This was when I was not accustomed to the vast and very well planned metro train system of this beautiful city. For every block I walked, I feared I will be lost somewhere and my friends will call for cops and they would come looking for me. I relied on cabs in those days.
I would call for a taxi for my every distant need till it started proving to be a money-eating affair. The expenses and the urge to be completely independent made me opt for Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority.
So during pre-MBTA days, I was comfortably sitting in one such cab to go to the airport. The journey was going to be a lax 30-35 minutes. May be more than that in the broad day during the rush hour. Traffic lights here. And there. Roundabouts and tunnels.
I have this very bad habit of starting late from my home when going to catch a flight. Exploring the same old airport and its shops after clearing the security and watching people sipping coffee and flipping through gossip magazines filled with juicy stories of his-divorce-with-her, and few youngsters reading some unrealistic murder mystery or romance novels bores me to death. I just manage to make myself available at the boarding gate right when they are ready. To keep it simple, I always plan my travel just to reach the gate at a maximum of 5 minutes before the boarding. And I am proud of the fact that I am among the last people to show my face to the ground staff. Rarely I get the privilege of my name being announced requesting me to proceed to my gate, and sometimes I also hear them humbly urging me to ‘check in’ while I locate the check-in counters and print the passes at the ticket counter with my hands shaking out of anxiety. But I have never missed any plane. “Waheguru ki saunh, aaj tak ek plane nahin chhoota mera”. It is true, to believe or to not believe is entirely your prerogative.
My cabbie was an African-American. He did not talk much for the first 10 minutes. Then I broke the silence. The rush seemed to be more than the usual, or may be it seemed so as those were the initial days my 5-minute-before-the-boarding plan’s execution.
“How long will it take to reach there?”, I inquired.
“May be 20-25 minutes more”, he was calm, relaxed.
The silence followed.
“Are you an Indian?”, he spoke somewhere to the emptiness around him as I was busy looking at the files of cars on the road. I turned to know if he had asked me this. It seemed so. He was looking through the front mirror towards me.
“HHmm..”, I nodded, bit hesitatingly. I did not know what was coming next.
“Oh man, I love India. I love Indian films. Are you from Bombay?”, his muffled voice cheered.
“No, do you watch Indian films?”, I answered his ‘Bombay’ query and asked my question.
“Yes, when I was a child, I watched all Indian films”.
“Are you an American?”, I asked because it is quite rare for an American to watch Hindi films.
“Now I am, but I am originally from Somalia”.
I smiled. Hindi films should be popular in Somalia. After all, they capture our sailors and the ensuing cultural exchange is inevitable.
The cabbie was suddenly lost in his childhood.
“You heard Mithun’s song, ‘I’m a Disco Dancer“, he asked me like a kid.
“Yeah, it is quite popular”.
“When I was a child, I bought the silver dress similar to him, and danced in my village for whole one year in that dress”.
I was reminded of my own crazy childhood antics. I too danced in front of everyone when I was a child. In white lehnga with silver gotta all over. No prizes for guessing the song. It was Sridevi’s ‘main nagin tu sapera‘. I danced and danced – in my school, family functions, in front of guests, at friends’ birthday parties and sometimes just like that in my home’s verandah – till that lehnga was torn. My late grandmother, a very fine and talented woman, suggested that she would stitch multicolored stripes in the pleats and my very pristine and pure white naagin lehnga would become a Rajasthani version. The idea seemed great. But it did not work. The dress turned into a joke. May be because she took the left overs of all her stitching endeavors, the cotton and various other printed leers, and never cared to buy some new silk and satin for my tiny dress. My favorite dress ever was spoiled and I was unhappy with her for a long time over this issue.
“Whole Somalia has seen this film. All Somali boys of my age have danced to this song”, he brought me back to the cab.
“Do you watch Shahrukh Khan or Aamir Khan?”, I asked him. Mithun is a huge star, but SRK and AK are much ‘in’ for our generation.
