Last night saw the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. It also saw me swooning around like a child, aiming desperately to catch a show on opening night. As I left my office on Friday evening, I knew I was chancing it trying to get tickets. Like many audiences around the world, we’ve all seen Harry and his chums grow up facing the forces of darkness over the years - and I wanted to be the first to know what happened next. I took the gamble and attempted a late night show.
My local multiplex has seen quite a cultural revolution lately. Like most cinemas in NRI hotspots – there’s been a greater emphasis crowd-pulling ‘blockbusters’ and therefore a rise in pulp Bollywood. So you can imagine my regular frustration when my preferred film is usually dropped for the likes of Golmaal 3. Last night, however, was quite a different story. Harry Potter, always a crowd-puller had many showings; though what was great - was not that it just attracted middleclass school-children, but also a cosmopolitan global audience. Last night’s showing was a rich blend of NRI locals – diverse in age and sex.
For me, the movie’s international appeal is a theme that I wanted to explore further. So, what aspects of Harry Potter have been so inspirational to NRI viewers? The last seven years of magic at Hogwarts have seen me explore the genre of magic and fantasy in literature with a lot more depth. For others, it may have been any of the following:
Storytelling, literature and narrative:
Indian culture is rich in storytelling, whether it’s the Rita Skeeter like tittle-tattle of gossip – or the profound epic creations of ancient times. J.K. Rowling’s books have seen success in many parts of India – so much so that many readers have adopted Harry as their very own Hari Putthar.If you liked Vikram Betal – you’ll be sure to enjoy The Tales of Beadle the Bard, and in particular the haunting Tale of the Three Brothers – which reminded me a lot of the stories that my mother used to tell me. This is of particular significance in The Deathly Hallows.
A good majority of Indian people attend boarding schools in India. Though this reflects the burgeoning society – it also tells us a lot about the students who go onto emigrate to NRI outposts and the values and traditions they take with them. There are many well reputed boarding schools in India – and though they may be a distant cry from Hogwarts, it’s fair to say that those having experienced them find they can identify with Harry and his school-based troubles. A cousin of mine who attended Dalhousie near Himalaya may otherwise overlook fantasy films, but for him, Harry Potter is always a treat.
For me, Rowling does enchant the notion of boarding school, though with Harry’s challenges, we learn to take everything with a pinch of salt. Where there is the cheer of Gryffindor – there is the sombreness of Slytherin.
Magic and Mysticism:
Above the appeal of boarding school, magic and mysticism is Harry Potter’s greatest draw for me. On the surface, a lot of Rowling’s magic appears to be the work of fiction, but watch the films carefully and you’ll notice that a lot of the classes that students join, take their inspiration from ancient practices.
I was first taken by references to runes, tarot and astrology. These ideas are themselves part of global mysticism. However, Divinity, tea-reading and dream-reading are perhaps more routed in eastern tradition than Rowling’s Latin incantations. Naturally Sybil Trelawney has turned into a bit of a personal icon for such reasons.
A very interesting character – not particularly highlighted in the films is Nagini, perhaps as she’s mainly a CGI creation working primarily under Voldermort’s influence. The control of snakes, the ability to morph into one and speak with one plays an important part in The Deathly Hallows, though I wonder what Sri-Devi would have to say about this.
Them and us:
As much as I’d hate to relay any connection to prejudice and Indian culture – I find the distinct markers of difference in people a dominant global theme, even today. Though this can be interpreted in many ways – it’s clear that ability, money and power form the greatest barriers. Rowling puts emphasis on pure-bloods and mud-bloods – thematically and cinematically this is comparable to the victimisation of Jews in Nazi Germany. Admittedly this style of political cleansing is very distant to what’s happening in Indian society – but we’re still seeing ill treatment of those different to us.
One analogy may be to consider the families in Harry Potter – of which there are two key examples. The Malfoys – who represent everything that is wrong with the Indian middle class (ill treatment of serfs and the desire to obtain power through malevolent force) and The Weasleys – who represent all the family virtues that are valued in Indian families (thrift, care and attention).
Ultimately, every audience member will have found something different to enjoy about these films. For me, it’s the saga-like quality they capture. The Deathly Hallows is distinctly different from the previous films – sadder and smarter – but it still presents a lot of the international appeal that former films set a precedent for. The film is set to beat Guzaarish by NRI audiences themselves, though we shall see what magic ensues.