(Written June 2007)

Looking backwards, I’ve been to a lot of movies in a lot of different places. I saw countless movies in grindhouses on 42nd Street; I saw Red River in a working class theater in Rome during which various factions in the audience had fistfights, presumably over Joanne Dru’s virtue; I saw Cousin Cousine in a movie theater in the 6th arrondisment which had the men’s urinal directly behind the screen; I saw Born Free at a drive-in in Dar-es-Salaam where the locals walked in with plastic chairs on their heads and where the lions in the periphery off the parking lot answered the lions on screen with all too frequent regularity.

And then I saw Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. at the Prya Theater in South Delhi.

The Priya is a chain of theaters in India comparable to General Cinema. The one in the cow-rich plaza behind our hotel was, in fact, the first and flagship Priya, famous throughout India as the first modern Indian screen. It shows two movies that each show at alternating times during the day on one screen. That screen is larger than any in Rochester and probably than any in New York except maybe the Astor Plaza and the Ziegfeld. It is the Cinemascope screen of my youth where robust lips are 20 feet long and flirting eyes are a story and a half.

The night we went, Jackie and I had to decide between Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in Words and Music, subtitled in Hindi; or, Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. about five newlywed couples on a sexy and riotous bus honeymoon from Bombay to Goa that was only in Hindi.

We chose B.

Buying tickets in India is more openly navigable than the caste system. There are five second class categories and one premier category that has its own separate window. The prices vary from $.80 to $3.00 depending on time and lcoation. Of course, not knowing the distinctions, we took no chances and selected the one premier category. We felt that we could downgrade to lower accomodations at some later date.

Each theater has an airport-quality system of metal detectors since theaters are frequently targeted by Hindi ultraconservatives (and probably other groups) for bombing. I went thorugh the men only line and Jackie went through the woman only line. We were both searched quite thoroughly by the military after walking through the detectors. I think we may have fallen into the “what in the hell are they doing at this movie” category arousing a certain understandable suspicion.

The first surpirse. The most desirable seats are in the balcony. The lower prices are all in the orchestra.

We walked upstairs and I swiped a Honeymoon Travels, Ltd. promo mobile and only after I quickly tucked it under my shirt did it occur to me that I was probably on a surveillance camera.

We entered the balcony lobby. There were two refreshment stands. We walked past the first one where there were two touts who cried out “EYCECREEM! KONFEKZHUNS!” in a sincerely desperate attempt to get us to stop. Across the way was the popcorn stand. More about that later.

The theater seemed to seat a bit under a thousand, perhaps 350 in the balcony. We were in the middle of the first week’s run. There were about 70 moviegoers in the balcony. I peered down into the orchestra and there were only a few more than that downstairs. Everyone was under 30.

The movie began. It was co-produced by India’s major bus manufacturer. Please remember that this is a film about a bus ride.

Five happy, newly minted couples begin their honeymoon on the bus. One couple is a conservative Hindi accountant in an arranged marriage to the village closet feminist; one is a Soprano-type-goon with a crying bride who is waiting to be rescued by her true love; one is a pair of well-matched ballroom dancers; one is an American of Indian descent who speaks no Hindi and his Hindi bride. Interestingly, the American speaks in English and there are no subtitles for his dialog; the final couple is a fifty-something widow and widower. Then there is the ubiquitous bus MC who calls out bingo from the back of the bus (yes, the honeymooners play bingo throughout the film).

The Indian sex comedy form seems a lot looser than its Western counterpart. For instance, when illustrating how the widower became that way, there is flashback to a scene in which he and his five-year-old daughter discover his then wife hanging from a ceiling fan. We immediately jump to the present and a rhumba contest with no one the worse for wear.

The audience roared quite out of proportion to its size. There were catcalls, whistling, cell phone ringing and a baby crying. After five minutes, the mother and baby left, but not because the audience cared. I think she went to change the baby’s diaper.

I decided I wanted to check out the popcorn stand. I left Jackie and wandered back into the premier lobby. The popcorn stand had the usual bill of fare: popcorn, Coca Cola and cheese nachos. It also had something that I really never imagined existed: sealed, microwaveable containers of shredded mixed chicken and goat. Just in case you left the house in a hurry.

The popcorn came in two sizes. I bought a small (55 ruppees, about $1.20) and a small fountain drink (40 rupees) and went back to my seat. No sooner had Jackie filled me in on the travails of the conserative Hindi bride who lost her sari during a windsurfing gig than “INTERMISSION” flashed across the screen. The film had been on for 45 minutes. It was the first intermission I experienced at a comedy since It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1962, at 192 minutes) and the first ever for a movie under 90 minutes. A twin record! Score!

We decided not to stay because we still had to pack and were leaving the next morning. On the way out, Jackie noticed I had purchased a fountain drink. As I was taking a final sip, she said, “Don’t you remember that at the health briefing they told us never, under any circumstance, to drink fountain drinks.” Two days later….