...and other such titles were on offer at the one and only cinema in Arusha. I had often passed it by 5 years ago, but it always seemed dark, dingy and a sure-fire breeding ground for porn or Jackie Chan ‘classics’ or a combination of both and not much else. But a soggy day and a free afternoon resulted in Max pestering me to the point that I realized he was being serious. After 8 months, this American boy needed a movie. And so for the first time, I didn’t shuffle by the Metropole head down. We checked out what was on offer; a single film, all week and next and probably the week after, which promised the best of India – Bollywood dancing, romantic ponderings and...cricket.
However, first of all we had to make an important decision. Hanging around in the foyer, waiting to pay whoever would take our money, we had just had the misfortune of seeing a huge rat bumble its way into the pitch black auditorium. We then heard the squealing and rustling of what must have been an entire three generations of rat family in the roof, but which sounded more like a small child let loose with a pneumatic drill. Do we go in to the pitch black cinema to watch the film knowing that our legs might be gently caressed by the bristly back of a disease infested beast??
I rolled down my turned up trouser legs, put on a brave face and said “let’s do it”. Max acquiesced. Fortunately we were told to go upstairs where the great unknown seemed a better choice at that moment. The cinema was huge! Upstairs, we picked our spot by the front banister (so we could put our feet up out of rodent’s way). We looked down and saw hundreds of seats in the gloom – who built this place? Upstairs there were at least 200 red upholstered seats too, evenly shared either side of a generous aisle. Did it ever fill? Not with prices such as the ones they gave us (ok, around £2). Nobody would really be able to afford to go and see a film there – and the owners would never be able to buy the rights to show any blockbusters. But the cinema was beautiful! I guess it must have been built in the heyday of colonial occupation and when cinema was new and fresh and one of the only ways to see the outer world.
And there was no need to sharpen elbows to get the pick of the chairs; in this 600 seater cinema, there were just three of us. And the other guy watching was the guy who sold the ticket to us – and he evidently couldnt care less for Indian heartbreak and intrigue. By half way through he was already swinging on his seat and jabbering to himself. Maybe he was trying to pre-empt the Hindi lines, having seen this film countless times before.
And what a film! It touched all the right places – love and beauty, modern marriage and breaking away from family tradition, racism and inter-ethnic racism...and a nation’s obsession with cricket.
Maybe we actually got true value for money – the film was long. There was even an interval (no ice-cream ladies, mind) and we were only too glad to stretch our still propped-up, rat-avoiding legs. And what else could one do when in a huge theatre sized cinema with booming Bollywood music streaming out to its 2 man audience, but give a little wiggle and a shake and pull off our best Bollywood moves? Like a couple of Indian wannabe-star 10 year olds we performed to the watchful eyes of the surrounding shadows of the entire empty auditorium. Boom shackalacka!
But after a little while we wondered why the film wasn’t re-starting. I was now admittedly hooked on finding out just how the bedridden ex-Indian superstar cricketer would watch India in the World Cup final (topical eh?) when he was meant to be undergoing a life-threatening operation, unfortunately being carried out by a cricket-detesting mean and moody doctor. And what about the girl whose new husband was more in love with cricket than her? What would happen now that she had started watching it to try to share his passion – but had ended up sharing it just a little too much by falling in lust with the star cricket player?
Aside from that, we were ready to restart because we were a little out of breath after our attempts at imitating Indian boogying. Why was the interval taking so long? It was only us in there!
“Maybe if we sit down it’ll start”.
We sit. Lights dim. Hey presto.
The guys reeling the film must have been watching us all along, shimmying and sashaying our socks off – and were probably thoroughly entertained by such bizarre mzungu behaviour too!
Long live Bollywood.
Here is Max in slightly more authentic and traditional Rwandan dance mode... He takes it seriously that boy.