Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tarantino Bollywood

The most fun I’ve ever had at the movies was in 1996 at the Ridge Theatre in Vancouver. The Ridge was one of the grand old theatres in town, long ago losing the battle for box office to the newer and flashier multiplexes in the downtown core. Reborn as a rep cinema, it primarily showed recent second-run movies but occasionally dug deeper into its vaults for twin bills of classic films. Usually, the two films had something in common, a shared director or star. Woody Allen was a mainstay, Stanley Kubrick made his regular appearances. On this night, however, the films only could claim a common genre between them – Science Fiction. And not just any Science Fiction, but the most beloved of cult films ever to make it to celluloid. The late feature was “Blade Runner”, Ridley Scott’s bleak vision of a dystopian future. But the real attraction of the evening for me was the early show, an original print of “The Planet of the Apes”. I had long heard that this film was a treat, not to be missed for reasons both good and bad, so the chance to see it for the first time on the big screen was irresistible.

From the opening credits, I knew this night would be memorable. Planet of the Apes had its debut in 1968, which meant that the print we were watching was older than me. It had not aged gracefully. The screen showed a spider’s web of scratches on the film and the soundtrack was ear-splittingly loud. On regular occasions, one scene would abruptly stop and jump to the next, betraying the splice that had been needed to keep the tattered film in one piece. And the crowd loved it. They howled with laughter at each wobble of the film, expecting it to burst into flame at any second. It was as if we knew that this might be the last time this particular reel would ever be seen. And of course, the action onscreen only added to the cheesiness of the experience. Charlton Heston swaggered his way through the entire film, chewing the scenery with such gusto that the talking apes became mere bystanders to his performance. The signature lines of the film drew loud cheers, not for their poignancy, but for their incredibly hammy delivery. When Heston hissed “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”, the audience almost gave him a standing ovation. It was a great night at the movies, never to be repeated.

Or so I thought.

On a recent trip to Bandarban, Kristel and I happened upon the town’s lone cinema on one of the back streets. Posters decorating the front of the theatre advertised the current feature and promised a pleasant afternoon matinee filled with romance, intrigue and death from sharp objects. The two blood-soaked central figures appeared to be locked in a struggle for control of a battleaxe last used by Braveheart. A supporting cast seemed equally tense, brandishing swords and scythes coated bright red to emphasize their recent nastiness. Not exactly what I would consider a great date movie, but Kristel was enthusiastic about giving it a try, having already experienced Bangladeshi cinema on a recent trip to Jessore. As we stood there staring at the posters and taking pictures of them for posterity, the usual crowd of local people began to gather around us. One fellow pointed at the poster and asked whether I would be going to see it. When I asked him whether it was any good, he nodded enthusiastically and gave a big smile to reinforce his recommendation. “This film, it’s called ‘Killer Biya’”, he said, pointing at the title. I had to check that I had heard him correctly, thinking he might have been saying “Kill Bill”, the Tarantino movie from a few years ago. But it appeared that this movie didn’t share the same title as its American cousin, only a similar appreciation for bloody mayhem. With the dark skies threatening to deliver on the promise of the monsoon season, we decided that an hour or two indoors was time well spent, so we made our way to the ticket counter, where I generously offered to pay for both of our 40-cent tickets. As we took our tickets, a bell rang inside the theatre to indicate the start of the next showing, so we hustled inside past the crowd of onlookers who were clearly amused and somewhat mystified by our interest in a Bangla movie.

Entering the theatre, we started toward the main floor entrance, only to be directed upstairs. Apparently, our more expensive tickets entitled us to the deluxe seating that was only available in the balcony. The chairs were reminiscent of the Ridge, beaten up from years of use but not uncomfortable. Looking over the edge of the balcony, we could see that the cheap seats below consisted of wooden benches arranged for maximum occupancy. As we took our seats, we looked around the mostly empty balcony and returned the friendly stares of our fellow theatre-goers. All of them were men, and whether this was a comment on the movie or of cinema attendance generally was difficult to tell. In any event, we had arrived just in time to enjoy the commercials preceding the main feature. Actually, there was only one commercial that was repeated a couple of times, a musical number that seemed to be promoting a certain brand of rickshaw tires. The familiar hum and pop of feedback that followed signaled the start of the star attraction for the afternoon.

