Genre is no bar for the hole-in-the-wall DVD stores in Gandhinagar
Some years ago, I tagged along with a friend looking to buy a lens for his camera. It was just as well for me, as I stumbled upon a treasure of world cinema on that trip.
National Market, Burma Bazaar and Hong Kong Plaza in Gandhinagar are well known as the place to buy electronic gadgets ranging from professional cameras and home theatre systems to radios and iPods. My friend and I walked through the aisles of National Market, lined with 5x5 ft stalls selling odd combinations of products such as phones and cameras with clothes and shoes. Among these were stores selling DVDs.
Masters in a box
As an ardent lover of film, I began to browse through the stacks of DVDs a storeowner who detected a potential customer put before me. The masters, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Fellini and Luis Buñuel from yesteryears, to the more contemporary Iranian filmmakers, suddenly became accessible. Watching world cinema at home was a luxury no more.
I had only watched their movies by attending film society screenings and international film festivals. They always left one wanting more.
For example, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North remained unreachable, as they were non-fiction and did not fall under the category of classic world cinema that film festivals usually showcased. Such documentaries,
I found to my delight, were available abundantly in the tiny holes in the walls in Gandhinagar, alongside popular Hollywood and Hindi films, cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, animated films and television soaps and sitcoms such as Friendsand Sex and the City.
In an innocuous carton, they were classified neatly into genres — world cinema classics, non-fiction documentaries, contemporary world cinema, and so on.
Friend and mentor
After a few visits to one such shop, a new friendship began. The shopkeeper and I began to have long conversations about films. Mostly the classics by Akira Kurosawa and Abbas Kiarostami. He introduced me to some new directors such as Andrey Zvyagintsev, who directed The Return, and Lukas Moodysson who directed Together.
This took me back to Alfredo, a character from the film Cinema Paradiso — the projectionist who instigated a keen interest in films in young Toto who went on to become a famous film director.
I wonder how many young film enthusiasts bought films from this market, how many directors from world cinema this man introduced to youngsters who dream of becoming filmmakers.
What surprised me was how this pirated-film market survived next to the heart of the Kannada film industry in Gandhinagar, without conflict.
Come to think of it, there were no pirated Kannada films or serials in any of the shops there. Was it that the section of society on which these shops thrived and that which filled theatres to make a Kannada film a success, was not the same?
With an endless array of maybes, these neighbours have juxtaposed each other over the years. Although every one of these little shops had multiple cases filed against them from the occasional raids by the police, they continue to be backed by a sizeable number of customers.
Sales, however, began to nosedive as people became more familiar with torrents and as ‘unlimited download’ Internet packages increased. This and the crackdown on piracy has forced some out of business.
The stacked DVDs are now replaced by phones, spy-cams, electronic appliances, perfumes and deodorants, point and shoot cameras, and professional camera accessories, which come through Chennai, from Singapore, Thailand and China, like in the days before DVDs.
All that remains of those pirated DVDs is the nostalgia of the conversations I had while rummaging through the piles of films.
The author is a multi-lingual filmmaker and wildlife photographer