Tag Archives: Movies

Subtitles

There is a movie theater a few towns down the road from us that has a dedicated screen for Bollywood films. I’ve only been to a handful of shows, but it is kind of nice to have a place to see relatively new Indian films with proper subtitles, since it can be tough to see a movie with good quality subtitles if you buy a DVD of questionable origin at the Indian grocery store (ahem, “3 Idiots” and “Rajneeti”… having every third sentence somewhat translated does not count!)

About a year and a half ago I went with our Nepali friend KS and two of her friends (one Indian and one Burmese, although to a white American high school student selling movie tickets they probably all “looked Indian”). I just happened to be the first of our little group in line and I asked if I could buy one ticket for “I Hate Luv Stories.” (I know, it has a silly name, you have to sign up for a bit of cheesiness with Bollywood romantic comedies).

The white high school kid blinked at me and said, “Um, you know that’s an Indian movie, right?”

“Yeah…”

“And it’s not in English…”

“So?”

But then I paused… maybe the movie didn’t have subtitles. I’ve sat through Bollywood movies in India without subtitles before, and although they can still be entertaining, and the general plot is easy enough to follow, a lot of the details are lost, and I wind up making up plot points or interpret things differently. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world to see yet another movie without subtitles, but if I was paying $12 for a movie, I wanted to follow the story.

“It has subtitles, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Um, yeah.” He answered.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Well, a lot of people don’t like reading subtitles, I just wanted to check and make sure you knew.”

I paid for my movie ticket and waited for the other three women (none of which were asked if they minded the subtitles, even though one of them would also need them) and we went inside.

I like all sorts of movies. P and I have spent many an evening curled up watching Netflix, and although we wind up watching a lot of American films, we don’t limit ourselves to English speaking cinema. I’ve watched many a good film in German, French, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Thai, or Hindi. There are many great movies out there that would be missed if one is put off by subtitles.

My boss is Danish, so it’s not surprising that he is a fan of Scandinavian cinema, but one of his biggest pet peeves is when a perfectly good foreign film is remade in Hollywood in English. He doesn’t understand why Americans can’t “simply watch the original with subtitles, like the rest of the world.” He always uses the example of the Danish film “Brødre.” He really enjoyed the original, and didn’t like the American remake. He thought the Danish film could have done well in the US if it had been given the chance.

Danish trailer

American trailer

Perhaps with the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, the Danish film might not have struck the same cord with an American audience as an American solider fighting in the same war, but I still really enjoyed the original.

This conversation came up again with the American version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

“The Swedish movies were so well made, and the books were originally in Swedish, why does the world need an American remake? Why can’t Americans just appreciate the original with subtitles? The original movie is already an international sensation!” He lamented during our office Christmas party.

Certainly hearing the dialogue in Swedish gives the characters a more authentic feel even though I don’t understand what is being said. It adds to the energy and the tone of the film.

Swedish trailer (English version)

American trailer

I haven’t seen the American version yet, so I can’t really compare, however I do remember watching the original Swedish movies. During the post-Christmas blizzard of 2010 P and I were staying with his brother in Philadelphia. It was late at night, but P and I weren’t tired yet, and so we were scanning through Netflix looking for something interesting to watch. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was streaming, as well as the second movie in the trilogy “The Girl who Played with Fire” both in Swedish. I hadn’t read the books, but I had heard so much about them that P and I decided to give the movie a shot. We were so sucked in to the story that we watched the second movie immediately after the first even though it was already two o’clock in the morning. We were equally eager to watch the final movie once it was available streaming a few months later.

I understand that Hollywood is a big money making machine, so if the film industry can cash in on “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” it will. However don’t shy away from an awesome original just because it has subtitles. Hollywood isn’t the only place to find interesting things to watch.

Now I guess I have to be on the look out for the repackaging of the film in Bollywood…

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A Night of Classic Americana at the Drive-In

Bill Bryson wrote a book of funny essays on returning to the US with his family after having lived abroad in England for twenty years called “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” It has about 70 mini-essays that cover different bits of Americana such as road trips and staying in motels to junk food and drive-in movies. I read the book about ten years ago, but I still remember laughing out loud at some of his reflections on things.

Often his British wife and UK-raised kids don’t “get” why Bryson loves some of this stuff. Including the drive-in movies. He explained to his family how the idea was invented by a man in New Jersey in the 1930s, but that the concept really took off in the motor culture of the 1950s, and by the end of that decade there were thousands across the country. He explained the concept to his son, “It’s simple… you drive into a field with a big screen, park besides a metal post with a speaker on it on a length of wire, and hang the speaker on the inside of your car door for the sound.”

