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Watching ‘The Avengers’ in India

Guest Blog: That the Hulk keeps his cool in Calcutta is the real unexplained mystery of "The Avengers"

When I went to see "The Avengers" the very day it was released, I texted a friend in San Francisco. It seems kind of unfair, I said, that because of the 12-hour time difference, I get to see "The Avengers before you do.

Turns out I was a week off. "The Avengers" actually released in 39 countries around the world, including India, a week before it opens in America.

Once, we waited patiently in India for the latest Hollywood releases to trickle their way over. That's no longer true for the big popcorn and cola blockbusters like "The Avengers." Perhaps the studios want to get in on the action before the pirates do. Perhaps they have woken up to the fact that there is a big market in the world, beyond L.A. and New York.

Either way, I am thrilled.

But sadly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The businessmen in Hollywood might be aware there is a new world out there. The scriptwriters, it seems, are still stuck in the old one.

Sitting in a fancy multiplex theater in Calcutta with cushy seats, 3-D glasses perched on my nose, I discovered that Calcutta has a cameo in the film.

It is not the only city to star in "The Avengers." There's Manhattan and Stuttgart, as well. Unlike poor Calcutta, however, they look like cities actually worth saving from invading alien hordes.

Calcutta looked cramped, squalid and leprous, as in "City of Joy" from 20 years ago. Then, Patrick Swayze was saving lepers. This time around, Mark Ruffalo is Dr. Bruce Banner, keeping his inner Hulk under control by saving eternally ill slum-dwellers.

This is not the reverse migration story about the West coming East in search of the future. Or even to Eat, Pray, and Love. It is a throwback to a much older idea of India: a black hole, all slumdogs, no millionaires, waiting to be saved by a foreign do-gooder.

But why does the Hulk even go there?

"For a man avoiding stress, you picked a helluva place to settle," the Black Widow tells Banner.

That is an understatement.

Given Calcutta's notorious traffic jams, stifling sweaty heat and frustrating lackadaisical inefficiency, Bruce Banner should have been exploding into the Incredible Hulk every second day.

That he keeps his cool in Calcutta is the real unexplained mystery of "The Avengers." As the summer sweats up here, I, too, want to know his secret.

This commentary is based on an essay written for Firstpost.com which aired on NPR's Morning Edition.