x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Desi Girl: Bollywood audiences are all talk

Nobody likes it when you talk during a Hollywood film. In Bollywood, nobody likes it when you don't.

One thing that sets Bollywood apart from Hollywood is the level of involvement its films evoke from audiences - and the level of acceptability it does it with.

Picture two scenarios. In both, theatres of people are watching pretty much the same thing on screen: the male lead working his way up and down the bad guys with one hand tied behind his back, showing them the business end of justice. Only one movie is a Hollywood flick and the other a Bollywood one. One of these could be, let's say, Batman. The other could be Salman Khan's latest film, Ek Tha Tiger. In both scenarios, what Batman and Tiger (not the most creative of names for a secret agent, admittedly) do on screen would elicit the exact same reaction from me. I would express my excitement physically and loudly. This reaction, however, would bring about two very different responses from my fellow theatregoers.

The results are conclusive: nobody likes it when you talk during a Hollywood film. In Bollywood, nobody likes it when you don't.

It used to just be a theory I had, but as of a few weeks ago, it's a certified fact, based on the results of careful experimentation. To ensure the integrity of my results, I even tried it out in two different countries. Even though it was the same Hollywood film, two very different audiences in two totally different countries - continents, even - had the exact same reaction to my excited rambling, highly vocal gasps and breathless chants of "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod": a theatre full of heads turned in my direction, of pursed lips and mouths hissing "Sshh!"

For some reason, at every Hollywood film screening I go to, there is that one person who is obviously in the wrong theatre. This person will sniff audibly during emotional scenes, say "I can't watch this!" out loud during the tense ones and scream "I knew it!" when the bad guy's mask is pulled off and it turns out be just who you thought it was. This person is sadly out of place in a theatre showing a Hollywood film - she is much happier in theatres of the Bollywood kind, where emotional sobs are met not with loud sighs but with empathetic reciprocations, where witty comebacks to the script are felicitated with guffaws and not shot down with the words, "I paid for the movie playing on the screen, not the one in your head!"

Which brings me to the unofficial rite of passage that takes you from being an amateur moviegoer to being a true Bollywood connoisseur: your ability to one-up the dialogue on screen. It is an art that finely balances quick wit and a good sense of timing. You only have that half-second gap between actors' lines to interject anything, and you had better make sure that it is not only funny, but also loud enough to be heard by people on the other side of the theatre, the ones who are far enough away to cause you the least damage should your supposed quick wit not prove so witty after all. Depending on their skills, bold risk-takers are rewarded with either a theatre full of merry chuckles or a headful of popcorn.

But only in Bollywood theatres.

The Hollywood ones will refuse to let you in again.

Ujala Ali Khan is an honest-to-goodness Desi fan living in Dubai