Written for a blog compeition, c. March 2005.
It all started with Kishori Paswan.
He was the manservant at my grandfather’s house in Assam and it was Kishori bhaiyya’s self-inflicted duty to take me out for an evening walk. And everybody agreed that a one-year old needs all the fresh air it can get! Kishori bhaiyya, for better or for worse, had completely other plans.
In the latter half of 1975, there was a film called Sholay which was just getting released all over the country – having met with some kind of success in the major centres. In such a set-up, Kishori bhaiyya had to forsake the banks of Brahmaputra and take refuge in Jyotsna cinema hall – trying to memorise the complete dialogues from Gabbar’s introduction scene. Since he flunked his Class IV exams repeatedly, Kishori’s forte was clearly not a photographic memory – and he had to attend the showings daily (with me in his arms) to get a hang of the words, dialect and the mannerisms! The usher of Jyotsna – a guy called Bajrangi – also happened to be from Kishori’s hometown (Begusarai) and he benevolently allowed Kishori and Munna-babu to come into the rear stalls at exactly the right time, day after day.
(The even longer story of how Kishori enacted the full scene to my aunts and how he could not explain when he went to see the movie has to be the subject of the India Laughs Contest next year!)
While psychologists keep on debating on the exact age at which a person’s memory begins to form, I can speak for myself that when seven years later, I went for my (supposedly) first viewing of Sholay in Calcutta’s Alo Chhaya theatre – I had this feeling of such strong déjà vu that I was convinced I was Sambha in my previous birth! (Nobody believed this till I found a scientific basis for my theory in Subhash Ghai’s Karz.)
Basically, the impingement of light on my 13-month old brain at the speed of 24 frames per second had such an impact that I became pre-programmed to be addicted to this entire phenomenon.
Here, I use the word “addicted” advisedly – because I realised that my entire existence has come to be measured against moments of cinematic excellence – and here, I do NOT use the word “excellence” advisedly.
Most people would be hard-pressed to remember a film called Henna – which for the benefit of saner people, I have to introduce as Raj Kapoor’s last and Zeba Bakhtiar’s first film – but I remember it vividly because it was the movie I saw in the summer of 1991 (July, to be precise) to celebrate our Class X results! In fact, I have such a strong memory of the film that I am inclined to start a discourse on how the Heidi-like Henna pranced around mountains and Rishi Kapoor. And how the latter started resembling the former!
And these films abound – as do the milestones!
Afsana Pyaar Ka (Aamir Khan and Neelam) was on the day I gave my practicals for the Class X Boards.
Inderjeet (Amitabh with Neelam – what’s with Neelam coming back again and again?) was after leaving my Class XII Statistics exam early, thus risking a flunk.
Andaaz (Anil-Juhi-Karishma, not Raj-Dilip-Nargis!) was by escaping the Fluid Mechanics lab after giving attendance and coming back in time to submit the results.
Company was on a Thursday night show, directly into the theatre from the railway station (back from a tour) – since it was getting changed the next day.
Milestones, did I say? Ah well – for the want of a better word!
And this addiction has gone beyond the constraints of language and milieu.
In a small town called Kurnool in central Andhra Pradesh, I land up. (Thanks to a prevalent custom in MNCs by which they send yuppies MBAs to far flung corners of the country, ostensibly on training! These are places where I could have tried to light a bulb if I had seen Swades then!)
However, Kurnool turns out to be a complete metropolis – with electricity, running water and a cinema theatre (Jayamalini – Air Cooled) too! Okay okay, now I am being supercilious! However at the end of it, I land up in the theatre after dinner, lured by posters of Kamalahaasan’s magnum opus – Hey Ram.
I had a 5:30 bus to catch the next morning but I was not about to let go. Who could have imagined I would get to hear Rani Mukherjee’s husky-voiced rendition of Ruposhi Bangla in the very first week of its release?
I settle down – and start to silently curse the maintenance of small-town theatre sound systems. Except for some stray dialogues in English and Rani Mukherjee’s Juhu-accented Bengali in pre-Partition Calcutta, I am not getting a single dialogue.
However, my ire against the sound system AND the dialogue writer has to go as soon as I realise that famous words like Hey Ram remain the same in all languages.
Yes, the movie is the Telugu dubbed version.
(Did I expect Hey Ram to be released as Aiyo Rama South of Vindhyas? Probably not. But then, my sense of perspective is not very strongly grounded in reality!)
That I watched the Telugu Hey Ram till the very end is not even close to the silliest thing I have ever done. There is at least one more – which could qualify as either the silliest or the most intelligent. You make the decision!
This is from the time when I – like most Indian twen-agers – agree to get married (actually, stop saying ‘no’ to the incessant requests from parents!) – and the parents waste no time in coming up with a shortlist.
The first on the list is a Fashion Diva from Chennai – Diploma in Fashion Designing, working for boutique, hoping to one own soon! The family is impressed enough by my qualifications (misleading), salary (inflated) and photograph (tummy tucked in) to offer to visit to Calcutta.
The date is obviously auspicious – since Amitabh Bachchan’s tour-de-force Aks is releasing on the same day. Having no intention of missing a Bachchan movie on the First Day, I devise endless machinations to procure Night Show tickets.
The ‘meeting’ is fixed for 6:30 in the evening – and I figure that even if the wedding does have to get solemnised today, it would not take later than 8:30 to do that. Hence I feel quite safe with the 9:30 show timing.
Simple? Simple is boring!
6:30 – Mom, Dad, PG (prospective groom) all decked up and nowhere to go.
6:45 – As above.
7:00 – As above. PG’s father takes out mobile.
7:07 – Bride’s father contacted. Presently, on train returning from ancestral home.
7:39 – Bride’s father reaches their home. Will reach ASAP.
8:00 – PG very nervous. Divulges plans for evening. Mom-Dad aghast.
8:02 – Mom-Dad regain composure. Dad gently suggests cancellation of show.
8:07 – PG regains composure. Presents irrefutable logic – “Look, if I have to spend the rest of my life with this person, then it is only fair that she knows the priorities of my life. If she has to live with me, she should be willing to forsake a couple of things here and there in favour of a couple of First Day shows…” (Horrendously chauvinistic. BUT honest!)
8:09 – Mom-Dad acquiesces. (Come to think of it, what else could they have done?)
8:25 – Girl’s family arrives. General bonhomie all around.
8:55 – Bonhomie in full force. PG discreetly clears throat. Mom-Dad pretends not to hear.
9:01 – PG clears throat clearly (for the want of a better word!). Mom-Dad sighs.
9:05 – Girl’s family aghast.
9:07 – PG escapes. Bonhomie now forced.
Do I have a choice in these matters? As I see it, I don’t. Neither do millions of others. And we have to rush breathlessly from theatre to theatre, trying to zip past reality at 24 frames per second.
After all, it is like the children of distillery workers… you only drink whisky to ensure that THEIR dreams are realised, THEIR fathers earn enough, THEY get a decent education and THEY have new clothes for Christmas.
We do it for the stuntmen’s children, I guess!
For example, Bewafaa has got horrendous reviews. But I have tickets for tomorrow. And I tell myself – how bad can the movie be? After all, with Akshay, Kareena, Anil, Sushmita – you have a great cast going. Manoj Bajpai and Shamita Shetty are said to have some really catchy dialogues. In any case, what do I have to do during the evening anyway? After all, the Filmfare Awards show starts only at 8:00.
It is a dirty job. Only, I don’t realise it when I am doing it!