Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wanna be in a movie?

so what's the secret to becoming a southern Indian movie star?Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the most southern states in India. We're currently in Kumily, a hill station on the Kerala side of the border of these two states. Down here, they speak their own languages of either Mayalayam or Tamil (versus speaking in the national tongue of Hindi) Many people know about the movie industry in 'Bollywood' (Mumbai a.k.a. Bombay) which churns out more movies than Hollywood. But did you know about the movie industry in the south, based in the city of Chennai (a.k.a. Madras)? Down here, movies are made in the native Tamil or Mayalayam languages. You see bills posted in all the cities and towns advertising different Tamil flicks currently playing or coming to theatres. We've also seen a few films on the television (mostly while waiting for trains since they've got TV's playing on all the platforms). And it's through all these cultural observations that we've been able to figure out what it takes to be a Tamil movie star.
It seems that if you look like your neighbor or friend's dad, you're the perfect candidate for the male lead. You also must have a thick moustache and resemble a short, chubby Mexican. If this matches your profile, in the film, you will always get the pretty girl, usually food or drink will explode or be thrown in your face, you will have mad kung-fu skills and you'll usually fight a similar looking chubby Mexican dude, like all Indian movies, of course you'll have over the top dance scenes, and you'll typically have other athletic accoutrements in the plot such as winning marathons or being the king of the cricket match. All these superduper things that your friend's chubby moustached dad would never be able to attain in real life (except maybe the food exploding part) would be available to you if you fit this profile. Ron Jeremy would make a killing out here, and perhaps this is what Tamil directors look for when casting for a film.
If you don't believe me, check out all these movie posters:
Recipe for success. Moustache, look Mexican, chubby, pointing fingers, kung-fu action and wet Indian lady.
yes, in the movie, you could win the 'Gameday' trophy
perhaps you could run for office?
Moustached Mexican men always get las senoritas
"Why did you shave your moustache?!?!? I'll karate chop you for that mistake!"
you'll be so famous that you can start fashion trends such as wearing a chain of flip-flops around your neck.
you provide the moustache, we'll provide the sunglasses
the few, the proud, the Moustached Mexican Marines
this guy's old enough to be her father ........ well as this girl's dad. he's getting all the fly honeys.......
......but still, despite his moustache macho-ness, he's still so angry that.....
.....he will moustache motocross to prove his moustache manhood.....
....then he will be happy again to concentrate on wet girls half his age.
this is my favorite. Actors here breed by exploding out of other moustache dad's faces. Or this is an add for a Tamil version of 'Alien'.
and your 15 minutes of fame gets extended thanks to DVD sales.
at the bottom are all the moustached papas in the movie. Obviously, the chubbiest one always gets the lead role.
you get the girl, you arm wrestle, you strangle your neighbor, and you get to act with all your similar looking cousins.
but if you want some real international star power, check out Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

subtle differences + fish nets

bombay style
we are travelling deeper south into the diamond shaped subcontinent.
and the further south we go, the darker the people get, the more rural the place feels, the more tropical and humid the climate, the slower the pace of life, and the more hotter
and hotter
and hotter
and hotter
and hotter
and hotter it gets.
daily siestas are no longer optional, but a necessary requirement.
me genevieve and emerson getting crunk on a rickshaw listening to hindi dance pop blasting from the speakers. or we're just going crazy from the heat
southern india and northern india might as well be 2 different countries. the languages are different, people look different, regional cooking is different (seafood is big down south, and also, they even have beef on the menu, a no-no in the hindu dominated north), prevalent religions are different, and so on. but the old indian adage of everything is difficult in india, still applies to the south as it does in the north. but they do have subtle differences. for example, in the north, when you go to a train station and inquire about train times and reservations, if you ask the attendant a question, such as what time does the train leave for varanasi? they mumble something undecipherable to you. if you ask the same question (or any question) again, you verbally get your head chewed off. (i'm usually left thinking, why are you yelling? i'm not deaf, i just can't understand what you are saying?) in the background, there's usually 5 or 6 indians sitting around doing nothing. one of them might know the answer, in fact they probably all now the answer, but their poker faces (or faces of indifference) would never clue you in as to what information they're hiding.
the only known penguins in india are at the train station in gokarna
in the south, when you go to the train station and ask the same question what time does the train leave for varanasi? the 5 or 6 people doing nothing all give you a different answer. so the all important train connection that you are trying to make could be at 2:30 pm, or 6 pm, or 9 am, or 4:15 am, or 11:35 pm, etc. but one thing you can count on, is that the train won't arrive on time, so by 5 people offering 3 different answers, one of the 15 time choices has to be reasonably correct. you just have to figure out which one. so in the south, you sort of get an answer, but be careful young jedi. it's like that chinese finger puzzle that tightens around your fingers. the more you try, the harder it is to get them out. if you ask more people the same question, you'll just get 3 more diffent answers leading to exponential possibilities approaching infinity.
so you see, in the north, your questions do not get answered, whereas in the south, your questions are answered in multiple choice form, leaving you, depending on your test taking skills, a 0.0-0.9% chance of getting the answer right. on either end of the country, after asking a question, you usually end up lost.
i'm glad to say that the indian head nod is spoken fluently here in the south as it is in the north, but possibly a different head dialect. either way, i still have no idea whether the head nod means, yes, no, maybe, i don't know, or go the f* away. usually it's all of the above all at the same time.

