I should mention I am writing this while listening to Radha, because, as fellow Bollywood lover and travel companion Larissa noted, it was the song that followed us everywhere. Guess I underestimated KJo's ear for a popular soundtrack. This was omnipresent!
Our trip started in Varanasi, for the first part of a three-part wedding celebration, where pretty much everything was filmy. Having ladoos in the bridal suite while waiting for the sangeet, sneaking out of the bride's party to go meet the baaraat outside, helping the bride drape her sari for one of the many poojas (I'm particularly proud of this one), participating in the haldi ceremony, chasing some kids around in a (successful) attempt to steal the groom's shoe, sneaking things in and out for the bride, chilling with the aunties, none of this stuff happens at weddings here, so it was all new and very filmy for me. Everything reminded me of some movie or other.
|Dev D anyone?|
I thought Varanasi itself would remind me of a film I had seen recently at TIFF, The Bright Day. It didn't, and I understand now why the director Mohit Takalkar and the cinematographer Amol Gole were so highly praised for this film. One thing I will have to say about Varanasi though: it's a ridiculously photogenic place.
After Varanasi we went to Hyderabad. And any Tollywood fan will know exactly where we went first.
Our guide was not impressed with the fact that we wanted to be shown the exact spot where Pokiri was filmed (in fact I suspect he didn't even know because he dodged the question until we found it ourselves), but we didn't really care. And luckily there were no guides to frown upon our excitement the next day when we went to see the Char Minar. Eeeeee!!!
The next stop was Mumbai. And Mumbai turned out to be less filmi and more boring than it looked in the movies. The only time we came close to Bollywood was running into a huge crowd in front of the Taj. Unable to see anything past the crowd, we stopped to ask some backup camera crew people who were just chilling by the trailer. The conversation went like this:
Dolce: What are they shooting for?
Camera guy: Oh, it's for an ad.
Dolce: Who's the star?
Camera guy: Uh, it's a film star.
Dolce: Yes, but who?
Camera guy (dismissively): It's a Bollywood actor.
Dolce: Arre yaar, WHICH Bollywood actor??
Camera guy (tentatively): Vivek Oberoi.
Dolce (while exchanging a disappointed look with Larissa): Oh. It's only Vivek Oberoi. Let's go.
Camera guy picks up jaw from the floor.
But Mumbai had other more delicious meetings reserved for us. I had one of the best dinners in India with, fittingly, a food blogger: the gorgeous Swati Sapna. And it was exactly how I imagined our first meeting: fillums fillums fillums. We covered everything from upcoming releases to classics like Pithamagan, to AR Rahman soundtracks, the IIFAs and just about every Bollywood and Kollywood star out there (granted, some more than others). In between we talked about food from all parts of India, living in Mumbai, traveling, work, but really, who am I kidding, it was back to filmi talk within a minute of trying to talk about anything else. In short: a perfect night!
The filminess continued the next morning when we left Mumbai because our driver was in love with the Zeher soundtrack. So we heard Woh Lamhe (one of my favourites) and Agar Tum Mil Jao about a dozen times on the way to the airport, which was cool by me.
And so, to the sweet sound of Atif Aslam's voice, we were off to Chennai, where another blog friend had promised a long time ago to give me a filmi tour of the city. Mukundh met us at the airport and hung out with us quite a bit while we were in Chennai, which was great because it's the city where I would have felt the most lost. It helps that he's a very attentive host and
|Checking out the Broken Bridge in Adyar, a reminder that I have to watch Ayudha Ezhuthu already!|
Of course when you're not on a motorbike in Chennai you have a very big chance of being in a rickshaw all done up with filmi heroes.
|Vijay is EVERYwhere in Tamil Nadu. Everywhere!|
|The Lighthouse in Pondy|
We did the obligatory daytrip to Pondycherry and had the obligatory steak, but my favourite place was by far Mamallapuram, with its unassuming beaches and elegant ruins. It was the first time when I felt, truly felt, that I was visiting a country and a culture with thousands of years of history.
