After years of treating it as a pathway to the other side, it was a bit of shock to realise that Defence Colony Market has a nice park down its middle. It was clean, and the shrubbery actually looked like it’d been tended to. It was on this lawn that a projector was set up, pointing at the wall above Soi, Thai & Burmese restaurant. A string of lights, left over from Diwali, hung down, obscuring the “&” as well as the pale green logo of A Wall is a Screen.
A Wall is a Screen originated in Hamburg in 2003, when three filmmakers decided to project short films onto the walls of the City Centre there. Since then, the same has been done in a few dozen countries around the world, and on just about every surface imaginable. When the Delhi venue was announced as Def Col Market, I wondered what they’d be able to do with that crowded, rather indistinct crush of bars and restaurants.
6.55pm. Some 20 odd people have gathered in the park. Most of them sound German (Max Mueller Bhavan is co-organising), though there are a few locals as well. The first screening begins, a pounding animation inspired by Blake’s “Tyger Tyger”. It’s over in five minutes – most of the films were about that length – and a couple of crisp, friendly announcements are made, first in English, then in Hindi. The organisers are clearly keen to draw in casual onlookers; there’s no sign of the cliqueshness that sometimes happens with foreign cultural centre events.
Two short screenings on the adjoining wall, and we make our first location shift. By now, the crowd’s gained some 15 members; it’s diversified to include a baby in a pram, a couple of interested-looking grandmothers, and smatterings of German, French, English and Hindi. We stop in the lane opposite Barista, and watch a rather disappointing Irish Bollywood spoof (a drunker heckler saying something about knowing Lata Mangeshkar was more entertaining). The next projection was on a private wall. The film, the announcer explained, was on German houses, so they felt it was fitting to layer it on an Indian house. One of the owners came out mid-film to scattered applause. By now, the crowd was closing in on 50.
The organisers continued to match wall and film; an animation on waste disposal was screened near a garbage dump, while Motodrom, with its gritty black-and-white images, was perfect for the crumbling, whitewashed-a-decade-ago facade beside the Orient Bank ATM. People sat on parked scooters and bikes and tried to make sense of the flickering images. Rickshaws passed on the road behind us, their passengers craning their necks. A couple of policemen looked on from a distance. An auto-driver was moved by the mention of Yamuna to emerge from his vehicle and tell whoever would listen exactly why the river was so dirty. And a young MBA graduate came up to me – incorrectly assuming that I’d been dragged here against my will – and asked if I went to these kinds of things often.
The last surface, in a break with tradition, wasn’t wall as screen, but just a screen. This was placed in the park at the head of the market. We sat in its mini-amphitheatre (which I didn’t know existed – I’d never even noticed this park before), and watched an entirely charming short about mobile cinema in Calcutta. As I stared up at the white canvas, I suddenly understood why A Wall is a Screen was such a success wherever it went. It reminds us of how we used to watch movies as children, heads raised, looking up in wonder.