I had always thought I would never be able to share these ‘closet-skeletons’ about my madness-for-moviez since childhood, mainly for two reasons … one, I didn’t want people to know I was so freaked out for movies from such a young age (in India, it’s still considered to be a taboo to be so overwhelmed by movies at such an impressionable age of 7-8 years), and two, I thought people would laugh at me or ridicule me for being so obsessed and being so ‘unusual’. Well, that was till I met so many other like-minded people, and I realised that I was not the only ‘freak-case’, there were many like me who were growing up in the 80’s being completely smitten by ‘moviez’. In fact, if anything, I was more on the ‘normal-freak’ mode, compared to some others who were completely ‘gone cases’. So that gave me the courage to share my journey to manhood in cinema with all those of you who would care to listen.
I came to know during my early childhood that my father used to watch a lot of movies during his college days in Kolkata, and one of the most awe-inspiring moments of me as a kid was when he would recollect how he used to stand in queue for tickets of Kismet (Ashok Kumar) in Roxy Cinema almost everyday for three months, and would still not get a ticket. Those days the tickets in black were not much in vogue, and given the tight budget my father was operating on, he had no other choice but to go the lawful way. This experience did not, apparently, help my dad for another such landmark movie, Sholay, where once again, he had to wait for almost 2-3 months, before he could get tickets for the family. That too, when people were not really interested in taking their family for a movie with so much violence with a running time of almost four hours. Anyway, the impact of this background was that all the three kids in the family had been exposed to the movies from a very early age, as watching movies on a weekly basis was a ritual we observed religiously.
My eldest brother used to maintain a small red-jacketed pocket diary which had entries of all the latest movies that he had watched; during weekly family outings as well as when he was on his own. While we were too young to watch more than one a week, while the eldest one scored heavily, the favourite pass-time of my elder brother and me was to sneak-up and read the entries and get a vicarious pleasure from it, and later we would pester the eldest one to tell us the story in great details. (Of course, now I realise how he used to cleverly avoid any mention of the “intimate” scenes, esp. in English movies), but we would still listen to it with rapt attention, and would brag to the school friends the next day of having watched the movie ourselves.
That was also the time (in early 80’s) when Diamond Comics started coming out with the pocket books of the latest movies, with almost the entire dialogues reproduced verbatim. We would rent it for a ‘chavanni’ for two hours and devour it immediately, and would try to figure out the nuances when the eldest one used to recount it to us. Later on, they also came up with the pictorial movie-books, but it was not in such details, so we still had to be dependent on our big brother to keep us abreast of the latest. I still remember movies like Qurbani, Nikaah, Chorni, Laila, Woh Saat Din, Dahleez, Paanchvi Manzil, Betaab, Rocky, Hero, Namak Halaal and many more movies that I had ‘read’. I don’t know whether I grew out of it, or they stopped being printed, but gradually, the habit ended. The last two movies for which I remember having bought the pictorial Diamond Comics book were Sadak and Love.
This childhood phase would not be complete without mentioning one incident which went a long way in shaping up my formative years. One day, while dropping me to school, (I was in class 1 or 2, can’t remember), the eldest brother told me that we will go for Khoon Pasina for 3pm show, and I have to feign headache to get leave from school during recess, and he will pick me up from the gate. Assuming it’s a family affair; I did the needful, but found only Bhaiya on the gate. Anyway, we went ahead, but by the end of the movie, it was already dark, and I started crying, realising that I will be scolded proper by Dad. Bhaiya made me say that I had stopped by somewhere to play, and he had found me on the road crying, and brought me home. I was spared the stick, but I vowed never to be swayed by a free movie offer by him. On an aside, I have never again watched Khoon Pasina, somehow the movie still gives me an ominous vibe.
When I was in class 6, I bunked school with friends for the first time to watch Prabhuji’s Pyari Behna, and since we didn’t get caught, it became a regular habit. Within a few years, we had graduated to watching those ‘promising’ English movies and theatres like Jamuna, Lighthouse, Tiger, Regal, Society, Pradeep and at times even Metro became our favourite joint. There would be such hilarious occasions where friends and classmates from various sections of the school would meet at the same theatre during the noon-show, and at times, even the class-notes or other exam related information would be exchanged amongst us. I distinctly remember three such movies which had an immense impact on us during those days… Sirocco, Dirty Dancing and My Tutor. The school was clearly divided into two groups – those who had seen these ‘masterpieces’ and those who had not. We were of course bragging to all those who would care to listen, that we belonged to the favoured group. Of course, it doesn’t imply that we watched only these kinds of movies, because as far as movies were concerned, we would not discriminate at all. Terminator, Predator, Commando, Cobra, Rocky and Rambo would co-exist peacefully with Dharmendra, Mithun, Jeetendra, Shatrughan Sinha, Govinda as well as with our “close encounters of the third-kind”.