Next on our filmi itinerary: Dabangg 2 in a single screen theatre in Kochi!! Our lovely and very funny host in Kochi was none other than Amrita, of Masala Zindabad Podcast fame. Amrita told us all about Kochi back in the day, took us to some of her favourite spots (and her favourite restaurant immediately became my favourite restaurant too!), helped me do some jewellery shopping, and, this is the moment everyone's been waiting for, took us to see Dabangg 2!
Now the movie is really not much to talk about, in fact we had already forgotten the plot by interval (probably because there was none), but I could tell you stories about this experience for hours! It was the only time in India when I found the curiosity surrounding us perfectly justified: 2 goras, 2 goris, plus Amrita walking into a single screen theatre on opening day. Need I even mention that the audience was over 90% males? And that some were dressed for the occasion (read Salman style)? No, I don't think I have to. Either way, as soon as the movie started, the atmosphere was a blast. I want to lament the fact that "the atmosphere" also included an asshole who was answering his phone during pretty much the entire first half, but I already said we went to see this movie in India, so I have a feeling that's implied.
But let's be honest. I wasn't there to hear the dialogues. I wasn't there to see Salman headbutt a fist (though that was a great bonus). I wasn't there to watch a good movie. I was there to watch this:
And man was that ever a treat! Watching that theatre clap, cheer, whistle and catcall during the entire item number made me understand why item numbers won't be going anywhere for a loooong time to come. It also made me understand why actresses who we think are not worthy of them get paid royally to dance in item numbers. Because it's not about the dancing. It's not about the acting. And it's not about the significance of the song in the context of the film. It's simply about Kareena Kapoor being sexy as hell in a backless choli for 5 whole minutes. And that, my dear readers, was the most valuable filmi lesson I learned in India.
From Kochi we went to another filmi destination: the Athirapally Waterfalls.
If the name doesn't tell you anything, it's the place where they filmed this beauty!
Definitely worth a trip if you're in the area, though maybe not two days before Christmas because it's packed.
Another favourite place in India was our next stop, but nothing filmi happened there so I have no excuse to post a picture. Oh but wait! I do! Guess who was omnipresent even around the canals of Alleppey?
|Vijay's jewellery ads were matched in number only by Madhavan's|
We left Alleppey to the soothing sound of another great AR Rahman song: the lovely Jashn-e-Bahara. He seems to have followed us around on this trip too, but I suppose that's to be expected in India. And we certainly missed Rahman in Kanyakumari where we spent Christmas. Because little did we know that these giant speakers that can be seen in pretty much every open space, in every village and town,
... would keep us up all night AND all Christmas day by playing - nay - blasting music like it was the end of the world. I used to like Nakka Mukka.
Now I kinda wanna shoot myself when I hear it.
But luckily our nightmarish stay in Kanyakumari was followed by the peaceful tea plantations in Munnar. And to go back to the AR Rahman themed soundtrack of our South-India trip, the song that will always remind me of Munnar is Challa, because it was playing on someone's boombox while I was taking pictures of our spectacular view. What a perfect moment!
After a very chilled out visit to Mysore, which I loved, one last filmy meet-up was waiting in Mumbai. They say you should only do things you enjoy on January the 1st because that's how the rest of the year will pass too. And if that's true, I'm looking at a deliciously fun 2013 because I spent my January 1st with the super-cute Vistrit, discovering ice-cream flavours (custard apple FTW!), shopping for Indian sweets in Bandra and getting schooled on the do's and dont's of fancy desi-wear (closed toe shoes are a resounding NO with saris, apparently. Ooops!). Couldn't have dreamt a better ending for this trip!
It's hard to describe your first visit to India when people ask. It's such a whirlwind of impressions, good and bad, so many stories you can tell and so many moments you can't even begin to describe. But the one thing I never fail to mention in my stories about India is how many cool people I got to meet and hang out with. Because for me that was the best part of the whole trip and it's the reason why I can't wait to go back.
Well... ok, fine, and the food.