Colour Me Red

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian.  I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears.  I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Malayalam, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Nepali, Khasi, Dogri, Garo and other languages.

Cinema is an education for me.  It fills the great divide created by the British educational system, which conditioned me on colour.  Take what is called ‘virginal white’.  I associated white with weddings including the bride’s gown.  Indeed, there are still many young girls who dream of wearing a white gown on their wedding day.

I also associate red with danger.  Fire hydrants are red.  Stop signs are red.  The red light at the traffic light says I must stop.  Being in the red means I’m broke.  It was only when I started screening alternative cinema that I realised that red is the colour for celebrations in countries like China and India.

Red for happy occasions
My friend Sue Fung from Hong Kong first explained the colour red at Columbia University where I was studying journalism and she was doing a Masters Degree in Psychology.  She gave me a red envelope with one dollar, during one of the Chinese celebrations and told me that weddings and other happy events are celebrated in red.  I still have it somewhere in one of these suitcases that hold my yesterdays.

It was therefore easy for me when I screened films by Chinese filmmakers such as Zhang Yi Mu who directed Raise the Red Lantern, Red Soghurm, House of Flying Daggers and many other Chinese classics.  His later film, The Road Home starring Zhang Zhiyi, is one of my favourite movies from mainland China.  Chen Kaige had red costumes in Farewell My Concubine.

I found red again in Indian movies.  Monsoon wedding is one of the first Indian films I saw in Canada, the country that introduced me to African-American, African, French, Chinese, Japanese and Indian cinema.  Aditi (Vasundhara Das) the bride in Monsoon Wedding, looked beautiful in her red wedding finery. 

Dil ka rishta
The more Indian films I screened, the more I realised that my friend Sue from Hong Kong was right.  Red is a colour of happiness in Asia.  Dil ka Rishta, directed by Naresh Malhotra is a case in point.  Jai Mehta (Arjun Rampal) is a wealthy businessman who falls in life with Tia (Aishwarya Rai) who teaches children with hearing disabilities.  He even tries to learn sign language to communicate with her.

Tia is not in love with him.  She marries Raj (Priyanshu Chatterjee) a poor office worker who rides a motor bike that is always breaking down.  They have a lovely little boy Ranshu and live with Tia’s mother Mrs. Sharma played by Rakhee Gulzar. 

Raj dies in a car accident caused by Jai, who was drunk.  Tia survives but loses her memory.  The doctor tells her mother that Tia must avoid anything that will remind her of her past life.  To make amends, Jai Mehta takes them away from India to his house in Cape Town.  Tia falls in love with Jai Mehta despite her mother’s objections, who cannot forgive Jai for causing the accident that killed her son-in-law Raj.

One of the highlights of the film is a scene about colours.  Jai’s father (Paresh Rawal) gives Tia’s mother two boxes.  The first one has a red ensemble.  She pushes the box and it falls on the floor.  The second one has a white ensemble.  Jai’s father used the two boxes to ask her if she prefers Tia as Jai’s bride or Raj’s widow.

The disadvantage of being a visitor in another culture is that you miss a lot of answers to questions because you don’t know its colours.


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