Bonding through Bollywood

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - 6:46pm




Nestled behind a Lucky’s grocery store and a Walgreens in an unassuming strip mall in my hometown of Fremont, CA was a movie theater called Naz 8. However, this wasn’t your typical shining, flashy Century or AMC. Instead of the scent of buttered popcorn, you’d be greeted with (or rather, overwhelmed by) the aroma of samosas, curry, spices and similar items being sold as concessions. The place was poorly lit and grimy, the seats were centuries old; at every screening, you could guarantee people would be talking or a baby would be bawling.

Yet despite all its flaws, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people — mostly Indian immigrants like my family — would flock to Naz 8 Cinemas for a taste of home. Everyone, from the recent arrivals hoping to make it big in Silicon Valley to the established, newly minted American citizens, would marvel at the spectacles of melodrama, song and dance known as Bollywood films. We would gasp at Salman Khan breaking the laws of physics and shed tears of laughter and sadness as Amir Khan satirized the education system. My mom would shield my eyes with her sweater in horror during a sex scene, angrily cursing the fact she believed the box office attendant when he said, “Of course you can watch it with your 10-year-old.”

While in retrospect those same movies seem ridiculously corny and overwrought, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t see them again any time you ask me to. As shown in shows such as “Master of None” and several other works, it’s often difficult for children of immigrants (such as me) to relate to the society and environment that our parents grew up in. Although we grew up eating Indian food, and some of us speak Bengali, Hindi, Tamil or some other Indian language at home, the connection beyond that with our family’s country becomes tenuous.

It is beautiful to learn so much about my family by simply going to the movies. Even now, and especially for a 10-year-old, the simultaneously adrenaline-fueled, romance-filled stories of good and evil were solid sources of entertainment. Yet one common element was that they were not set in Middle Earth or outer space, but actually in India. Our parents could point out the neighborhoods that were similar to where they grew up, the school uniforms they had to wear and the foods they used to eat off the street stalls. Parents who were engineers could point out elements of their college experience in “3 Idiots.” They could even take advantage of the historical flicks such as “Jodha Akbar” to teach us what they learned in their history classes.

Through these tiny moments, we could strengthen the bonds between ourselves and our parents. We could understand the world they came from as well as the small societal differences that end up causing friction in the present-day. For me, it gives a failsafe conversation starter when I travel to meet my relatives. Even if the person I just met is my third cousin once removed with a completely different set of life experiences, at least we have one thing in common.

By knowing and watching the same movies that my parents watched before I was born, and listening to the songs they listened to, I can feel that much closer to them. I also learned that my habit of waxing (overly) poetic about works that I love is an inherited one.

Naz closed recently, ever since many large American theaters started playing Bollywood films (except with better amenities and comfortable seats). Although I can’t say I miss Naz and its general seediness, I can’t deny that I always feel a tinge of nostalgia whenever I reminisce about it, as well as a feeling that, ultimately, it impacted my life in a profound way.