we're in fort cochin right now, which is a quaint fishing village/tourist trap.
the chinese fishing nets of cochin
this fishing technique was introduced to cochin by the portugese when kerala was a colony. the portugese were taught this technique by the chinese. it involves dropping a large net into the water that is counter balanced by large boulders attached to ropes.
fishermen at work
yours truly doing my part to screw up an otherwise prosperous fishing day
weighing in today's catch
doesn't this guy just look super cool smoking a bidi and holding some sort of grouper in his hand. if kerala fishermen were the wu-tang clan, this guy would be method man.
couple of fishies unique to india

always a fresh catch, Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chilling in Goa

The south of India is a lot more chill than the franticness of the north. There's a big Portugese influence down here from colonial times, and you can hear it in the local accent. If India were a rave, then the south would be the chillout room.
sunsetting over Palolem
Especially here in Goa, at Palolem Beach where we have spent the last 4 days. Next, we head to Paradise Beach outside Gokarna in search of the backpacker's ultimate dream of the illusive, secluded, white-sand, tourist free beaches (thank you, Leonardo di Caprio). But here in Palolem, it's one of Goa's more laid back beaches with the right mix of tourism with natural beauty. It's your typical crescent shaped tropical paradise, with palm trees, gentle waves, bamboo huts to sleep in on the beach, and of course, backpackers. There are a few unique things to India here though, for example in this photo:
beach life in India
The women bathe in sari's, and the men of course, (who are just friends, not gay) hold hands in the water.
and it wouldn't be India without cows on the beach
Another unique thing, (and this is unique for India) is the state of health of the street dogs (more like beach dogs) here. They're like no other in India, they're actually healthy, well-fed, clean, and been spayed or neutered (most of them). If they're ears have a slightly clipped scar, that means they've been sterilized. The dogs tend to live in groups in front of their favorite restaurants/bamboo hut-guesthouses. They usually patrol a stretch of about 2 or 3 hut complexes, and if an outside dog walks by, they give him hell. We've even named a few of the dogs who hover around our bamboo huts. We named an orange colored one Saffron, in this photo is my personal favorite, Masala. We named her this since she's a mixed breed, just like masala spices. To her left is Pakora (named this because she's the smallest one), and to the far left is Ballsy.
He's named this because he hasn't been neutered and has pretty big balls.
Speaking of balls (or pelotas en español) Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Going South

30 million people use the trains in India per day. That's more people than the population of Scandinavia. Because of so many Indians on trains, I could not get a sleeper from Mt. Abu to Mumbai to meet friends. Instead I had to stop in Ahmedabad for a night (shout out to the r.p.i.-a.r.c. posse. OSC taking it back to 93) with some new friends I met in Abu.
here I am getting a bit punchy from being on the move too much.
But I did finally get into Mumbai after a couple long bus and train rides to meet up with some old friends of mine, Emerson and Genevieve, whom I met last year in Bariloche, Argentina. We're here for a couple of days, and then we're making a move for the serene beaches of South India (Goa and Karnataka) to get away from civilization.
Emerson's claim to fame is coining witty phrases while going to internet cafe's such as, I need to get my daily dose of Vitamin I, or, I just spent 3 hours with my darkmaster......
here's Emerson giving it to the security guard outside our hotel in Mumbai. The guys started mouthing off, so Emerson one-two'd him in the jaw......No, just kidding. Our security guard we think is narcoleptic, and is always asleep on the job. We think he goes to work to sleep, and then during his time off, that's when he's wide awake.
.....Genevieve, along with another lad Benton (where you at B?) were taught the backpacker religious mantra of shithead by the Australian prophet Fiona. Upon enlightenment, our initial induction into the 'way' included a 14 hour spiritual awakening till 4 am, which you can read about (here)
Mumbai is like no other city in India. There are more cars than motorbikes, there are no rickshaws, an in the 48 hours that I've been here, I've only seen one cow.
sunrise over Mumbai Harbor
The city is fairly modern and it's the only city I've seen with street signs on the corners. The old Victorian buildings remind me a bit of London, along the coast, the art deco buildings remind me of Miami, only filled with Indians instead of Cubans. It's home to Bollywood, the world's largest movie industry. It's the most expensive place to live in India, but you wouldn't be able to tell that judging from our hotel in Mumbai.
ever seen 'Saw'?
We believe it was used as the location for the bathroom scenes in the movie Saw, or at least the Bollywood equivalent complete with large song and dance scenes. When using the toilet, there's even a chinese water torture drip in the corner, making toilet use both a daily necessity and a torturous confessional tool.

