Vienna Calling

As I walked the lawns of the Hofburg, the dazzling palace of the Hapsburg emperors, my eyes were drawn to a group of hippie types smoking, quite openly, a few exquisitely colored and shaped Bongs. Being a Bong myself (and a great one at that), I naturally stopped to admire.

A little context. Our conference was being held in Baden (not to be confused with Baden Baden…that’s in Germany), the pleasure retreat of a few of the dudes who habitated the Hofburg and one afternoon, I sneaked away after the bluster and verbiage to do some site-seeing in Vienna or as the locals call it Wien.

Not having a guide book and also not having much time, I just wandered around the Opera House and the lawns on the Hofburg, marveling at its grandeur and its manicured lawns (where the Bong smoking was going on). Only later did I realize that for a long time what I had been enraptured by was only the backside of the palace——feeling quite like a fool I then wended my way to the front side. Boy oh boy –all I can say is that Hofburg is no JLo— the front is much more magnificent than the back.

Coming back to the Bong thing, I then perceived two magnificent Gothic looking ladies locked in a passionate tongue kiss amidst the pastoral surroundings and in a dreamy, translucent state of foggy remembrance, my mind went back to the days of the powerful and decadent Hapsburg emperors who must have used these very lawns to engage in bacchanalian orgies to the ethereal tunes of some of the world’s greatest composers. These two exquisite ladies in the throes of passion (reminiscent of the Ecstacty of St Theresa) was to me a time warp harking me back to the days of yore…………


Brought back to reality by the mundane familiar ugliness of the word, I saw two burly desis shouting at each other in a very unMozart-like cadence——obviously two employees of a Indian restaurant very near the garden gates. Very close by was another Sher-e-Punjab and as I cast my eyes around I saw that the palace of the Hapsburgs and its classical Western European aura of orgiastic yet refined extravagance has been worn away by the depredations wrought by two of the world’s greatest cultural vienna2imperialists—India and America.

Starbucks and McDonalds rub shoulders with the India Mahal and Taste of India and as I glanced at the menu of one of these Indian places, I heard not the strains of Brahms or Strauss but an instrumental version of “Taal Se Taal” .

No such relief on the telly though. The top song on the TV stations of the nerve center of classical Western musical tradition was “Don’t cha wish your girl friend was a freak like me…Don’t cha?” by the imaginatively-titled “Pussycat Dolls” (with Busta Rhymes). But my biggest surprise was seeing the prevalence of India on European TV—–a pleasant change from what we get in the US.

While watching “Jalsaghar” and “Teen Kanya” was a surprising bonus, what really cracked me up was watching “Kuch Kuch Hota Hain” dubbed in German. “Rahul ist ein Ubenbrucker” coming from Kajol was simply ethereal. Only pity was that they kept the songs non-dubbed and subtitled—-what would I pay to hear a German singer start out with that nasal Sanuesque “He he he …..he he he” before “Ladki Bari Anjani Hain”.

I looked into my TV guide supplied by the hotel which was in both German and English. KKHH was described as ” After losing his first wife, a man realizes that his best friend in college was the one whom he ever truly loved. A heart-warming story of …………..”. On reading this, I realized , for the first time, what a masterpiece KKHH was…….I always thought of it as a saccharine monstrosity anchored by a over-precocious girl who deserved two tight slaps. But since the uber-refined Austrians consider it a gem, who am I to argue ?

Next week would be Mohabbatein–“an eternal love story” (according to the TV guide) [eternal it is…..with 5 love stories going on in parallel it does give us a glimpse into “eternity”] featuring one of the world’s most popular actors—-Shahrukh Khan. In another TV spot on “Main Hoon Na” I could make out from the German that he was being compared to Tom Cruise, Cary Grant and a few other luminaries. Of course if David Hasselhof could be God here, then why not Shahrukh?

During another conference-sponsored trip to Europe in 2003, I had marveled at how intrinsicly desi Switzerland had become—signs in Hindi, Indian honeymooners posing for Patel shots ad nauseum, a desi restaurant with giant cut outs of Sunny Deol at Jungfraujoch, a special Bollywood tourist route (for Bollyphiles who want to look at exact locations where scenes from DDLJ and Chandni were shot) and an Indian couple fighting with an exasperated proprietor who was trying to explain, in vain, that in a buffet two people cannot eat from one plate.

And now Austria. The day is not far off when the Opera House in downtown Vienna shall resonate with the cultural sledgehammer otherwise known as “Bollywood night” and European open air cafes shall start serving samosas and jalebis.

That will also be the day Amadeus Mozart, in his nameless casket, shall wring his hands in quiet desperation and start “de-composing”.

