in Saket, the impossibility of unsanctioned chickpeas

Two weeks ago, Jenny and I attended the local premiere of Rajinikanth’s spectacular and ridiculous new movie, Endhiran. This was our first Rajinikanth experience, but we were quickly initiated into the ritual: cheering and confetti when Rajini makes his entrance, whistles and hoots when the leading lady appears, and applause and shouting and screaming in direct proportion to the creativity of the violence of each scene.

It’s also called “Robot.” Go see it!

Jenny and I attended this showing because we’re exceedingly nostalgic for India right now. And our experience with Endhiran did indeed bring back memories of good old Saket PVR, where we saw Om Shanti Om, Jab We Met, and, alas, Marigold, that east-meets-west, Salman-Khan-meets-the-blond-from-Heroes flop that is easily one of the worst movies ever made.

Don’t. Just don’t.

The audience at our Denver showing of Endhiran was as participatory as they are in Delhi. And the intermission was similarly jarring. But one significant aspect of Delhi movie-going did not make it across the Atlantic: the theater security. Here, the usher simply took our ticket and let us pass, as they do in most American theaters.

In Delhi, the ushers search you before letting you in. And they search you good.

We assume that Delhi’s ushers were originally deputized with patron-groping powers in order to prevent cinemaphobic terrorists from recreating scenes from Inglourious Basterds. But it seems that their mission has crept from stopping bombs to stopping bon-bons: while Delhi’s theater ushers may be protecting their patrons, they’re equally aggressive in protecting their snack bars’ bottom lines.

In America, Jenny and I usually attend movies with sandwiches, sodas, and bags of already-microwaved popcorn stuffed into her purse. That’s because theaters here believe it’s a battle not worth fighting: anyone cheap enough to sneak food into a theater would never pay five dollars for thirty cents’ worth of carbonated corn syrup anyway.

But in Delhi, anything entering a theater was deemed game for inspection. First they ran their hands up and down the contours of our bodies; then they manhandled the contents of our pockets; and then, having violating our persons, it was time for our possessions. And when they opened Jenny’s purse on that lamentable Delhi evening when we decided to subject ourselves to Marigold—our first visit to a movie theater in India—they immediately spotted our digital camera.

The men who craft security policy for PVR have determined that cameras are just as forbidden as bombs.

And though no rational human would ever want to pirate Marigold, rules are rules, and the busy hands guarding Saket PVR would not let us proceed with a camera in our possession. Our only option was to avail the services of the vendors selling water bottles and mobile phone talk time outside of the theater. We handed one our camera and he handed us a claim receipt, which is how our camera was spared the wretchedness of enduring Marigold.

Lucky camera.

We walked back into the theater. The ushers repeated their desecration of our bodies and Jenny’s purse. But this time they dug deeper and discovered what had been hidden beneath our camera: a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate, and a bag of Haldiram’s roasted chickpeas.

Al Qaeda could not carry this into a theater, either.

The ushers looked up at us from our cache of culinary contraband. Their faces showed neither anger nor disdain, but bewilderment: why would we even attempt to bring food into a theater? Didn’t we know we’d be searched? Didn’t we know we’d be discovered? Didn’t we know that the same rules empowering ushers to save lives also extend to preventing unauthorized snacking?

And so we were again turned away. And while we should have realized that Fate was trying to tell us something (specifically, that Fate was shouting at us in 48-point type: “DON’T SEE THIS AWFUL MOVIE!”), we’d paid our money, and we were going to see all the movie.

But we’d also paid for these chickpeas. And we thought we could still salvage them. As I abandoned our chocolate and our water in the market, Jenny surreptitiously folded the Haldiram’s bag and hid it in the sleeve of her sweatshirt. And then she folded her sweatshirt into a ball. And then we approached the ushers once more.

They found the chickpeas immediately. This time, as they looked up at us, I’m pretty sure they were trying not to laugh.

Jenny guiltily handed over the bag. Only then were we finally allowed to proceed into the theater—where, for the next two hours, Jenny and I endured Ali Larter overacting an affirmation of every conceivable negative American stereotype. She was immoral, hyper-sexual, rude, uncultured, uncouth, uneducated, underdressed, loud, loutish, lewd, and capable of downing an entire bottle of vodka in a single night—which she did. Which caused her to pass out on Chowpatty Beach. Good thing for her that Salman Khan had convinced himself that she was a diamond hidden under all that make-up and loose morality. He decided to stand guard over her until morning, presumably not to protect her honor so much as to protect Mumbai from being wantonly ravaged by this insatiable American caricature. And when the sun rose, he began to transform her into a proper and honorable woman.

Don’t get us wrong: we didn’t hate the movie because it offended us as Americans. We hated it because it offended us as human beings with active brain cells.

We emerged from the theater almost grateful for the nausea the movie left us with, because at least it masked our hunger. We’d refused to buy concessions, of course. Which was too bad, because it would have been great to have had popcorn to throw at the screen.

