Thursday 10 November 2016

A Billion Lives Reaches India

I travelled down to the Ojas Art Gallery last night for the much talked about Indian screening of A Billion Lives, scheduled to coincide with the FCTC's COP7.

For Delhi, it was a rather plush venue, but the journey there was quite incredible. On Tuesday evening, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a shock policy which declared that 500 and 1000 rupee notes (about £6 and £12 respectively) cease to be legal tender in 72 hours; the result here has been chaos. India's economy is overwhelmingly a cash one and - although banks will accept the notes for another 50 days - most people don't have a bank account or even ID and the banks were shut yesterday anyway because they had no new notes to give out. So shops and traders have been refusing to take the notes for fear of being left with obsolete cash, and ATMs have been limited to giving out the equivalent of £24 per day. Tourists have also suffered, I was speaking to an Australian last night whose travel cash is now unwanted by restaurants and bars, most of which don't take cards.

One of the only ways of locals being able to get the notes accepted, then, has been through ticket machines and petrol pumps which are programmed to take them, and there just happened to be three large petrol stations on the route I had to take, all of which had massive queues out onto the road as people scrambled to get something for their soon-to-be redundant money.

Fortunately, one of the Indian vapers I met in the afternoon had warned me that although the journey should take 30 minutes, I should leave an hour, so I got there in time after a 50 minute taxi ride from hell. If you've ever been to India you'll know that the roads are anything but ordered, in fact it is every man for himself; it's not so much traffic as a stampede. Well just add in travelling in rush hour with panicking citizens, in the dark, and you can imagine the experience.

After almost an hour in a chaotic, unordered melee of bumper to bumper, wing to wing travel accompanied by a cacophony of vehicle horns, what a welcoming sight the calm red carpet approach was for the screening.

It was beautifully laid out, with flower petal arrangements on the fringes of the carpet, flickering candles lighting the way, and a big sign saying "INDIA" in case you had forgotten where you were.

This led us up to the venue for the evening, the outdoor cinema specially-built for the screening. It was to be A Billion Lives al fresco which was a trifle irritating since I'd not brought a jacket. Ordinarily that wouldn't be much of a problem in India at this time of year, but what with the sun being blocked out by the smog, there was no warm air around and it was quite chilly at times.

The art centre does have a cinema as I understand it but, according to Director Aaron Biebert, Indian rules mean that a film has to be approved a full 12 weeks beforehand, so a privately-built cinema was the only way to get it shown. Still, it meant that vaping was permitted throughout which made the many vapers in attendance very happy.

After a bit of mingling and a drinks reception with spicy hors d'eouvres (which they all are over here, I'm gagging for a bland burger!), the film screening began in front of an attendance of around 70 by my estimation. Most of whom were local vapers or otherwise interested Indians.

Much to the irritation of many vapers who have only seen trailers, I expect, this is the second time I've seen A Billion Lives and I'm by far it's biggest fan. So I don't need to say much about the film itself because I've already done so; you can read my review from the Warsaw showing here. I had heard that a few edits had been made but I didn't notice them, and I felt I enjoyed the film more on this occasion, but that could have been due to the far more salubrious surroundings this time rather than being hemmed in at a Polish cinema with only one entrance/exit.

It was followed by a Q&A with Director Aaron Biebert and Julian Morris of The Reason Foundation while most attendees listened from the bar at the back of the seating area.

Oh, and that isn't a vape cloud you can see in the picture, by the way, the fog was from a smoke machine you may be able to spot to the left of the screen.

Then, finally, to top off a rather top notch presentation, the post-screening entertainment by Indian song and dance band Rajasthan Josh struck up (see teaser taster below) as guests chatted and networked.

However - much as in life generally - just as everyone was enjoying themselves, the dark cloud of 'public health' interference came in and wrecked it. Because this was the day that the regulations on e-cigs were being debated at COP7 and word had reached us that an unholy alliance of India, Kenya, Thailand and Nigeria were demanding that the WHO recommend a global ban on the manufacture and sale of all vaping devices and liquids.

In fact, at time of writing, the horse trading and negotiations are still going on at the COP7 venue, and a lot of it is quite shocking stuff. Maybe that'll be my next article from India, who knows? Stay tuned. 

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