One more afternoon exploring cultures left us impressed with its organisation, variety and vigour; it also reminded us of Slumdog Millionaire, and it did well -because every other time you read a book or watch a film, different aspects of it talk to you, lull and mesmerise you. Every other time it's like the first time, and that took me a long time to learn; being a kid who wanted to attain all the wisdom of the world gave me an appetite for the new, always the new, and hindered me from appreciating the glare of the old gold.
RIFF is a cultural organisation that stands for Rocking Integration on Futuristic Festival; yesterday the main faces of the organisation Anne-Laure and Irma presented the second cultural workshop of 2012, Colours of India. We tried original Indian recipes cooked especially for us, among others Spinach with Tofu and Curry and Samolina Halwa, a dessert with coconut and raisins which I'm still enjoying right now (ate it for breakfast and just couldn't stop). We learnt, surprisingly enough, that a big number of Indians are vegetarians and it's sometimes hard to find meat dishes in restaurants in the small villages in India -unlike the westernised versions of Indian restaurants. We also had the chance to enjoy some theatre improvisations by the group Pole Impro Luxembourg -how can they do something so funny and witty on the spur of the moment? How can imagination and training replace preparation? A cool concept, worth trying indeed. Only with the use of words relating to India like tea and elephant and a couple of orange shawls, two people were able to do miracles on stage.
But, the bottom line in the workshops is the cinematic experience. Last time we watched a Bosnian film and this time we didn't go for Bollywood, I don't really know why. Maybe because it is a product that aims at local audiences and it tends to lose its appeal when out of the context. We went for Slumdog Millionaire (1998) instead. And, yes, this is a film by English filmmaker Danny Boyle who has little to do with India other than that, but it is a big hit worldwide and it potentially put India in the map for many a simple movie-goers who were, until then, on a mere diet of romantic comedies and american blockbusters. What's more, it is an adaptation from the book Q & A (2005), written by an Indian author and diplomat, so at least there is a guarantee for realism within the narration.
As you all may know, this is the film that unveiled the beautiful Freida Pinto, who went on to team up with Woody Allen in his film You will Meet a Dark Tall Stranger, which I seriously disliked. But film trivia is not my point here. The film may be a colourful revelation of a new culture and a harsh story of an unfortunate childhood and dreams of eternal love coming true, but this is not all. When it was first released, I was curious enough to see what was the Trainspotting guy up to and it felt bizzare to see him shifting with such ease from one subject matter to the other; this romantic drama with happy ending seemed, originally, a bit of catchy folklore, no matter how much I liked it.
This time, I was a different person. The film hadn't changed of course, nor in its structure, neither in its appeal, but a brave new world opened up to me. It was not the Indian dancing in the credit titles or the romance that counted any more; it was the wish to believe in something. The urge to have a hero, the need to relate to a person just like you who went a step further. He's one of us, you can't help thinking, he's one of us, so one day I can probably be like him. I can make it. There's still hope. It's a mirror neurons case here; you feel his agony, you feel his burning desire to win and these feelings are all yours. As an empathetic creature, man can feel another man's feelings, at least when we see himm -but cannot that be applied to faraway stimuli, through the glass and the screen and the pages of a book? I'd say yes, why not.
Homo Empathicus complements the identification theory, thus the Indian people could relate with the 18-year old orphan from the slums who fights for his chance to win 20 million rupees in the TV show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". The whole nation gives him their blessing; they love the kid because he's one of them, knows misery and poverty only too well and he is entitled to break even. A whole (TV) nation will rejoice if he wins, he has to win, if not for the sake of it, at least to make them happy. To share with them a portion of his own joy in the prospect of a new life is maybe more important than sharing with them a portion of his daily bread.
*A big thanks to the RIFF team once more, they always give me food for thought, apart from traditional delicacies.