I remember as a child growing up, my mom used to take us (me and my kid brother) to matinee shows of the newest Hindi release along with a couple of her friends. She would dress us up in the cleanest pair of terrycot or polyester short pants and white canvas shoes, ohh and not to forget the liberal application of Ponds dreamflower talc to keep us looking and smelling fresh – The theatres were not air-conditioned in those days you see. This “dreamflower” talc would do help us from smelling like sweaty piglets. It had its side-effects in the form of little lines of white lumps around our damp necks by the end of the show. Anyway back to the point : We used to have very little knowledge about what is going to appear on the giant screen. The excitement of watching the movie itself was too much to handle to care about what movie, who is in it and such minor details. Remember I am talking about the early and mid 80s here – Indian television had one channel and would show one movie a week, so going to the cinemas was an event – a GALA if you will. The excitement was visible and could be felt in more ways than one – My fingertips would tickle before the movie started, I would try not blink for as long as possible while watching the giant images on the screen, I would pray and pray real hard that I do not get to sit behind a tall human being with a huge head or a woman with a Sharmila Tagore’esque hairdo!! Long story short, it was really a HUGE deal – going to the cinema. It was these magical afternoons where I was smitten by the giant moving images.
The experience is still very fresh in my memory –
Huge painted posters which displayed some very key moments of the film we were about to watch. The poster would try and convey a lot in those days unlike the more artistic and creative ones these days where all you see is a silhoutte of somebody and a name of the movie with a English punchline ( Eg: Daag – The fire!!). The poster was the quintessential selling point of the movie since no previews were shown on the television and there was no internet. Posters were the only source of marketing the movie to the general public. They had to be very imformative, very gruesome, very shocking. The poster would have the hero jumping through fire, or in a tumultous embrace with the heroine, the heroine with longing in her eyes, the mom with revenge and love in her eyes, the sidekick assisting the hero in some shape or form, the hero with blood dripping from the left side of his forehead or right end of his upper lip, the villain with the most lethal weapon you have ever seen, the vamp in a skimpy (often a gypsy) outfit , at least one mode of transport (a motorcycle, train, ship, car, flight) on fire or exploding or launched in mid-air or all of them at the same time. In short the 180 minutes were crammed in that 20 ft by 10 ft piece of cloth.
The names of the cinema halls are etched in my memory – Amba, Apsara, Regal, Regent, Panchsheel, Liberty – I would think of them as temples in my 10 year old brain. We would wait outside these halls while mom would stand in the queue to buy the tickets. In the meantime me and my brother would be staring wide eyed at the above mentioned poster. There was just too much information for our little brains to process you see. Once the tickets were secured, mom would take us in the waiting area of the cinema hall. Now this waiting hall also provided a wealth of information about the feature we were about to watch. On one wall of this hall, there would be a dazzling display of some stills from the movie enclosed in a glass case. I would almost memorize all the stills and would wait for them to show up in the actual movie and would leap just a little bit out of my seat when I could spot one. In the darkness of the hall however I had nobody who could understand or share that momentary surge of adrenalin when this happened. The waiting hall also sometimes provided a poster or two of an upcoming release – honestly, the upcoming feature in most cases did not look a whole lot different from the one we were there for. Neverthless it made me feel very special and exclusive because now I knew exactly what is going to explode in the not yet released feature and opened up an opportunity to brag about it with my fellow 10 year olds at school.
After getting an eyeful of all the stills, mom would force us to visit the men’s room so that we don’t have to make the trip during the show. Then would come the moment we would be waiting for most eagerly – watch a flood of people pour out of the EXIT doors – thus marking the end of the prior show – thus making way for me to experience the show. The only goal and ambition now is to climb up the stairs to the balcony and get to our seats. Climbing these stairs was as much a very claustrophobic experience as it was a journey you were to destined to take in order to get to the final destination where the dancing images are displayed on the giant screen. Mom would hold on tight to our wrists and we would climb with her, squished in between many waists, legs etc. Eventually we would arrive at the entrance of the balcony. There wasn’t one show that I do not remember stumbling in the semi-darkness on our way to the seats. Speaking of darkness – to date the darkness in the cinema hall is very special to me : this darkness allows the viewers to feel the moving images without being worried of others watching you, this darkness is your own cocoon where you can react shamelessly to the proceedings on the giant screen, this darkness allows hundreds of people to be alone in the crowd, this darkness is where I fell in love.
Once settled in our seats I had nothing else in my mind, the rest of the world ceased to exist, that time that place would be the only existence in God’s Earth. The lights dim and the screen comes alive with a Films Division documentary – the documentaries would deal with various subjects- Indira Gandhi’s contribution in the industrial progress of India, literacy awareness, importance of vaccinations etc. (I would cringe looking at little babies with rickety limbs being affected by polio and would be much thankful that I am not one of them.) Once the documentaries would get over, the lights would dim further more and my heart would beat 10 beats faster here onwards for the next 3 hours. The movie itself would be an immensely engrossing adventure for a 10 year old. All the images you saw in the waiting hall would appear during those 3 hours – there would be times when one or two won’t and I would be disappointed, but overall it was an immensely satisfying experience. The cinema hall would get muggier and hotter by the passing minute. The intermission would come at the right moment, you could step out in the balcony waiting area and inject some fresh air in your lungs. Mom would buy refreshments – samosa and a limca or frooti or Soyamee (a local brand of soyamilk). We would relieve ourselves one more time before getting back to the darkness. All this time I would become totally oblivious to the responsibilities an average 10 year old would have – you know the monumental tasks of home work, unit tests, craft projects.
After 3 very quick hours, the “The End” would show up on the screen (have you noticed that in about 80% of all the movies made in those days this “the end” always is displayed in a typical fashion – it would slowly grow in size from a small blur to this huge 1000 type font and would eventually occupy the whole screen?). Now, it would be us pouring out from the EXIT doors to make way for the next set of eager movie-goers. I would still be wearing a very mesmerized and dazed look on my face, still recovering from all that i just experienced. The rest of the day would be spent in a very hallucinated state of mind – this 10 year old was not capable of understanding most of what was happening on the screen and believe me that was a blessing. Even when my eyes would close that night, the images would be dancing in front of my eyes, such was the magic.
Today, I understand most every movie, today I judge every movie, today I dislike most movies, today I wait for the magic to reappear in the darkness, today, the movies are slicker, even more grand, bigger, more colorful, but the 10 year old in me is missing.
The experience is still very alive in my memory and I can relive it by closing my eyes. The darkness appears again and the images come to life and it brings back everything – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the heat – believe me, after I come back from one of these memory trips I have found the dreamflower talc lumps around my neck.