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For the love of cinema
A few weeks ago, something special came to St. John’s. For the first time in the decade that I have lived on the rock, I caught a Hindi movie — Kesari — at Scotiabank’s Cineplex Cinema!
Munching on popcorn, without batting an eyelid, I consumed this stylized action-war history flick of 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Raj bravely fighting 6,000 to 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen in the Battle of Saragarhi that took place in 1897. The atmosphere in the hall was electric as we churned through the emotional roller coaster that was Kesari.
Walking out of the theatre, I watched fellow desis march out with smiles plastered on their radiant faces.
The Hindi film industry, an integral part of the Indian subcontinent for over a century, continues to produce some of the finest work of art globally. Despite this, it continues to be reduced to a caricature-like image thought to be filled with frivolous songs and dances. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Indian movies are clear mirrors of the environment that they are created in and, at present, they are reflective of the young, diverse and vibrant population that consumes them.
A quick look at some of the top-grossing movies in recent years will corroborate this fact. Indian movies, recently, have boldly dealt with contemporary subjects such as the unwillingness of a mid-20s man to accept his parents being pregnant at an older age in Badhaai Ho. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan uses a comedic device to unfold the story of a young couple navigating erectile dysfunction amidst their impending wedding, and Gully Boy tells a unique rags-to-riches story of rap artists and their music that have emerged from the streets of Mumbai.
Growing up, for Indian families like mine, movies and their magic were event-like experiences. Expensive tickets meant saving and scrounging every Rupee to be able to leave the mundaneness of life behind for nearly three hours of our life. Complete with an interval or intermission - where one loaded up on snacks like samosas and ‘fryums’ - the movies, alongside stirring the collective human consciousness, have always translated to fond memories for the young and the old. In a diverse environment like India, they have been a glue that brought together an entire nation.
So, naturally, when a Hindi movie was playing at the Cineplex in St. John’s, I couldn’t contain my excitement. In addition to counting down days to the show with bated breath, I was curious to chat with the minds that had brought together this event.
Meet Roshni Antony and Joseph Antony. Proud immigrants, cinephiles and Atlantic Canadians, they saw an unsatiated need in their lives and in the larger community. Going great lengths to fill this gap, they, with the strong help and support of the Edmonton Movie Club (EMC), recently established the Newfoundland Movie Club, a chapter of EMC. Despite facing numerous challenges, they succeeded in showcasing a slice of India in Atlantic Canada. And, once I spoke to them, the selflessness behind their initiative shone right through.
"It’s definitely about having greater understanding between our cultures. It will be nice for people from here [the mainstream culture] to see our movies. And to be able to share it with our kids," said Roshni.
Sharing the legacy of Indian cinema with their children creates an opportunity for family bonding, helps transmit cultural knowledge, and most importantly, allows their children to see themselves on screen, something both that Roshni and Joseph value. Currently, they are looking at screening an Indian movie a month, Joseph says.
"We came here five or six years ago. We used to search (for ethnic groceries) but now everything is available. It has changed and initiatives like this (movie screening) will help people stay," he added.
Amplifying the fact that events such as this reduce social isolation, racism and help immigrant attraction and retention, Roshni says, "Movies are a very non-denominational kind of social set up. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or a particular state [of India]. You can be just you, watch, enjoy and have a social experience."
Undeniably, initiatives such as these promote belonging and cohesiveness within the community. They help the next generation of Atlantic Canadians take pride in their culture and heritage. And, along the way, of course, lighten our lives by adding a spark of movie magic!
Next month, the Newfoundland Movie Club has grand plans of showcasing Bharat, a Salman Khan entertainer. And you guessed right! That’s where I’ll be, whistling and hooting at Salman’s entry like there’s no tomorrow simultaneously cheering Roshni and Joseph’s undying love for cinema.
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Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist and writer in St. John’s, NL who writes a biweekly regional column for the SaltWire Network. When she isn't engineering ways to save the world, she can be found running behind her toddler, writing and volunteering. Follow her and reach her at @DixitPrajwala.