July 18, 2008, [MD]
Yesterday while looking through the very small adult section in the community library where I am volunteering in Varanasi, I came across a guidebook about Toronto (Toronto: The Unknown City). Although the title is a bit misleading, since it’s more of a conventional guidebook than anything very “unknown” (at least by residents), I still enjoyed reading about and seeing pictures of a city that I spent so much time in. This time, I left it on the 24th of May, and will be back in early September for probably at least two more years.
In the evening, I went to the local mall (not very fancy, and characterized by older women standing in front of automatic escalators trying to summon up courage to step on) to watch a movie. I did not know anything about the movie I had chosen, Kismat Konnection, but was tipped off during the opening credits, where several institutions in Toronto and Ontario were thanked. Was part of this movie taking part in Toronto? I was already excited.
I didn’t have to wait long, Shahrukh Khan’s voice-over in the beginning of the movie began “I live in Toronto, in 427 Adelaide Street” (not sure about the number). Imagine my delight - the movie was not only set in Toronto, it was unabashedly, proudly, advertising the fact.
A bit of background information: Toronto is the third most active cinema production site in North America, and lots of US blockbusters have been produced there, but almost always camouflaging it as another city (as for example recently “Good Morning, Baltimore”). Local film production in Canada, except for French films (which barely get a showing in Angloland), is almost non-existant, and the very few films I did see from Toronto, made by Canadian producers, also did not “advertise their location”, but were mostly shot in-doors, with close-up shots etc, and could have been made anywhere.
The thing is that I love cities, and I love fiction - movies and novels - that are geographically “anchored”. Perhaps this is partly because I move around so much, and when I arrive in a new city, to make it my home for some years, I try to understand that city. Walking the lengths and breadth of it, learning the local language (not necessary in the case of Toronto, although Chinese helps), reading the local newspaper are all parts of this - as is reading novels and watching movies set in that city.
Perhaps coming from a small city, in a country with only five million inhabitants, also plays a role. I believe that its important for people to see their lives and surroundings reflected in fiction, and never understood why every movie in the universe had to be set in LA or New York (when I did a “tour of stars’ homes” in LA, this was driven home to me - they pointed out not only houses where stars live, but also the many different films and serials the houses had featured in - these producers are too lazy to even venture out of their own neighbourhood). I love showing the Norwegian film Buddy to my friends in different countries, and point out all the different locations in Oslo that I recognize - this is close to my home, this is close to where I worked, I used to take this streetcar to work every day, etc.
I think Toronto is a unique city. God knows I complain about it enough, and there are many things I’d like to change, but all in all it’s a place I’ve grown very fond of. I’ve been dying to watch good movies that are explicitly set in Toronto, about Toronto, and come up very short. What’s worse, my Torontonian friends are quite confused by my complaints, and wonder why anyone would want to watch films set in Toronto. I want terrorists taking over city hall, bike chases in Scarborough, romance on the islands, brave teachers in Minnesauga, wise Indian shopkeepers dispensing wisdom on Gerrard, college pranks at St. George… Until now, my list didn’t feature “Bollywood singing and dancing on the Harbourfront”, but that is what I got.
As I mentioned, I was prepared to be combing through the film, observantly catching small glimpses of a streetscape that I knew. Instead I was treated to great vistas from the Broadview bridge, and Toronto skyline by night. The office of the property developers is clearly in 200 King St, and the film is about saving the Harbourfront Community Center from demolition. The final scene even takes place inside the Toronto city hall. They jaywalk on College, and go partying near Yonge and Dundas, take the streetcar, and even skirt traffic under the highway near the lake.
A great movie, not just because of Toronto. Last week I watched Mehbooba, which represented the worst of Bollywood - all singing and dancing in exotic landscapes (Budapest and New York), a huge elaborate wedding, great emotions, for no reason at all, with no character development, no plot, and no meaning. It’s the kind of movie that if someone watches it as their first Bollywood movie, all their prejudices would be reaffirmed, and they’d never watch another. Kismat Konnection on the other hand, is still no deep work of art, but it’s a funny and likeable movie that just happens to be set in a great city :).
I wonder if this movie would be able to get showings in mainstream cinemas in Toronto, or writeups in newspapers. I have many times complained about how parochial mainstream cinemas are, showing all Hollywood on their 15+ screens, even when surrounded by large percentages of Chinese, South-Indians, Latinos etc. Or the fact that NOW Magazine (which I love) still wastes pages on every mediocre Hollywood movie that comes out, but doesn’t even mention Taare Zameen Par, one of the best movies of the year, even though it runs on at least three screens in Toronto, and is subtitled and fully accessible to all.
Enough about that though, run and watch the movie. And let’s rejoice about the fact that at least someone thinks Toronto is photogenic enough to not have to be hidden away.
StianStian Håklev July 18, 2008 Toronto, Canada comments powered by Disqus