The Art of Emotion
By Kamal Sunavala

All the clichés about emotion were written on the walls yesterday. At the opening party of the Bollywood Film Festival in Prague, beginning with a party at Lucerna, I was struggling not to be carried away by it. I have never seen so many Czech people in Indian clothes, bright colours and unusual footwear and bags. It was heartwarming to see some of them chattering away about the movies being shown, with more authority than people from India. The Indian ambassador, gracious as usual; Senator Edvard Outrata, gregarious and funny as usual; the movers and shakers of the Indian community in Prague, smiling as usual and the foreigners- if one could call them that in their own country- wide-eyed, as is usual, in a room dominated by a garrulous, effusive Indian community.

A surprise guest at the party was Astad Deboo, an Indian, who is one of the few, truly innovative modern dancers in the world. Astad was there to be part of the festival and to explore the possibility of performing in Prague next year. Prague would enjoy his performances, being the kind of city that has openly embraced talent from many parts of the world, if not always its people. A few Czech friends who attended the festival yesterday came up to me in the middle of ten different conversations and expressed their desire to learn Hindi. As did my Albanian friend who sticks me in a chair once a week and demands at least twenty-five colloquial phrases in Hindi, per nanosecond. I was not only impressed with their understanding of the movies but also their desire to learn a language which had absolutely nothing in common with their own, except for the word čaj which in Hindi is chai and pronounced the same way and consumed with the same unfailing, obsessive enthusiasm.

The most interesting part of the evening, which underlined the fact that the Czech Republic has more than hope; it has laughter, it has enthusiasm and it has appreciation- a fact easy to forget, given the current political situation- was when the movie started. There were eighty percent Czechs in the screening hall and twenty percent Indians. The whoops of laughter, hysterical screaming, raucous reactions to the songs, sounds of faux swooning as the hero gazed into the heroine’s eyes, came not from the Indians, but from the Czechs. I was shocked. I kept turning around to see if it was an Indian laugh or a Czech laugh. And there is a difference. An Indian laugh is usually accompanied by a slang comment in Hindi. The kind of Czech laugh I heard yesterday was the sound of pure joy. When the movie ended, some of us were asking what they were so hysterical about and the answers ranged from, oh it was so funny to oh it was so colourful to oh he’s so cute to oh that was unbelievable. High emotion. I have been to many movies in this city. I have never heard or seen that kind of reaction from Czechs or foreigners after exiting a cinema hall.

I almost felt, that for three hours (yup, that long) I was transported to not a suave, sophisticated multiplex in Bombay, but to a small village cinema in India, where emotions were more easily expressed, backs were thumped, food that smelled foul was passed all around, hurried discussions were had about hairstyles and religious festivals during the movie and all your cares and worries were shelved for a while. The Czechs who had actually been to India were nodding enthusiastically at times to confirm what they had seen or what they were hearing. The Czechs who haven’t been yet actually asked me how much a ticket to India would cost them over the Christmas holidays.

When I came home last night, I was thinking about the gamut of emotions that had run through me, before, during and after the film. No wonder people in India get tired by the time it’s five pm. But what was truly heartwarming and extremely touching was to see the brief suspension of all prejudice, to see the embracing of all differences, to hear the expression of all emotions and most of all, to see in real time, the discovery of understanding.