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Tiger takes over the city

This, too, is Delhi: Outdoor cinema in the midst of noise and lights

india Updated: Dec 16, 2011 19:16 IST
Danijel Majic
Danijel Majic
Hindustan Times

A tiger is prowling the city. As big as Godzilla, he makes his way through animated street canyons. Everything that falls under his shadow is transformed. People become apes, cars become giant snails. The message of this animated film is clear: nature is taking back the city.

Admittedly, the tiger doesn't have an easy time of it on this Thursday evening. The screen he is prowling across is the wall of building hung with chains of lights in the middle of Defence Colony Market in Delhi. All around the advertising signs of restaurants, bars and shops compete, in blinking neon colours, for the attention of the passersby. The projector stands in a small park across from the façade. "Thank you for coming to the show," Sven Schwarz from the project "A Wall is a Screen" welcomes the approximately forty visitors who have gathered. Around them, the traffic roars; Tata cars, motorcycle carts and rickshaws sound a concert of horns that the speakers can only just be heard over. After a few short films, it moves to another spot; there are many walls in Defence Colony.

Defence Colony is one of the better neighbourhoods with three to four-storey buildings, some of which could just as well stand in Eschborn, while others are apparently only held together by the billboards on their façades. It is a very tiny section of Delhi, this inconceivably large entity of stone and people. Lajpat Nagar, where I live, is only ten minutes away by motorcycle cart. It is a shopping district as big as Bockenheim and Rödelheim together with shop after shop and between them a huge bazaar for anyone who can't find what they are looking for in the shops.

After nearly a week, my email inbox is full of questions. "What is Delhi like?" My only attempt to reply so far took me almost two hours to write. Delhi is countless markets, bustling crowds of people who mainly ignore the lonely visitor from Europe, because in this city it seems that truly everyone is doing some kind of business. Delhi is long queues in front of the central underground stations, the temples, sometimes in front of the markets, where there is always an assault rifle of the Central Indian Security Force aimed at you while eyes of the police officer behind it scan the scene. It is the narrow lanes and power line nests at Chawari Bazaar, the finer residential neighbourhoods protected by walls away from the city centre, the incredible stillness in the gardens of the Red Fort, the men sleeping in an old bridge pylon, the kiosk owner who would like to talk to you for an hour about Germany. Delhi with its poverty, its smog, the mad traffic noise, can already be too much to take after four days. Yet, at the same time you cannot get enough of the colours, the faces, the stories lurking around every corner.

"A Wall is a Screen" moves from wall to wall; seven of them tonight. At the end, the crowd has grown to about 100 people. A short film shows two film projectionists from Kolkata, whose cinema is made of a box screwed to a cart with peepholes. Applause breaks out. "We need entertainment in Delhi, where everyday life can be so hard," says Ritu Khanna, the interpreter at the Goethe-Institut. Hardship and entertainment: that, too, describes Delhi, to some extent.

Danijel Majic is an FR intern who has swapped workplaces with a journalist from the Hindustan Times for four weeks.

First Published: Dec 16, 2011 19:13 IST