I’ve been so focused on Jackson Heights since I moved here a year ago, that I’ve ignored some of the other good places to be found in New York City. Ellen 9 has reminded me a couple of times about the stores in the upper 20s on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. And in fact, I was quite aware of them, especially when I lived in other parts of the city before – such as the year before this past year, when I lived at the bottom of the South Bronx, right on the Number 6 subway line, which would get me to Manhattan’s bigger Little India in less than half an hour. (I say “bigger Little India” because Manhattan has another Little India, where people (mainly tourists) go to find restaurants, down on East 6th St., but I rarely go to visit that one, just maybe pass through on my way to other things.) I would usually go to this upper-20s area to pick up rice and bread and packaged dahl, to be found in several little stores within three blocks. And one of those stores is actually much more a Middle Eastern food supply store (though they have some Indian goods too), which has a little “deli” counter upstairs, with a few seats within it, next to some big windows looking out on Lexington Avenue. I became very fond of going to this store, sittiing upstairs, and relaxing next to the window as I ate one of their excellent mujadara sandwiches (used to do that pretty often, and once in a while I still do).
Right across the street, almost parallel to that window (though a little below it) is the window of a second-floor store that advertises Hindi and Tamil films. There were many times when I thought of going into the video store but didn’t get around to it, especially after I had moved to Jackson Heights. But I realized today, when I finally strolled into the place, that I had underestimated it.
This video store is a delightful cozy little spot (with great air conditioning – much appreciated today), with a lot of old Bollywood movies. It’s much quieter and less trendy than the couple of stores that I’m most familiar with on 74th Street in Jackson Heights, which specialize more in the latest music. Around the time when I started this blog, when I was much more interested in 21st Century desi club music, those stores were more interesting to me. But that might be changing for me now that my tastes have strangely shifted so much to mid-20th Century Indian films.
What I liked about visiting the store on 28th Street was not just that it was physically more comfortable and quieter (something I can sometimes appreciate now that I’m middle aged), nor just that it had a fun selection out on display, but that the guy I spoke to instantly knew what I was talking about when I asked him for certain things. (Though he didn’t have to be so insistent on correcting my pronunciation – and I have to tell you, it was a bit embarrassing to me when I found out that I wasn’t pronouncing my beloved Padmini’s name perfectly.) This, though, had not been the case when I went into that last store on 74th Street in the Jackson Heights, where the kid didn’t know of the movies I was asking for. But then, the kid in the Jackson Heights store probably would have been pretty sharp if I asked him about the latest DJ bhangra hip-hop music (I’m not sure of this, but I’m guessing that would be the case). The guy in the 28th Street store seemed fairly young (and somewhat hip) too, but he knew the old movies well.
So, while the guy in the Jackson Heights store didn’t know what I was talking about when I mentioned Naya Daur, this guy told me instantly that they had two copies, both the black and white and the colorized. And when I told him that I was looking for this film with Raj Kapoor and Padmini, he instantly took out a copy of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. And that was pretty cool!
Not so cool, though, are the prices. He said that Naya Daur was $20 and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai was $18. He also said that this was because the company putting out the movies happened to charge very high prices. I wondered if the prices would be as high if I did find both movies in Jackson Heights, where I was able to pick up Shree 420 for $8, and I’ve been able to pick up soundtracks for $5. (As I’ve said, it could be that the Jackson Heights stores are selling used/promo/repackaged stuff sometimes – though if they are, I can’t tell.) With this in mind, I’m going to have to check out a couple of more stores around here, just to make sure… (Maybe I wouldn’t be so picky about prices if I actually had a job right now, but unfortunately…)
I will also take Sita-ji up on one of her suggestions to check the library. And if the library proves successful, I’ll probably end up there. (Plus, I’ll update this post to report of that success.)
But if I can’t find a library-borrowable copy or a much cheaper copy, then I’ll be happy to give some of my money to the aforementioned store, while I still have that money left. Maybe I’ll do it sometime next week, if/when I go to the Barnes & Noble in the area to pick up the new paperback edition of Mihir Bose’s Bollywood: A History – which Sita-ji also recommended a while back. (By the way, the paperback edition came out yesterday, according to the computers – yea! – but still isn’t on the shelves for some reason, so I ordered a copy, which they’re saying should take three to four days.)
And if anybody else is wandering around Manhattan looking for Hindi and Tamil movies, take my word that it’s worth visiting this place.
P.S. Yes, I know about the online buying option, but I’m a little averse to that. I generally don’t buy things online (I never even activated the card that I would need to do that with – since I can’t use the old credit card anymore), and if I’m actually buying a movie, I’d like to have the thing on CD in my hands, with packaging and all, bought from a live human being, at a real store. (This is especially true since I’ve had some troubles downloading movies from certain sites lately, but it’s also true in general. Maybe another way I’m just not keeping up with the changing times.) If I have that option…
P.P.S. A note 6 years and 6 weeks later: Wow, I see in stats that people are still going to this post! I guess lots of people are still searching for Bollywood movies in New York! But I feel that I should add a couple of points now… First of all, I think that the Jackson Heights store that I discuss above might have folded. Quite a few have, unfortunately. Or else, the store has changed a lot since I wrote this, or I have gotten a different impression… In the past few years, I’ve mainly gone to two stores in Jackson Heights, on 74th Street, near 37th Avenue (east side of the street). Both stores have actually been pretty helpful to me in my search for old films – not only from the ’50s, but from the ’40s, too. In these stores, I haven’t encountered the limited sales guy whom I talked about before. I think that the sales guys in all three stores (i.e., including the one in Manhattan) have been about equally good. Nowadays, there are times when none of them can recognize the films that I’m looking for (even though my pronunciation is actually better now), but that’s because I search for things that are more obscure! And I don’t think I’ve gotten a very hipster vibe from anyone in the Jackson Heights stores in the time since I wrote this post (which is good).
Unfortunately, in the past year or so, the store on 28th Street in Manhattan was reduced to half its size. I asked what happened and I was given the obvious answer, that they couldn’t afford the rent. Unfortunately, a lot of stores in Manhattan have completely folded in the past few years for the same reason… I hope that enough people will still go to this one to keep it open, even at half the size. I don’t buy films there much anymore, but I have gotten music. Some months ago, I found a fantastic double CD, The Genius of Khursheed (Khursheed Bano, that is). Unfortunately, I have gone to this store quite a few times since, hoping to find something similar – Rajkumari, perhaps – and no such thing has turned up. But I am happy to keep looking…