Monday, February 20, 2006

Around the neighborhood: Cigar Bollywood

It's been a while since I spoke about the neighborhood so allow me to comment on a trend that seems to have come and gone quickly. Jackson Heights is home to one of the most diverse communities in the world and that is one of the big reasons why I love living here. One of the largest is the Indian community which is why the neighborhood is sometimes called "Little India." So if you walk down 74th Street off Roosevelt Avenue you will probably see some of the best Indian food restaurants in the city, glittering jewelry shops, Indian-owned and Indian-staffed supermarkets and, of course, a dozen Indian movie DVD and VHS shops carrying the latest Bollywood blockbusters. Then there's The Eagle movie palace on 37th Road which runs the biggest blockbusters from India, often on the same day that the film opens there (never mind that when I first got to Jackson Heights in the 1990's, the theatre used to be called The Earle and used to run straight porn films).

Anyhoo - Not a cigarette smoker myself but someone who enjoys a cigar once in a while, I have always been struck by what seems to be Indian smoker's allegiance to Dunhill cigarettes or Silk Cuts. Sure, they smell better than any menthol cigarettes such as Newport (which unfortunately seems to be the smoke of choice among city Latinos and blacks) but don't they carry some colonial British baggage? Also, tell all those 'NASCAR dad' political prognosticators that here is where the Skoal and Coppenhahgen dip tobacco cans truly sell out.

In any case, last year I started noticing that some of the Bollywood film posters began to feature some cigar imagery used to portray either a rugged hero or a bad guy, as cigars have been used in popular culture in the United States. And I was fascinated by the fact that these movies seemed to be adopting some of the same language used by US blockbusters (not necessarily a good thing).

One of these films, "Family: Ties of Blood," used such imagery in a "Sopranos" kinda way but aparently drew the wrath of anti-smoking advocates in India according to this BBC report. Now, one of India's best known and loved actors, Amitabh Bachchan (known as Mr. B), is embroiled in the fracas and India is involved in a discussion on whether to ban any depiction of smoking from film screens. Mr. B has apologized for smoking a cigar during the promo shoots of the movie and said that he was not a smoker himself. Others feel that eliminating any depiction of smoking in a film is mere censorship.

The movie, since released, did not get great reviews, but the uproar that followed its release in India might mean the end of the cigar trend in Bollywood..

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Every time I go to NY I visit Jackson Heights, so I totally relate to this post, and I even remember the theathre you mention. Indian culture in Dallas is so different from the one in NY, over there it really feels like India while over here it's so ( looking for word...) synthetic? How many Bollywood movies do you see? I am going looking forward to Rang-de Basanti.