Not for tourists

The things poor A.A. Gill has to do as contributing editor of Vanity Fair. Recently, he had to take a trip on the Sex and the City Tour bus and here are snippets of what he thought of the guided tour around Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte’s New York City.

“The tour is a rambling, exhausting, discursive, self-reverential troll through downtown,

Sex and the City, starring A.A. Gill
Sex and the City, starring A.A. Gill

and it’s rather like being trapped on a large white bus with a lot of women talking about Sex and the City. So it goes: “You remember the episode where Carrie spills the cappuccino because she’s looking after the dog and has lost the manuscript with a description of oral sex with the Russian and then oh my God she bumps into Big who she hasn’t seen since that time with the martini olives and the hemorrhoids? Well, if you look to the right, that’s the café, and it’s like oh my God bad hair dog blow job cappuccino hell. You remember that of course.” Of course they remember that. It’s like asking Taliban summer-school students if they remember the bit where Muhammad smote the gay Jews. “And if you want brunch or something, I can recommend it.”

“… We’ve pulled up next to a sex shop. Apparently, we all remember that someone once bought a Rabbit vibrator here. We get off the bus and file into the shop, which is odd. Sex shops are generally solitary, furtive, and male. The Rabbits are piled high. That is the nature of rabbits. There’s a buzz of anticipation. They were expecting us with a discount, and a couple of women get out their credit cards. I suppose a vibrator might be an impulse buy, and buying yourself one in front of 50 strangers with whom you then have to share a bus journey might be considered the height of liberated insouciance. But buying a sex aid because some actress has faked an orgasm on TV with it is evidence that there’s more wrong with your social life than can be fixed by a dildo. We get back on the bus. …

“These women on the bus are missing the point. The storyville they’re looking for doesn’t exist and never did, and trying to search for the literal in literature inevitably kills the object of affection, murders the fiction stone-dead.”

This is delightful. Not only because I love Gill being traumatised (it results in wonderful reading material) but because, in some ways, it makes me value Bollywood. Aside from a Shantaram tour of Colaba (which Madonna got from Greg Roberts during her trip to India earlier this year and it is one of the greater tragedies of the noughties that A.A. Gill or Anthony Lane weren’t part of that junket), there isn’t a single cinematic/tele ode to Mumbai that I can imagine being turned into a city tour. Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” might change that in the near future but right now, when I try to think of a movie or television series that has served up any sort of city portrait, I’m at a loss. It’s not that stories haven’t been set in Mumbai but the metropolis has invariably shown up as a collection of snapshots that are either picture postcards or ethnographic evidence of Third World economic divide.

Not so for the national capital of Delhi, though. It gets a bad rep for being populated by barbarians and male specimens that are walking vials of concentrated testosterone. The autorickshaw drivers exist only to fleece people and frequently, pedestrian equals roadkill. Despite all this, not only is it possible to do a “Monsoon Wedding” tour of Delhi, old and new, but it would probably be a whole lot more fun than getting cupcakes and Rabbits. You might even fall in love with those dirty, winding streets of old Delhi that Vijay Raaz stares out at when he needs to escape his mum’s griping.

Even better and politically correct to even the most nitpicking postcolonial theorist is the Delhi of “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” by Dibaker Bannerjee. This is New Delhi as every Delhiite knows it – harsh, dusty, violent, angry and full of josh. The film is a portrait of a smooth-talking thief, Lucky (originally Lakhwinder), who begins as an illiterate, awkward teenager who buys greeting cards to impress a girl even though he has no idea what they say and ends up giving his perfectly healthy love interest a card saying “Get Well Soon”. He grows up to be Superchor (chor means thief in Hindi). Nothing really happens in “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” Within the first fifteen minutes, you have a pretty good idea of how the movie is going to end but this is irrelevant. “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!” isn’t about resolutions or happy endings. It’s a trip through the heart of what makes Delhi abhorrent and charming.

When Lucky steals, he’s compulsive – from the family pet to the flat screen tv, he takes it all but he sleeps in a car. He finds his way out of tight spots with a sweet, dimpled grin and a confident swagger that makes you want to do little celebratory jig every time he has a successful job. It could have been a mopey, sad tale because the joys in Lucky’s life are few and far between – he gets beaten up, cheated, abandoned; the works. But Bannerjee choses to tell the tale with the never-say-die gusto and brashness that is quintessentially Delhi. He leapfrogs over the flat roofs of solid, middle-class Punjabi neighbourhoods like Patel Nagar to the security-guarded bungalows of posh neighbourhoods like Gulmohar Park. Bannerjee tells the story so that you live Lucky’s life with him and you’re so focussed on the high of living that you don’t notice just how bleak this life is. I’m not sure whether this is a film that survives translation – every line and every joke is coated with the dust of Delhi – but perhaps it’s the uncompromising Delhi-ness of it that would make it as much fun for someone who doesn’t know how perfectly Bannerjee has captured the sullen Punjabi accent of the young Lucky and the moneyed gloss of the adult Lucky that south Delhi’s middle class so adores. If not anything else, there’s the thoroughly infectious bhangra soundtrack that takes you cruising down Delhi’s bylanes and wide avenues in a Maruti car, yelling “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!”

5 thoughts on “Not for tourists”

  1. I think it’s true, Mumbai has never really been an actor in a movie, it’s usually shown as a backdrop and only in snapshots but i think what ever place you’ve been too and liked you never see it the same way on screen.
    I can tell you i love seeing Marine drive, the CST station, the Gateway of India and what i love most is when i get a glimpse of carter road and one of the cafe coffe day there, or bits of Powai and you know why…just because you’ve shown them to me, they’re not only images of a nice part of town, but they’re related to you… So now i’ll have to watch “Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye”, just to see if i see bits of Delhi you’ve show me ;-)

  2. Hobbs, you’re going to have to come back for this tour of Delhi. It’s one that my mum could do much better than me – she spent childhood years in these areas, had Sikh neighbours who would open out their hair sprawl out on their terraces on wintry Sunday mornings; my uncle had everyone in their neighbourhood shrieking because he would jump from their roof to their neighbour’s to avoid my grandmother’s ire… =D Like I said, another trip to Delhi is needed. ;-)

  3. Thank you for another wonderful piece to the amazing puzzle that is India. Now I also really want to see Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye”. I’ve a feeling that might not be so easy.
    Also, now I must check out Mr. Gill, I love what I’ve read so far.

  4. Jude, Gill is fantastic. If you can get his book, “A.A.Gill is Away”, pounce on it. As for “Oye Lucky…”, if the dvd has subtitles, I’ll send it to you once it releases. Hobbs, will do that for you too, if you want.

  5. “there’s more wrong with your social life than can be fixed by a dildo”
    :-D

    okay, i have to look into Mr. Gill, too …

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