a big hug to you!
Going back home always puts me in a contemplative mood, not because of the changes there (which are always many), but because of all the dead time I have on my hands: about 20 hours in total just in flights, and a whole lot of jet lag boredom. So when I'm not filling up this time with Kunal Khemu's movies watched one after the other, I sit and think... How is this Bollywood related, one may ask. Well, it sort of is because... well, because everything about me relates to Bollywood one way or another.
For example, the last couple of times I went home, I found myself having what I call "the Swades feeling": a bit of helplessness, a bit of nostalgia, a bit of impatience, a bit of frustration, but also in the end a strange peace coming from the comfort of old places that used to be mine.
This time around I found myself less nostalgic and more excited to discover every single new thing. So I guess this time I got "the Delhi 6 feeling": always exploring, always intrigued, always enchanted by some little detail that the locals are not even aware of. Still wanting to belong, but at the same time detached enough to be able to see the big picture without that indigenous fear of the future getting in the way.
Who knows, maybe next time I'll get "the Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana feeling": like a hyper kid in the candy store.
Come to think of it, it's amazing how few NRI films actually get all these feelings right. I guess Indian films are usually more preoccupied with the greatness of India and the India-pushing agenda to stop and think about what an NRI, or any immigrant returning home for that matter, would really experience. Most of the times you get little moments here and there, but then the story evolves either towards integrating the character back into the Indian society, or towards showing the great values that clearly the Western world has spoiled in the character, which inevitably leads to more drama, and sadly less authenticity.
But one film that got the whole thing right in my humble opinion, is the over the top and royally plot-holed Aaja Nachle. Successful American choreographer comes back to India with her daughter to pay her respects to her first dance teacher and life mentor. She arrives after his death, but has to fulfill his legacy in keeping the dance school and theatre alive.
How she does that is irrelevant for this discussion (though definitely worth watching, if only for the sumptuous dances), but over the course of the events we witness Diya's struggle with what are now foreign concepts to her: bureaucracy, people's acceptance and resentment, lost friendships.
One excellent scene that always resonates with me is when she goes to meet her childhood friend, and finds a completely different person in her stead. Isn't it ironic how we are always so cognisant of the changes we have gone through over the years and of the new person we have become, but with the same sincerity we expect the people we left behind to have stayed exactly the same as our memory has assembled them? Never fails to take me by surprise. The teenagers you used to hang out with are now grown men, the places you used to hang out in are gone, the party animals are now all about enjoying their quiet evening at home, and so on...
Still thinking about Aaja Nachle, maybe this film flopped precisely because the heroine was unconventional enough to not be reintegrated in the Indian society by the end of it. Maybe the Indian audiences are not interested in seeing an NRI who is genuinely happier on the other side of the world. Maybe they didn't take kindly to the returning Indian who brings her Western values and expectations home and succeeds in implementing some of them without being sucked into the "greatest country in the world" mentality. Maybe a heroine who doesn't give up her jeans and cropped tops in favour of a traditional salwar kameez, who doesn't fall head over heels for the charming Indian MP (though seriously, how does she not??), and who doesn't crumble emotionally in front of potential failure so that she can be rescued, maybe such a heroine is still too far ahead of her time for the Indian audiences. I always wondered why Aaja Nachle flopped, and it just came to me that this might be it. And maybe that's precisely why I loved it and list it as one of my favourite films despite its many shortcomings.
Wow... I didn't know I was going to talk at such length about Aaja Nachle when I started writing this, but it's probably good that I did, as this is one of those movies that I love too much to ever review properly.
And because I started with me, let's also end with me: Bollywood or no Bollywood there's no denying that going back home always teaches me something. About myself... about the others... about change... about differences... about harmony. I just have to be ready to learn. Hopefully I always will be.
10 hours ago