ABC gave me your email—I hope you don’t mind me writing to you. My name is XYZ, I make radio features for the BBC. I’m interested in doing a package on Bollywood films getting shorter, sharper and less musical and would like to talk to someone about this. Would it be possible to give you a call sometime soon?
Thanks very much
Every other week, someone writes me a letter along those lines. “Bollywood”, as they like to refer to Hindi cinema, has long been a hot topic with academics, but now the world is discovering it. That means American journalists are also discovering it. That means I now get calls. I have not preserved exact records, but here is how they go:
Journalist: Am I speaking to Hairy?
Me: You are speaking to Jerry.
Journalist: Okay, Jerry. I thought you were like Latino.
Me: In Mumbai?
Journalist: I wanted to talk to you about Bollywood.
Me: You wanted to talk to me about Hindi commercial cinema?
Journalist: No, about Bollywood.
It gets worse. There was a young lady who rang me once. A friend of mine had given a friend of hers my number. Could we talk about Bollywood?
Me: What you mean is Hindi commercial cinema.
Journalist: Like right-wing Hindi?
Me: No, Hindi is the language. Hindu is the religion.
Journalist: I’ve heard that. It’s like a religion, right?
Me: Can you send me an email?
There was one from Texas. He was pretty badly informed.
Texan: So I’ve been hearing about this film that’s making all these waves….
Me: You have a name for it?
Texan: Like it has a kissing scene in it?
Me: Many films have a kissing scene in them. Some of them have 17.
Texan: So I thought I’d do a story on how there’s this ban on kissing.
Me: There is no ban on kissing.
Texan: So you can kiss in public in India?
Me: I don’t know about that. I think you can. I think most people don’t. But, you can kiss on stage.
Texan: So this film, Alam Ara.
Me: Alam Ara.
Texan: Yeah, it’s got a kissing scene in it, I heard. And I thought I’d get some background before interviewing.
Once, there was a rather spectacular mix-up. My book, Helen: The Life an d Times of an H-Bomb, had come out. A friend called to warn me that her friend’s friend’s friend was going to call with some questions. This was during the time soon after the deluge had washed some of our famous Mumbai spirit into the sea. For some reason, an editor somewhere thought it would be a good time to do a Bollywood story.
Journalist: Hello, may I speak to Helen?
Me: This is Jerry speaking.
Journalist: I’m calling from Wherever, USA. I’d like to speak to Helen, who wrote a book on…(rustle of papers)…some mistake.
And she hung up before she could complete her line and create a perfect little postmodern story in which the subject of a book writes a book on the author.
My response these days:
Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you still need someone to talk, for a suitable fee.
I generally don’t hear much after that.
Jerry Pinto has co-edited Bombay, Meri Jaan: Writings on Mumbai. Write to email@example.com