“Yes, but I do not watch much movies now. Too many responsibilities. Family and kids. But I like Shahrukh Khan”.
I have nothing against Shahrukh Khan, but my personal preference is always an Aamir Khan film.
“Aamir is an intelligent actor. He is better one, no?”, my question was closed for him.
“He is good, but what Shahrukh is, only he is. His smile, his charisma, his style of dialogues”, then he just waved his head from left to right and right to left in frank adulation. I knew the time had come to change the topic. SRK has many fans and I did not intend to discuss him again for next 15-20 minutes with a foreigner who I liked for his love for Indian films.
“You like any Hindi film actresses?”, I assume men like such questions.
“Yes, Madhuri and Sridevi. What women they were”.
“Good, but Madhuri is Madhuri. No?”
I had nothing to say about this. Every place in the world where Hindi films are watched, it is a common belief that ‘Madhuri is Madhuri’. Don’t we all think so?
“Have you seen this new, Slumdog Millionaire?”, I drifted to that Oscar sensation those days. There was too much to talk to and too less time as I bumped into a stranger who surprised me with his interests. Much had to be covered in a small time.
“Not yet. Didn’t get time yet”.
“Hhmm, it has won some crazy number of Oscars”, I told him.
“So, don’t you watch Hollywood films?”, I got curious about him.
“I do, but Hollywood films don’t have songs and dances man. I love your dances”.
I could only smile. Many consider songs and dances to be a useless part of Hindi films, but they are the ones which define Bollywood. The world is a painting. Every color is essential. If all the films become like Hollywood films, monotony will eventuate and there will be no uniqueness of any culture. I guess these songs and dances make Bollywood popular outside India, outside Indian audience. There are so called intellectuals ( actually pseudo-intellectuals and wannabe-elites – a term I recently befriended thanks to a friend) who laugh it off and want Hindi films to be turned into Hollywood style as they hypocritically continue to take a fake pride in Indian-ness while following everything that is Hollywood, but there are many of those simple people who just want to relax at the end of the day by watching something of their own.
I was at the airport soon amidst his continuous appreciation of this Hindi song and that. We departed after I told him some new Hindi movies to watch. But this is not the end of the story. I was taken aback by the popularity of what we consider a cliched and funny ‘Disco Dancer’ song two years down the line. The admirers were different this time.
“Everybody in my country in my age group has seen Disco Dancer. Mithun danced very good”, said my Chinese colleague one day while we were discussing movies, let’s name him X.
Another Chinese woman agreed with him. Let’s call her Ms. Y.
“We all danced to this song. This used to be shown on our television”, Ms. Y said.
“Television?”, I was startled.
“Yes, and all the children would watch it and dance with that guy”, X reaffirmed.
I was pleasantly surprised.
“There were few more Hindi films we have seen, but Disco Dancer is very nice. Very good songs and dances”, X was as jocund as the Somalian cabbie while talking about Disco Dancer.
Just then a senior colleague joined us. A person of Chinese origin again. Let’s name him Z.
“Yes, Disco Dancer it was, but during my time, we all had seen one film. Whole China saw it the day it was telecast on t.v.”.
“Which was it?”, I was curious.
“I do not know the Hindi name but it had a very popular song. We used to sing it at that time in the chorus”.
I wanted to know. Obviously.
“Can you please sing it?”.
“Hhmm…well, it was something like abaayaaooo”, not his words, but his tune was so perfect that anyone could have guessed, ‘awaara hoon‘.
Raj Kapoor‘s ‘Awaara’ got the credit of being the most watched Hindi film ever by people outside India according to the TIME magazine’s millennium issue amid the rush of recent blockbusters including DDLJ, Sholay and HAHK.
Long live the name of Raj Kapoor who took Hindi Cinema to the world with little resources he had in those times.
Long live the Disco Dancer, Mithun Chakraborty, a name we often forget among the yesteryear superstars.
And long live the songs and the dances of Hindi films :-)
I continue to be a proud fan of Hindi film music. (2022)