a tale of two movies

Chandigarh is a bit different than the other Indian cities we visited. For one thing, it’s a very modern planned city. The whole thing is laid out in a grid, with major streets at regular intervals separating sections of the city they call “sectors”. It sounds kinda sci-fi, but to tell a taxi driver directions to your hotel, you can just say something as simple as, “We need to go to Hotel Emerald in Sector 8-C.” And the driver will know how to find it. The streets are wide and paved, and there are traffic lights that work and that people obey. So traffic flow is faster and more orderly.

There isn’t much touristy to see in Chandigarh, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to go. We just stayed three nights, and I wanted to see how this modern city was different. The first night we arrived by bus we just had supper at the hotel restaurant and then went to our room. The next day we went exploring in our sector by foot. On the way to an area I found on Google Maps with restaurants, we stumbled into a park with a middle school in it. As we walked by the playground, a bunch of kids gathered on the other side of the chain link fence to try out their English skills on us. Some were too shy and just waved, but others said things like “good evening, sir”. We stopped and chatted with some of them, telling them where we were from, etc. Chandigarh doesn’t get many western tourists, so we were much more of a novelty there than we were in most places we traveled. The next day, when we visited “The Rock Garden” several Indian tourists wanted photos with us, and a group of high school aged kids talked to us quite a bit.

But on that first day, our only priorities were to do some basic shopping and then go see a Bollywood film. It would be a pity to spend a month in India and not see a Bollywood film!

Remember my previous blog post about the bus ride from Amritsar to Chandigarh? Well let’s roll back time to that previous day, to when the bus company put a movie on the TV screen at the front of the bus for everyone to watch…

The movie was all in Hindi, of course, without English subtitles. There were some graphics early on that said DILWALE. I knew from the massive ad campaign that “Dilwale” was a brand new film that had just been released in cinemas the day before. So I assumed what I saw was a trailer for the film before whatever other Bollywood film played.

But the more I watched out of the corner of my eye, the more I suspected that somehow this was the actual real “Dilwale” film. It didn’t seem possible that they would release the film on DVD the same time as in the theater, given what a huge blockbuster it was. Maybe the bus company got a pirated version? I don’t know. That seemed unlikely, so I convinced myself I must be wrong. This must just be a movie that looked a lot like the ads I’d seen for “Dilwale”.

After the first film was over, there was still time in the journey for them to play a second film. The first had been set in the modern day, with lots of car chases and gunfights and stuff. The second film was a period piece with sword fighting and dancing. I was more interested in listening to my audiobook of “The Martian”.

Fast forward 24 hours. Now we’ve checked into our hotel in Chandigarh, and got a full night’s rest. We took a walk, talked to the middle school kids, and gotten some lunch. Then we went back to the hotel. We both wanted to go see a Bollywood film in the theater, like I was saying, so I did some research.

The first thing I learned is that no cinema shows Bollywood films with English subtitles. There is just no reason to. If you’re going to a Bollywood film, you gotta understand Hindi. The second thing I learned is that out of the 16 cinemas in the Chandigarh area, they are playing a total of only four films. Two of those are American films. And every single cinema in the city is playing one or both of two different Bollywood films.

The first film, of course, was “Dilwale”. The second film was one called “Bajirao Mastani.” So I decided to research them both, to decide which we should attend. The first one had the bigger name stars, but got worse reviews. The second one had some relative newcomers with better reviews.

But I realized something very strange. These two films were the exact same films that had played on the bus the previous day! The period piece that I didn’t pay much attention to? That was “Bajirao Mastani”! In the end, that was the one we chose to see on the big screen. So it was sort of the second time we’d seen the film, but the bus ride ended before the film did, and neither of us really paid attention to it anyhow.

I was blown away by the strange coincidence. There were only two Bollywood films playing in any of the 16 Chandigarh area cinemas, and our bus company played both those same films on the intercity bus for free. You’d never see that in America.

I’d really like to know the story behind how Libra bus company was able to play these two films on its bus. Does film distribution work very different in India? Is piracy that easy and unprosecuted that a for-profit company will show pirated films?


By the way, I’m really glad we chose “Bajirao Mastani” over “Dilwale”. It sparked in me an interest in the history of the transition of power in India from the Muslims (the Mughals) to the Hindus (the Marathas) in the 1700s and early 1800s. Plus, the song and dance numbers in the film were awesome. I want to see it again when I can get a version with English subtitles, so as to actually understand the plot better.

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