GHAZALS AND ARIASPublished May 5, 2018
My family owned the Globe Cinema in Nairobi. Then Dad and Chottu Uncle got tired of working late every night and weekends and the theater was sold in the early sixties, but my father kept his passion for movies. He loved watching the latest Hollywood films on Saturday nights while we stayed at home with Ma but on Sundays he took all seven of us to see a Hindi film. We saw all the classics, “Mother India”, “Mera Naam Joker” and “Andaaz”. There was a long intermission when people had samosas and tea. In those days there were no subtitles but Julie Auntie would tell me what was going on if I got confused. Everyone cheered the hero and booed the villain calling out to the screen. Sometimes we went to Bellevue Drive-in taking along a picnic and a thermos of milky coffee.
The films were at least three hours long with songs, action scenes, fights, dances and a love story. But they always, always had a happy ending. endings. When Raj Kapoor’s film “Bobby,” the teenage love story ended with the young lovers dying at the end. The audience in Bombay was so enraged they tore up the movie theater. So Raj Kapoor hastily shot a new ending where the young couple miraculously survived falling into a water fall.
My favorite film which I have seen countless times is “Pakeezah,” the story of a dancing girl who falls in love with an aristocrat. He first sees her on a train while she is sleeping on a berth. He can’t stop gazing at her beautiful feet, exposed by the sheet she has kicked off and leaves a note tucked in between her toes. They meet again and spend a few blissful days together. He takes her to get married but she runs away when the Mullah asks her name….
Meena Kumari tragically died during the filming of “Pakeezah” but they managed to finish the film.
Since coming to New York, I have developed a passion for Opera. I realize all those years of watching Hindi films prepared me for Opera. Both of them have a lot of songs, elaborate costumes and complicated plots with heroes, heroines and villains. The difference is operas often have tragic endings.
My favorite opera is “Rusalka” by the Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak. The story is about a mermaid who falls in love with a mortal and leaves behind her family and home in the water to be with him…I was lucky enough to see this opera in New York and then in Prague. The audience in Prague was very proud of “their” opera and they dressed to the nines for the performance. The National Theater shown below is beautiful especially seen from the Danube.
The famous American soprano Renée Fleming, singing the mermaid’s aria “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka in 2009. She has sung the role of Rusalka more than any artist in the Metropolitan Opera’s history.
The music in both Prague and New York was wonderful. The costumes and scenery were much more elaborate in New York. But opera in Prague was more affordable, we got excellent seats for about $50 each. They were both amazing experiences…but there was something special about seeing Rusalka in Dvorak’s country where even the taxi drivers are so proud of him.