& occasionally about other things, too...

The Sultan experience in Toronto

Sunday, Mahrukh and I went to the Cineplex at Yonge and Dundas in Toronto to see Salman Khan’s Sultan. The movie was released a week ago, but we decided to skip the first week because we had to wait in an unbelievably long queue for Bajrangi Bhaijan on the first Sunday after the release. And yet, more than a week later, the hall was full; probably 500 full-throated Bhai fans were waiting impatiently. They went wild when he came on screen, and wouldn’t stop cheering.
Let me give some perspective.

In Toronto, those who love Hindi movies prefer to see it at home on their DVD players. Pirated Hindi movies DVDs are a norm in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which has the largest concentration of Indo-Canadians. You get these DVDs within a few days of the movie’s release. And just for a dollar. The quality, of course, is not always good. But it's a way cheaper option compared to spending anywhere between $50-$100 buying movie tickets.

Though this has begun to change. In the last two to three years, I have begun to notice that more Indo-Canadians prefer to go to the cinema halls to see movies. This is true of the three Khans, and of course Akshay Kumar.

Akshay is as big as the Khans in Canada, and in some pockets of Brampton, even bigger.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Hindi movies were released only in a rundown cinema hall called Albion in Etobicoke (northwest Toronto). The faithful still flock this cinema hall because it runs Hindi films as they should be – with an interval for samosas and Coke, and a visit to the men's room.

Generally, across North America (and I’d imagine everywhere except in India), movies run without interval. In eight years that I’ve been in Canada, I still haven’t mentally adjusted to no break when the screen tells me that it’s interval.

The audience for Hindi movies at the Cineplex at Yonge and Dundas (which has 24 screens) comprises an eclectic mix of mostly Indians and other South Asians such as Pakistanis, Afghanis. Indians predominantly comprise Punjabis and Gujaratis, but there is a large sprinkling of other Indians too, especially from the younger demographic.

There is a fair number of Indian North Easterners. Initially, it baffled me to see so many Asians inside the hall, and it took me a while before I realized that these were Indians from the North East. I’d erroneously thought that they were Asians.

*I remain forever and deeply ashamed of this error.*

And there’s always a sprinkling of Caucasians, and Asians (in North America, anyone who is from China, Korea, Japan is termed an Asian), and sometimes even a stray couple from somewhere in the Middle East.

Often one encounters an odd Black person and Caribbeans of Indian-origin. For the non-Indian audiences, as well as for the second and third generation Indo-Canadians, the English subtitles help, especially in a film like Sultan that uses heavy Haryanvi dialect.

After the initial frenzy that greeted Bhai’s arrival on screen had died down, the audience settled quickly to enjoy the film. There was ceaseless whistling and clapping throughout at Bhai’s dialogue baazi and antics. Loud guffaws and clapping greeted Sultan’s advice to his would be coach and father-in-law not to crack jokes about Shahrukh Khan.

The loudest cheers flooded the hall when Sultan and Arafa greet the man on the street in Hungary (where they are competing in a wrestling tourney) carrying a placard of an Indian restaurant. It was a moment that touched every non-resident Indian’s heart because without saying a word, in that all-too-brief scene, Sultan evocatively portrayed the angst that all Indians living in the West experience at the dearth of decent Indian restaurants in their neighbourhood. Nearly all who clapped and cheered definitely felt a lump in their throat and shed a silent tear in acknowledgment.

After Delhi 6, Dilli (and especially Purani Dilli), has replaced Bombay as the Urbs Prima in Indis in reality and especially in Hindi movies. The largely Punjabi audience, of course, loves it and can’t seem to have enough of Dilli.

The freestyle wrestling sequences were an impetus for the fans to lose control all over again for a prolonged period. The loudest cheers filled the hall when Sultan beat the black wrestler.

I felt the film was needlessly stretched, and I’d still rate Bajrangi Bhaijan as the best Salman Khan film to date.

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