Feb 17, 2008

Watching Indian movies a religious experience?

For a lot of westerners, watching a Hindi-film is confusing. Why is there suddenly a song that has nothing to do with the story? And why are they in Switzerland? Weren't they in Singapore before, or was it Mumbai? Although most of the stories in a general Bollywood movie aren't that complicated as, let's say a Memento or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the factors of songs and sudden jumps in time and the motivations of the character, can make it a difficult task to stay tuned. It started dawning on me, that watching a Bollywood movie, might be a fundamentally different kind of watching, than watching a movie from Europe or the Hollywood studios. Ashish Nandy says that for Indians the act of watching movies is like 'darshan', which stands for the way Hindus look at images of their gods. By gazing at a picture of for example Shiva, it is believed to get in touch with a divine reality. Now, with moviestars, it could work the same way. Staring at the images of stars with great powers, one could get 'in touch' with some of that power. That's why filmmakers give their stars often almost divine powers, by being able to fix world problems, or being an extremely 'good' person. And also, by giving the story a metaphysical twist (sudden intervention of a god after prayer, or extremely coincidental meetings between persons), the divine reality of the images on screen is enhanced. Watching a movie can become a little bit of a religious experience. It is not for nothing, that some decades ago, people would actually perform prayers in cinemahalls, when actors playing Gods appeared on screen. And it is not for nothing, that when the hugely famous South-Indian actor 'MGR' died, a temple was built for him in Chennai. This gives a lot of new food for thought. Especially regarding the ever returning question: Is Indian film high or low culture?
Here's a nice clip of people worshipping MGR at his temple.