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Pet Sins March 2007

Desperado Square (Kikar Ha-Halomot)

This charming 2001 film is set in a humble Israeli town whose population is enamored with Indian films. The story opens with the comic character Yisrael, nicknamed "The Indian", playing Indian music on his radio while styling his 'hair' after the manner of Indian movie star Raj Kapoor. This is a unique image of a West Asian imitating a South Asian.

Both Asian and Western media places much emphasis on non-Westerners emulating Westerners, but what is also forgotten is the fact that non-Western cultures also influence each other, a phenomenon that is exemplified by Yisrael the 'Indian'. Western influence is certainly not the only influence circulating the globe. Indian films have reached the homes of ordinary people in countries as close by as China, or as far away as Cameroon.

In Desperado Square, a local video store owner describes how people had once flocked to the local cinema in the past to see all kinds of foreign movies. They had been crazy about American movies, but when Indian movies came along, the Israelis "wanted to see nothing else". The all-time favorite Indian movie of the town was the melodrama Sangam.

There was only one problem. The cinema had been closed for about 30 years, depriving the rundown town of its sole source of community entertainment. When owner Morris Mandabon first shut the theater down, movie movie fan Yisrael was devastated, and wrote the words "Desperado Square" on a wall to signify his state of despair.

Now the grown sons of the deceased Morris wish to reopen their father's cinema and screen Sangam again. While most of the town is excited, the young Mandabon brothers run into unexpected opposition from their mother and uncle (Morris's brother). It turns out that the tragedy of Sangam - two friends fall in love with the same woman, and one of the friends gives up his love for the sake of friendship - echoed the young lives of the older generation of Mandabon brothers.

Director Benny Toraty skillfully interweaves scenes between the Indian characters in Sangam with the 'real life' interactions of the Israeli characters. The parallels between the Indian tale and the Israeli tale reminds us of our common humanity across cultures.