[Some pictures]

18 thoughts on “Vienna Calling

  1. So I guess that you have the real experience (first hand) of scrutinizing JLo –otherwise how could you have come up with that comparison while in Hofburg?

    Extremely funny post.

    But I have a question. Is there a vast Indian population in Austria for whom the Austrian channels show the Bollywood movies? Or are they meant for Austrian population – is there a solid demand for Bollywood movies by Austrian? What bothers me is that although there is a solid demand for Hollywood movies over here in India, we only get to see the backdated reruns in Star movies, AXN etc. If a small country like Austria can adhere to the market economics of demand and supply, why can’t our country do the same? Of course, I know the answer – it is that we don’t have any option – what ever is dished out to us, we gulp and never complain.

    Anyway, good to know that we Indians are influencing other countries (by foods, movies) besides taking their jobs away thru outsourcing.

  2. Is it bang’O’li for that familiar ugly word? — Motherch**.
    Here guys pronounce it as ‘aa’. Or is it the amalgamation having English substitute? Well I am not sure!

    As far as I remember there were 4 love stories in Mohabbatein— again I am not sure, I slept in second half.

    And yeah , please add two tight slaps of me too for that irritating – Papa, main apki beti hoon ; biwi nahi- girl.

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  4. shahrukh and ‘mainstream bollywood’ is nauseatingly popular in austria, germany, and believe you me, parts of poland. this project i was a part of involved extensive interaction with all sorts of people from, chiefly, germany, australia and switzerland, and they adore flicks like “sometime happy sometime sad”. got it? ewww…

    of course, there were others who claimed that the ‘simplicity and lack of cynicism in your films, and those funny costumes’ was the key. go figure.

  5. @yourfan: I wish I had had first hand experiences of what you suggested…but alas I can only go by third person accounts.

    As to your other question, these movies are targetted towards native Austrians (hence the dubbing in German)…as a matter of fact, in my short trip to Vienna I saw no Indians on the road ! So it is not that there is a large Indian diaspora there, it is just that native Europeans suddenly have woken upto the pleasures of juveline romances and running around trees.

    As to the reason why AXN and Star Movies show old reruns it is simply a matter of economics. Over in US HBO is $12 a month which is spent to pay license fees to the studios to show their new movies—this comes to over 500 Rs in India…are Indian customers willing to pay 500 extra in terms of cable bills to see new releases? (when the local VCD wallah can get you the same movies at much lower cost)

    @Ritzy: An english substitute so that people by just seeing the “mother” will understand what the swear word is all about…

    Mohabbatein had 5 love stories—3 in the school, one between Raj Aryan and his dead gf and another between Anupam Kher and Archana Puram Singh.

    @Rimi: Well the lack of cynicism may be a point—it very well might be that Europeans are now sick of all the kinky sex stuff and yearn for pure, ethereal, red-hot “luwe”……

  6. There was this drunk who used to stand beneath our classroom in school and shout out various bangla gaali,our sociology teacher turned that into a lesson.
    You are like her.You see the scope for socoilogical analysis in everything.
    But isok,I will not envy you anymore,I’ve always wanted to go to Innsbruck and Salzburg,not Vienna.

  7. Oh,HBO does show new movies.Like they showed Lost In Translation & Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.That’s decent,considering they were’nt even released in Kolkata(gram kothakarer).

  8. @Prerona 🙂

    @Srin: Well there you go….no more envy. Lost In Translation and Eternal Sunshine are small budget movies that would not really command high licensing fees to show….

  9. A very good post, this one. I had no idea india and bollywood are so popular in europe!

  10. Nice post. Left a comment on ganguly post too, porish plz.;)

  11. @Aparna and Priya…thanks

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  13. Salutations o Great
    Dude, I’m gonna say that again…you truly are a kindred spirit. Every time I see that (insert fav vituperative stuff) of a movie called ‘KKHH’, I feel like slapping that kid so bad, it’s scary. And the part about Kumar Sanu’s nasal ‘he he he he…’ stuff…just thinking of the poor German dubbing artiste who would have to factor that in makes me double up.

    You have a very unique writing style. Great stuff.

  14. What about those indie movie makers from India? Cannes beware 🙂 India Guide

  15. Oh… an amazingly funny post. Something similar happened to me when I saw Mumbai VT station for the first time. I was bowled over by the architecture on the side where I came out of the station, and even clicked a few photos. It was only when I reached the main road did I realize that I had been admiring the backside of the magnificent building and it was much more beautiful from the front. 🙂

  16. it is a very very good property of india.
    india hed avery good artiest,i love india.
    i proud to be indian.

  17. Superb post ……. read it for the first time today …. very observant and very humorous ……. the term “cultural sledgemhammer” is very apt for bollywood (even in the context of India).

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