Perceptions differ. As do expectations. Sitting in one part of the country, you believe acting and movies ought to be of a certain nature. But your audience is spread out over such a vast geographical area, their interests in film could invalidate your perception of good cinema. Sitting through one show of Aakrosh in a theatre in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, I realised what kind of Bollywood thrives in rural areas. It’s far from what I, or you, would deem good.
A friend suggested we take a trip to his hometown, Mau, to get a sense of village life. I’d never got a chance to travel to the interiors of Uttar Pradesh — the badlands of the country — to connect to a people that defines quite a chunk of the Indian masses. This was a good time. Thirty-eight hours first in a train and then on road would be difficult to endure. But if I was doing it, I wanted to go the whole hog. And so I did.
Some aspects of village life are unchanging — close-knit families, the hospitality, the food and the ranches — they’re everywhere. I’d only recently seen a village in
, but the one I went to was different. No plot of land had a fence to it; everything was open and barren and you could trespass straight over someone else’s property.
The family I stayed with took good care of their guests, gave them delectable meals and never seemed to judge. I could be completely myself and not worry. This ensured I had an even better stay.
During Dusshera, we saw Ramleela, the epic village tradition, play out on the village stage. In the first scene, Surpanakha walked out, to everyone’s surprise, wearing a bikini top! While everyone burst out laughing, I realised that festive occasions are when the village folk have unrestrained, unabashed fun. Conversely, on our way to a funfair in Bagai Darh, we saw a group of youngsters by the pavement engaged in a heated brawl. One of them suddenly rose and ran ahead only to be chased down by the others. A few minutes later we saw the same youth lunging forward with a knife he’d swiped from a fish vendor. Even on the roads of Azamgarh, it isn’t an uncommon sight to see groups of young men toting guns. They’re locally made and available for cheap.
Until now, I thought I wanted to act as realistically as I could. Now I am motivated to overact. Simply because there’s still an audience that wants all the things we’re trying to put behind us and move on.