At least, we think it was the start. Skipping over the opening credits, the movie jumped to the main storyline, which centred on the main character solving his community’s problems. His wisdom and fairness had apparently earned him a place of great standing among his peers, signified by his use of a small outdoor stage and a big blue throne that would do Papa Smurf proud. As he sat on his throne, his fellow townspeople would approach him and tell their tales of woe, to which he would make thoughtful humming noises as he pondered a solution. I found myself pondering his magnificent hair, which surely ranked with that of Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-O as the most impervious hairdo ever captured on film. A hurricane wouldn’t budge a hair on this man’s head. Once the problem had been described, he dispensed his answer without hesitation in a rich, sonorous voice that Barry White would envy, and there would be much relief and gratitude expressed.

Of course, sometimes a man of great wisdom must prove himself to be a man of great kung fu talents as well, so the film regularly showed our hero getting off his throne to battle the various evil-doers in his community. Without ever disturbing his hair, I might add. His martial arts skills were impressive, as his kicks to the chest caused his opponents to fly through the air in slow motion with echoing clanging sounds. One particular move I admired was his method of grabbing his foe by the bottom teeth and spinning him over his head before casting him aside to land in a defeated heap. Bruce Lee, eat your heart out.

To maintain the dramatic tension of the film, our hero was matched against a nemesis who was nearly his equal in cunning and hairstyle. Leading a small gang of thugs, the criminal terrorized the populace through regular use of his trusty battleaxe, swinging it to decapitate or to maim, depending on his mood. If he was ever caught without his axe, he always managed to find it, at one point opening the hood of his car to grab his craftily stored weapon. His evil deeds were sometimes accentuated by the use of special effects, as the movie would reverse its exposure at critical moments, like the negative of a strip of film. At least, I think this was done on purpose. The villain would regularly come into contact with our hero, but aside from some slow motion glares, there was little fighting between the two. But make no mistake, there would be some climatic ass-kicking to come.

But an epic film such as this one wouldn't allow itself to be defined by senseless brutality. It must have dance sequences! So, after a particularly gruesome beheading or mass killing, the film would cut away to concentrate on two minor characters who were obviously madly in love with each other. The two would be walking along, hand in hand, and one would take the opportunity to start singing. And…..cue the music! Soon, the two were joined by various bystanders in performing more or less synchronized dance moves, which would have been impressive had the dancing not resembled that of a drunken wedding guest. As it was, the pelvic thrusts were so exaggerated that I feared someone might pull a lower back muscle. These sequences proved quite popular with our fellow audience members, though, as they seemed to enjoy the sexually charged nature of the dancing. Perhaps a little too much. At the end of one such scene, someone a few rows behind us let out a loud “Aaaaaah” which I hoped wasn’t as relieved as it sounded.

After another hour or so of dancing and decapitating, the movie reached its critical final scene. Our hero had raced to protect a family who were being menaced by you-know-who. Somehow managing to put them on a train to safety while single-handedly (and footedly) holding off five of the attackers, he turned now to take on the bad guys. And was promptly stabbed and killed. Hmmm, I must admit, I didn’t see that coming. A bit of a downer of an ending, but….Wait! It’s not the end! As it turns out, our hero has sired a son who will inherit the mantle of community saviour and will now take on……

I looked at Kristel and asked, “Are you ready to go?” and received a nod in return. We gathered up our things and fumbled our way out of the balcony, past the surprised looks of the rest of the audience who couldn’t believe that we weren’t staying for the sequel. As we left the theatre, we squinted at the daylight still remaining and experienced that sense of momentary imbalance that comes with reentry into the real world. Grateful that we weren’t being set upon by axe murderers or gyrating dancers, we walked back to our hotel and recalled our favourite moments from the film. Though it’s unlikely to achieve the same enduring popularity that Planet of the Apes has enjoyed, Killer Biya still made for a cinematic experience that I likely won’t ever forget. No matter how hard I try.

1 comment:

cochrane said...

I'm reminded of our "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" viewing back in the...well...many years ago. (Cue "Memories" background music...)

I remember it was a great movie though I can't recall a single detail of the film. I guess that's the long-lasting result of movies: remembering the event more than the details. Maybe that's a good thing when it comes to Killer Biya though I'll bet he's no Steve Martin.