However later, as the family arrived at the drive-in he laments, “Almost at once I began to remember why drive-ins went into such a precipitate decline [there are very few left in the US today]. To begin with, it is not remotely comfortable to sit in a car to watch a movie. If you are in the driver’s seat, you have a steering wheel in your lap the whole time. If you are in the back, you can’t really see at all. Unless you had the foresight to clean the windshield before you set off, you will be watching the picture through a smear of squashed bugs and road dirt. The sound quality from the little speakers is always appalling…[and] in a place like New England, the evenings invariably turn cool, so you shut the car windows to keep warm and then spend the rest of the evening wiping condensations from the inside of the windshield with the back of your arm.” Invariably his little outing was a disaster and the family drove home vowing to never go to the drive-in again.

But I have a soft spot for drive-in movie theaters and when I drive by old abandoned ones it always makes me sad. We had a great drive-in near the town where I grew up. I vaguely remember going with my parents a few times as a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized just how fun they could be.

Once you turn 16, and get your driver’s licence it is like a whole new world opens up for you. I remember a few times a summer I would borrow my family’s minivan, load it up with a bunch of my friends, stock up on snacks and drinks and go to the drive-in. Since the movies didn’t start until it grew dark enough to see the screen (around 9 or 9:30) and that particular movie theater used to do a triple feature, it promised a late evening. They also used to raffle off free pizzas in between the movie showings. It was awesome.

So when we moved to our new place in New England, and discovered a drive-in movie theater about fifteen minutes away, I was keen on introducing P to this bit of American culture. We have now lived here for four years, and each summer we go a handful of times, usually bringing new people along to experience the drive-in.

The theater near us seems to be thriving. It has three screens and shows six movies a night (two on each screen). It charges $20 a carload of people, and you can watch any two movies (switching screens after the first showing if you want). Although the speaker poles are still in the field, now all the sound is broadcast through local radio frequencies. We pack the car with blankets and a picnic basket full of snacks (last night we had pizza, beer, and spicy chips from the Indian grocery store). You roll down the windows of the car and turn up the radio, and sit back to watch.

Last night we went with S-di and M-dai, who had never been before. Since (as Bryson pointed out) its tough to see from the back of the car, we usually spread out blankets next to the car so that everyone can see. It was pretty chilly, but we wrapped up in sweatshirts and blankets and washed down the pizza with beers while watching a silly movie. We were going to stay for the second showing but we were a bit tired and cold, and since we only paid $20 for the car you don’t feel bad if you don’t stay for the whole double feature (its also a great place to see movies that you know probably won’t be good, but you still want to see anyway, like what we saw last night).

I hope drive-ins survive until I have kids. I’d love to take them. Bring them in their pajamas and let them stretch out and watch movies until they fall asleep, bellies full of pizza, and pack them into the car for the ride home.

at the drive-in

Half-Pakistani on the Silver Screen

I’m always on the lookout for intercultural (particularly Western-South Asian intercultural) storylines. So I was excited to check out a movie that AS and N recommended the other day.

The film is called “Shades of Ray” and features a half-Pakistani/half-white American man who is going through an identity crisis of sorts. The premise of the story is that he asked a white American woman to marry him, and as she delays in giving him an answer his Pakistani father, who is having marital troubles of his own with his white American wife, pushes an apparently Pakistani girl on his son to spare him the trials and tribulations of being in an intercultural/inter-religious marriage.

Besides the fact that “Ray” is played by a non-South Asian (not even half-South Asian) actor which distracted me a bit (I know, its post-modern, anyone can play any part if they can make it believable, but still, it would have been nice), I thought that the movie was entertaining to watch. As Ray grappled with his issues, I couldn’t help but think about Raj, P’s extended relation from “Frank Uncle and the Nepali Wedding.”

Raj was a half-Nepali/half-white American who bonded (much like Ray in the movie) with his wife over the fact that both he and she were from half-South Asian/half-American families. As Raj’s wife told me, “My father is Indian–Gujarati, but my mother wasn’t–she’s Hawaiian. My dad was Hindu and we would do a puja, and my mom was Christian and we would go to church… I was so confused as a kid! Thats how Raj and I bonded!” These types of interactions help me to think about and contextualize my own potential children’s potential identity crises when they are older, and think about the consequences various influences, or lack thereof, might have in their lives.

Also interesting in the film was the portrayal of two sets of “white American moms” in intercultural relationships. Ray’s mom wasn’t interested in assimilating to Pakistani culture, while Ray’s friend Sana’s mom was really interested in the culture. The first time you see her she is wearing a salwaar kameez during the family initiated dinner date. A surprised Ray says to Sana, “Hey, your mom’s white!” and Sana sarcastically replies, “She is?”

Anyway, if anyone is interested in watching the film, it’s short and sweet, available streaming on Netflix, and is a subject you don’t often see in movies.

“Pretty Woman”

So what happened in-between eating a piece of cake and six years later? I can’t fast forward through all of that so quickly, but I can at least give you the next installment.