17 responses to “in Saket, the impossibility of unsanctioned chickpeas

  1. hehe, I never saw this movie. But I remember an American friend looking at Salman Khan’s picture and saying “it’s that guy who had the same expression throughout the movie” 😀

    I remember coming back to Delhi after a while, and carrying my camera too, I had forgotten how stringent it was here. Was on the edge of the seat through the movie, hoping the camera would survive in a very shady looking place where it was dumped in Plaza (CP) 🙂

  2. What comedy! I feel bad for letting the chickpeas go. Feel like a pack right now.

  3. With time I find watching movies in India have become a harrowing experience. From parking spot, to abhorrent ticket prices to insane prices of food available inside them they milk you dry! When I used to live in Bangalore I had stopped watching movies in multiplexes, it was a much better experience to visit movie theaters like Rex for good movie. It wasn’t at throwaway prices but basic amenities were good and you get value for your money. We preferred cheap theaters like Kamakya which used to light up with “audience participation”. I remember watching Jhoom Barabar Jhoom and people dancing whenever Amitabh Bachchan used to come on screen in between the atrocities.

  4. Dave, that Salman Khan is bad news :

    He has hunted down endangered wildlife, he has mowed down homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks of Mumbai, as he drove his SUV over them in an intoxicated state, he has physically abused his many girlfriends, he has assaulted paparazzi, and he is also guilty of hobnobbing with the Islamic Mafia ( i.e. with India’s Public Enemy No. 1, Dawood Ibrahim, aka the D-Company).

    Under similar circumstances in the USA, Salman would be doing 20-years hard labour in prison, or he would have been fried in the chair (if he was in Texas).
    In India, Salman enjoys his liberty and is free to make additional bad movies, which an indulgent and foolish Indian audience pays money to watch. Go figure !

  5. I am only commenting because of Chris’s comment above. Salman is an idiot at worst, he is not evil. He has proved over and over that drinking is bad for him, and yet does not give up getting into those situations. And no, he does not have any gangsta connections thank you very much. He could have been so much more in the Indian film industry, and he threw it all away – and for that I am angry at him. But we love him in India and that wont change.

    • Sallu, you are a perfect example of what is WRONG with India.

      Salman Khan has killed people (manslaughter, perhaps, if not outright murder). He belongs in prison, not in Bollywood. And yet, magically, his scheduled court-dates keep getting postponed, over and over again. I do wonder why.

      And the police have recorded his telephone conversations with the D-company Mafia.

      And he threatened his co-stars, such as Vivek Oberoi, using his D-company connections to drive home the threats.

      And he has physically abused each of his girlfriends ( Somy Ali, Sangeeta Bijlani, Aishwarya Rai ).

      Yet, the foolish Indian public, and the evil Indian media will mindlessly keep saying that “Salman has a heart of gold, beneath his rough exterior”. Yeah, right, and I am Queen Elizabeth.

      • Pulkit Bhuwalka

        @chris – definitely agreed with. as an Indian, i hate such corrupt practices, but these problems take time to be eradicated as a whole, especially when movie stars are idolized.

        @sallu – being a perfect example of that mindless idolization.

      • As a great American President from the South said, and I quote although with apt modification – There is nothing that is wrong with India which cannot be set right with what is right with India. Don’t get your undies in a bunch. Salman is alright. Also, second chances need to be given. Law does not allow that, humanity does. Our priorities are different. Lets call a truce on that note.

  6. Pulkit Bhuwalka

    excellent article, absolutely hilarious! i remember i had to exit the premises two times during heavy downpour to deposit my laptop and helmet outside. How on earth that is harmful, i’ll never know.

  7. But to it’s credit, the movie had wonderful music. I am suddenly glad i didn’t watch it, just fell in love with the songs.

  8. Dave what a nice blog..enjoyed reading it!

  9. LOL @ the comment “we didn’t hate the movie because it offended us as Americans. We hated it because it offended us as human beings with active brain cells”. You hit the nail right on the head. 99% of bollywood movies are deserving of that comment. My sister is a huge Bollywood fan which i find unexplainable considering she’s super smart( an A student pretty much all her school life) & most bollywood movies require you to “leave you brain at home”(an actual advice that some bollywood movies proudly advertise).

  10. Hilarious! Love this blog! I’m a Californian now living in Nepal. A couple of years ago I went through immigration at JFK in NYC with my Indian spouse. Low and behold who was in front of us but Salman Khan and his entourage. U.S. immigration was certainly NOT giving Mr. Khan the ‘star’ treatment. Sallu was not being a ‘good sport’ about it either. In fact he was still there after 2 hours when we left. I’ll bet they took his chickpeas away too! Hope that’s some consolation.

  11. I wasn’t aware that in Delhi theatres they are so stringent about these checks.
    Loved the way how some idiot Salman Khan fans keep on defending him come what may.

  12. @ too You can still enjoy hollywood films and be smart, dont be so ignorant. Also as an indian it offended me and not just as a person as an INDIAN. The film i have not even bothered to see, because one salman khan is a terrible actor and two indians dont tend to make interesting east meets west films.
    However, putting the whole indian film industry down is not only small minded but very stupid.

  13. Hahaha another hilarious article. Just made me realize how often i used to be groped while getting searched in India and didn’t even mind it cause it was so common….and now i am bothered by the TSA possibly doing it at American airports. Guess the lack of groping makes you more aware of it …maybe if we were all groped real often in the US we wouldn’t think twice about it lol

  14. This is just too funny. A backpacker, and a snob at that, getting irritated by a movie reaffirming ‘American stereotypes’ while he himself is trying to eke out a living by highlighting Indian ones (cows etc.). Dave, you surely are hilarious albeit in ways you don’t intend to be.
    Quick question: will anyone give a rat’s ass to your literary BS had you written about the US and tried to sell it in your own country? Probably not. Pity that the Albino fixation of my fellow brown-skins runs too deep to be cured.

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