Monday, 22 November 2010

Kingdom of Dreams

"Come to Kingdom of Dreams," said my friend L. "It'll be fun. They say it's like Dilli Haat on steroids."

Kingdom of Dreams is just that: a glittering dreamscape, a kind of alternate reality, like stepping into a movie set where everything looks like enhanced, hyper-real versions of how they otherwise are.

And then you flick the marble Doric columns and realise they're hollow, and made of Plaster of Paris.

But Kingdom of Dreams represents what the CWG structures could have been, were the games organised by the private sector. It's clean, it's grand, there are no caved-in ceilings or ripped carpet.

So what is it? It's a Bollywood theme park in Gurgaon, only open a couple of months.

Entrance to Kingdom of Dreams

And iIt's enormous. There's a theatre, with plaster elephants flanking the entrance. Lying alongside is perhaps the largest reclining Buddha I've seen. Inside, there's a stage, surrounded by decorative masks and elephant heads and filagree work. That's where the Bollywood musical Zangoora is staged.

But we didn't go to the theatre, instead we headed straight for Culture Gully, the bland name totally belying the experience. First, there's a giant representation of a lotus flower in bloom to walk through.

Outside might be dark but inside you find yourself under a perennially twilight sky, thanks to a ceiling painted like sky and clever natural lighting.

Culture Gully downstairs is made up of a heap of stands representing different states in India, laid out in a rough approximation of the map of India. So when you first walk in, there's Kashmir to the right, and Sikkim to the left, and Kerala right at the other end of the hall.

Kerala stand: a bar on a boat, with a beach

But these are no humble Dilli Haat food stalls, oh no. The Delhi stall is a mockup of the Red Fort , while Kerala is an actual houseboat, with a beach. Bombay is a train carriage, while Rajasthan has a peacock doorway just like the one at Jaipur's City Palace. Each stall is hawking either food, or souvenirs, or both.

Then, at various intervals, music starts up and out marches some kind of procession, such as a troupe of Himalayan dancers, complete with Chinese dragon. Or a clutch of monkey-men: dressed in silvery suits with blackened faces, these things were a menace, as monkeys are. One leapt in front of me and flailed his tongue menacingly, causing me to jump and nearly drop my kheema dosa.

Crazy monkey man

Upstairs is a bit more Palazzo Versace. There's a bar with a fluorescent pink floor, a shop selling incredibly expensive sherwanis and cufflinks and a whole other section with all sorts of fortune tellers. I had my palm read; he told me that good things will happen for me in coming months and I will have two children.

Since then, whenever i'm having a Bad India Day I think back to Kingdom of Dreams: its fake, Venice-in-Vegas sky, its larger-than-life religious statues, its fake twilight, and its liberal scattering of life-sized baby elephants, and think about life in a parallel India universe, and sigh. Clean streets, well-maintained buildings, space to walk, doormen who salute you, street theatre and hygenic street food.

But still, annoying and slathering monkeys when you least expect them.

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