In our family, the legal age to be eligible to watch a movie on your own was when you would finish your school and start going to college, in other words, around 18 years of age. But by a little coaxing and pleading with mom, we were able to go to the matinee shows much before that threshold, while father was away in office. As a bribing option, and in order to reduce our guilt-feeling, we used to take mom also along for those afternoon shows. Some of the landmark movies that we watched like that are Naache Mayuri, Nazraana, Mr. India, Nagina, Chandni, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Aaina, Saajan and those countless Mithun-Jeetendra-Rishi-Jaya Prada-Govinda-Kimi-Neelam-Gulshan-Shakti-Kader Khan-Prem Chopra family-drama, mainly to appease the ‘motherly sentiments’. Of course, these tearjerkers had to be offset & compensated with movies where we would tell mom no to bother, as there was too much ‘action’, and she would not like it. Mom knows best, so she also never pestered if we insisted more than once that she will definitely get bored …
While in college, when the official ban of watching movies alone was officially off, the fun of watching movies clandestinely reduced to a great extent, and then it was more of a group affair, depending on the common liking, and we ended up watching more English movies, since it didn’t insult the common sensibilities of the entire group, being the ‘pseudo’ that we had already started becoming by then. You see, when you go to watch an English movie, you don’t only go to watch a movie, you have to take care of the ice-cream for the GF, and popcorn for others, you have to pretend you understood everything, while the fact is, you wished there were sub-titles, or at least they spoke English a bit more slowly… but then, you have to go with the flow, and laugh when others do, as if on the cue, and be sad at other times. Of course, being thrilled at the action scenes didn’t need any cue, so that was always an unbridled emotion that came naturally to all of our gang. But that didn’t deter us from watching these English movies almost every alternate day. New Empire, Globe, Light House, Chaplin (then Minerva) and Jamuna were the favourite haunts during those days, but somehow girls always felt most secured in New Empire, although the exteriors looked like a dilapidated and haunted gothic castle. (They still look the same, but now, at least the interiors are done-up better). Probably the most important movies of that era were Jurassic Park, Rambo III, T2, Speed, Reservoir Dogs, Basic Instinct, Face/Off and our greatest saviour – Titanic.
All this while, of course, the good old Doordarshan was our mainstay, and the weekly movies, Sunday-afternoon regional movies, late-night movies (which we were generally not allowed to watch, of course) and the retrospectives of various directors from time to time was sufficient to quench our thirst as well as whet our appetite. VCR was, of course, always there for either new Hindi releases or for some good old ‘solid’ stuff… but that’s when a revolution occurred and the cable TV boom took us all by storm. Now, every day, we could watch as many movies as we wanted, time permitting. Some good, some not so and some atrociously trash, but we watched them all.
Time lapsed, we graduated, did well for ourselves, got into our jobs and dust-and-grind of life, (I typed this sentence, and I remembered the MTV Grind, had a smile on my lips, and decided to type this additional sentence), got introduced to better films, regional as well as international, and somehow started becoming more choosy of what to watch and what not to. Then, the VCD/DVD culture came, and renting the movies became even a better option than going to the theatres. During the course, so many theatres in Kolkata which were our favourite hang-outs in earlier days virtually closed down, giving way to shopping complexes or just closing down for the losses incurred. Jamuna, Light House, Globe, Tiger and Society closed down, Chaplin and Metro became a state-run theatre, severely compromising the quality of movie-watching. The only saving grace was Nandan, which regularly featured award-winning and regional language films, and became synonymous with the Calcutta Film Festival. I was fortunate enough to have my dad in the government job, so arrangement of passes for self as well as for friends was not an issue. That was the period when the ‘passion for cinema’ in me got its quota of intellectual stimulant.
Now, settled in life, watching movies as per convenience, and discussing movies at forum like these is the only solace that I can derive, and that somehow, has taken away all the fun and glory of watching the movies, like we used to in those days of carefree abandon. Not that the present is any less attractive, it has its own merits, but somehow…
Dil Dhoondhta Hai, Phir Wohi, Fursat Ke Raat-Din…..
… Magar Mujhko Lauta Do Bachpan Ka Saawan, Woh Kaagaz Ki Kashti, Woh Baarish Ka Paani….