Speaking of confessions, I must fess up, I'm really quite fond of Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Last Week in Rajasthan

I'm coming to the end of my trip in the northern end of India, as I start to head south to Mumbai to meet some old friends for southern India travel. My last week in Rajasthan was spent mostly in Udaipur and Mt. Abu, with a side trip to Ranakpur.
The beginning of the week started out messy. Remember the John Candy movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles? I had a similar 48 hour exhausting trip trying to get from point A (Jaisalmer) to point B (Udaipur), only this version should be titled Camels, Trains, and Busses.
bags under eyes, desperately in need of sleep, need a shower, a shave, a haircut, new clothes, basically need a reality TV show style makeover There is always a festival in India. And while trying to get to Udaipur, one of the biggest and most colorful festivals, Holi was going on. People throw pigment of bright pink, green, yellow, blue, etc. on each other (supposedly as a celebration of Shiva) and when mixed with water becomes a permanent color change on your clothes, and semi-permanent on your skin. The streets by the early afternoon were all a river of purple (which seems to be the end color product when all the dyes are mixed). It takes about 2 to 3 days to wear off your skin. No matter how hard they scrub and shower, white tourists look like they have a case of third degree sunburn for a few days, and blondes look like streaked pink haired punk rockers. These photos were taken in Jodhpur where I was stuck in limbo for 5 hours during Holi, in between an overnight train and a long night bus ride.
I would have had taken better war photos, but I feared destruction of personal property if I took my camera out. Or at a bare minimum, a new color for my black Nikon.
a cow that got Holi-ed
Udaipur feels more like a vacation on a lake in Switzerland than being in India.
Check this 5-star island hotel in the middle of the lake that I took from my $4 rooftop hotel. Looks like someone plopped a big birthday cake in the lake.
This hotel, and Udaipur in general is famous for having the James Bond movie Octopussy shot here. They show this movie in most of the restaurants every night so that you don't forget this fact. We rented paddleboats to paddle around the lake, but you are forbidden from paddling to within 50 meters of this hotel. I think Roger Moore will shoot you if you do.
Just beyond the Octopussy hotel is this 7-star hotel (curved sandstone dome things in the distance to the left). I never knew 7-star category existed. This is India's most expensive hotel and every room has a private pool. Is there even a 6-star category or did they just skip it since 7-star requirements are so outrageous.
The French Riviera…..I mean, Udaipur, India
The imposing and elegant city palace, home to the maharaja
Even has a disco room…..
....and this absurd toilet. Funny thing is, this tiny room actually smelled like someone just went.
The incredible Jain Temples of Ranakpur, some of the most exquisite and intricately carved places I've ever seen. It's made out of marble, and there are 1444 columns, no 2 alike. Feels like walking into a giant wedding cake…..only not smushy…or sweet,....or fattening…..or anything like a wedding cake….don't know where I'm going with this….just enjoy the photos.

On the way back to Udaipur from the temples, there was a bus/car accident about 15 km outside of town. The accident was handled in typical Indian fashion – a bunch of people standing around yelling at each other, getting nothing accomplished.
With traffic piling up a mile back both ways, someone finally realized that maybe we should move the bus so that at least one lane was operating. Of course the first vehicle to go through afterwards was another bus that managed to wedge itself between the hill and the broken down bus. This is another typical Indian response - just hit the gas and go, and worry about any repurcusions later. Knowing that the nearest emergency services vehicle is probably in Europe, I was guessing that this mess wouldn't be cleaned up anytime soon. So I hitched a ride back into town with a goods carrying rickshaw. The kid driving didn't hesitate, and made me sit in the front of his tiny rickshaw next to him. Of course, he spoke only 5 words of English to compliment my extensive 5 words of Hindi vocabulary. So we ended up communicating by talking about the most common denominator for the male gender, which is girls. This icebreaker was made easy because the window of his rickshaw was plastered with all these stickers of female Bollywood movie stars. He kept blowing air kisses at them, or clutching his heart while singing in Hindi. He showed me a soundtrack tape of one of the stars he was in love with, and played it on his Fisher Price stereo mono system. It's easy to sing along since every song is a never ending repeating chorus played over and over and over and over and over…… 15 minutes later……and over and over again. But it was a lot of fun bonding with my new friend even though the high pitched harmonies nearly ruptured my spleen. But I did truly appreciate the ride. Guardian angels come in weird shapes and sizes…and singing abilities. In the end, he did a very non-Indian thing, by not asking for any sort of payment for giving me a ride. For as long as I've travelled, I'm still always amazed by the kindness of strangers.
Another thing I'm amazed by is…Dónde está Ché Pelotas?