For the first week or two I knew P, I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. I knew it started with a P, and that it sounded similar to the last name of another Nepali student who lived in the I-House that I had met the year before. I really try with names, because I think they are important, and especially in my current profession of international student advising I have to know names of all sorts, but something about P’s name just didn’t stick. Maybe its a family thing, because later on my mother and grandmother couldn’t do it either. In fact, to this day, both of them still don’t say it right. Anyway, during those first few days on campus most of us referred to P as “the new Nepali guy” (at least when P wasn’t around) so it was easy to not come across his name on a daily basis.

One morning I found myself in the nearly empty college cafeteria and P was the only person I recognized sitting at the tables. I sat with him and made small talk, but it was awkward to sit with him and not properly know his name. If I continued chatting with him, eventually I’d know the guy pretty well and I’d look like an idiot if I had to ask. So I tried to play it real smooth… “we call Abhishek Abhi and Omprakash Om, so do you have a nickname you go by?” he told me, and I quickly forgot it before the end of breakfast. The only name that would stick in my head was the last name of the other Nepali guy that sounded similar to P’s.

Meanwhile P and his friend AC were talking about some of the people in the I-House, and eventually P asked, “What about that C girl? She seems nice,” to which his friend replied, “Ah, she’s just weird, don’t bother with her.” A few days later P and I realized that we worked the same early morning shift in the campus library. I sat at the circulation desk while he worked in the interlibrary loan office. That first morning he walked in I gave him an enthusiastic wave and he thought to himself, “AC is right, she is weird.”

Yet regardless of my naming issues and P’s friend’s discouragement, we became fast friends, and started studying in the I-House computer lab quite frequently in the evenings together. I remember being very studious back then, in part because I  enjoyed spending time with him. I use to teach him phrases in French, and he would write down some stuff in Nepali. We were dorky, but had a good time, and never really thought of each other as any more than friends.

S takes credit for our relationship based on his movie initiating a change in our "feelings" for each other

S takes credit for our relationship based on his movie initiating a change in our "feelings" for each other

Then one night, as our dear friend S likes to take credit for (yes, the same S of momo fame), things started to change. S had somehow come across a DVD that he thought was really good back at his school in Maine and assumed that P would like it too. To my knowledge, I think this is the only time that S has done this, but he mailed P the DVD, and P decided to show it one night in the I-House lounge. The movie, “East West,” was half in French and half in Russian. P mentioned the movie in passing and asked if I’d like to watch it due to my interest in French. As with most random I-House movie screenings, the movie started with about four people on the couch but ended with half a room full of people sprawled out all over the place.

Once the movie was over everyone filed out of the room–P and I just happened to be the last two to leave. We were chatting while walking down the hallway. It was a weekend, I hadn’t really showered, and I was disguising my somewhat-too-greasy-hair with a handkerchief. As we walked P said, “why do you wear that thing on your head?”

Me: “Well, I’ve been a bit lazy this weekend, I need to take a shower and I’m trying to hide it.”

P: “Oh… well I think you look fine… actually do you know what song I think of when I see you?”

Me: “Um… no…”

P: “Pretty Woman…” awkward silence… “I think it’s the glasses…”

Me: “But Julia Roberts doesn’t wear glasses in that movie…”

P: Confused look, “oh, okay…” and we both turned around and went our seperate ways.

Roy Orbison or Julia Roberts? Either way, it got the job done...

Roy Orbison or Julia Roberts? Either way, it got the job done...

Little did I know P was making a reference to Roy Orbison the singer of “Pretty Woman.” He was known for wearing dark sunglasses, which I never wore, but I think maybe P was confused with Buddy Holly or some other random 60s singers who wore thicker rimmed tortoise-shell glasses. I wore glasses at the time (and continue to wear a similar style) that had a retro tortoise-shell type of look. Roy Orbison is actually not very attractive, and perhaps if I knew what P was talking about I would have been a little confused or even offended. Instead it planted a seed in my head… why would he say such a thing? Does he have feelings for me? Why would he put himself out there if not to let me know he liked me?

Poor P, he wasn’t used to an American girl’s way (or at least my way) of over analyzing these kinds of things. In fact he was just making an innocent comment, even if it came across a bit corny and romantic, he assures me that at the time he didn’t actually think of me as more than just a good friend. Yet from that moment on my approach to him was based on my perceived interpretation of his feelings for me. Instead of me reacting to his pursuit of me, I actually started pursuing him all on my own!

…and, what South Asian story about “Pretty Woman” would be complete without a link to the “Kal Ho Naa HoBollywood movie scene of Shah Rukh Khan singing a Hindi version of “Pretty Woman”??? At least the “pretty woman” (Preity Zinta) in this song is also wearing tortoise-shell glasses! Enjoy…