Summer holidays and the movie experience (18/52)

Mukta’s recent blog on seeing two movies in a day, one which was ‘the kids day out’ to see a children’s movie and my own outing  to see “The Lorax” with Udai got me thinking of my ‘on again – off again’ love affair with movies.

My earliest memory of a movie experience is a vague one of a scene in which series of large jars being rolled off a balcony!! I was probably 6 or 7, and this was in a cinema hall in Alleppey. Of the hall itsef i have no memory, but my Mama, who was there on the day, later told that the movie was “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves”. In the latter half of the 50s we lived in various South Delhi Government houses, and the closest cinema halls (as they were called) were Plaza, Regal and Rivoli in Connaught Place. Taking his children to the movies was definitely not on my father’s agenda. That was left to the ladies of the house, when relatives came to stay during the summer vacations.  The movies i remember seeing were ‘Mother India’ with all its ‘rona-dhona’, ‘Boot Polish’ (the only children’s movie’ i remember from that time) and a little later ‘Sahib Bibi aur Glulam” and “Sangam”. My brother who has lived abroad since he was 14 and has not seen a Hindi movie since, still hums numbers from this Raj Kapoor – Vijayanthimala hit!

My real exposure to ‘cinema’ was in the pooja pandaals of the colony where we lived. For that week, every night a couple of movies would be screened, one Hindi and one Bengali. I cannot recall how i cajoled my parents into letting me stay out so late . But we had many Bengali friends and neighbors and all the children were there – and we saw over the years “Pather Panchali”, “Householder”  and many more of the Ray genre. We also saw “Do Bhiga Zameen” and others of that lot – all adults and children sitting late into the night, watching the action unravel on a stand mounted screen with a generator operated  projector, with refreshments breaks every time the reels had to be changed, and the screen shaking every time the wind blew hard! I wonder if pooja pandaals show movies these days. If so, do Bengalees still stay ahead of the pack and screen the “alternate cinema” or have they fallen prey to the cult of the times! But of course, the Bengalee  cinema itself has changed I am sure.

Of course, my father did go to the movies with my mother and friends –  to the ‘night show’ to see English movies. Movies then used to run at fixed times of 9.30 am (morning), 3.30 (matinee), 6.30 (evening) and 9.30 (night) pm. I would  pester my mother to tell me the story the next day – and i remember some of these like “Psycho” and “Roman Holiday”.

In the early 60’s, my Uncle moved to Delhi and my cousin who was a few years older than me had access to the car and driver, especially on week ends. So, we had more flexibility and we tried to make it to every English release. There were few ‘Adults’ only movies to which, as i was yet to reach 18,  i would sneak in wearing a saree and an adult hairdo, hoping the usher would not look too closely. One close call was at Rivoli, which was showing the “Prince and the Showgirl” with Marilyn Monroe. The movies that ran in the CP halls would later come to the Defence Cinemas (at cheaper rates) and since Race Course was within walking distance, we saw many a movie there. Hindi movies were few and continued to be part of the family outing routine, except for the Dev Anand releases, which were always a must watch! I remember the trip of a large contingent of us going to Golcha to see “Mughal-e-Azam’ – that was  far outside our normal beat in far away ‘Old Delhi’.

In the later part of the 60’s, movies were occasional outings  with friends on weekends – usually to see matinees with shared taxi to CP and a long stroll back to the hostel at Delhi Gate. The group was very mixed and our tastes often did not match. It was during internship and house job years, that i was eventually enticed into the Hindi movie madness (it was still not Bollywood) that was part of every Indian’s life. I never became a full convert, but managed to enjoy the many mindless superhits of the time, partly due to the company, i think.

And then i married the ultimate Hindi movie buff – one who boasted of having seen ‘first show’  or at least the first day of every release , during the hostel years. Subhash  knew the cast, Director, songs, singer, music Director etc. of every movie released during that period. I was not half way as enthusiastic, but we did see a lot of movies in those early years in Chandigarh. We would walk both ways from PGI campus to Neelam and Picadilly etc. in Sector 17 . Also, these halls hardly ever showed English movies, which i still preferred. What else was there for a young couple living on a limited budget have to do for entertainment.  This was true for a long time – but i wonder if it is so any longer, with the kind of rates that the multiplexes seem to charge.

The movie outings did come to an end with the birth of Mukta and of course, post- George Fernandez,  English pictures became a rarity, reaching India months after their original release. Around that time, i left for a 2 year post-doctoral research stint  in the US and since i was alone ended up watching scores of  Hollywood movies on late night TV. And i found a friend who was a movie buff and would go for the new releases in the week ends. The halls there were small and much like the multiplexes that have cropped up in our cities now.

On my return, Mukta was still small and we never made the effort to take in a movie and the cinema halls of Sector 17 had become fairly run down. During the Bombay years, with Mukta grown and happy to stay home with her Ajee and Manda, we started to go to the cinema again. In the Bombay of the 80s we could decide at 8.30PM, grab dinner and drive from Parel to South Mumbai to catch the night show. With our friends the Kamats, we would visit Eros, Sterling etc. to see the English releases. We never went to see Hindi movies and Subhash never seemed to miss them; in fact, once he started his working life, all else seemed to become irrelevant. But Mumbai, with its excellent public transport and cosmopolitan culture did give us the opportunity to watch many movies by the great Directors of Indian regional and international cinema, the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kasarvalli and Bertolucci among others. Movies were not a part of the ‘summer holiday’ experience, although Mukta and the children of the neighborhood did go occasionally to the local cinema hall, maybe to see a Marathi comedy. The concept of holiday releases for children had not arrived.

The family policy was not to encourage TV watching and we did not buy one till 1988, when Mukta was already 11. So, we never went thro’ the Sunday evening Doordarshan movie or the Hum Log eras. This case study of one, does reinforce the fact, that early habits stay with you, since Mukta is still not a TV watcher. It was after we moved to Lucknow and our campus was far away from the city, that we succumbed to the popular culture and got a TV.  The city had few, somewhat run down  halls and we never made the trek to these. The campus was large and had adequate company for Mukta and I remember an occasional foray to Pratibha (which was owned by a patient of Subhash) and even one to Mayfair before it shut down in the late 80s. .  The 90s was a poor era for the cinema halls and Subhash was happy watching the Sunday afternoon and late night runs of old favorites. I seldom stayed up to watch these as i was always an early-to-bed person.

So, for most of my adult life, while I liked good cinema and entertaining movies, the lack of access to the kind I would have likes to watch and the demands of a working life restricted my viewing. But things have changed so dramatically over the last decade. The multiplex has arrived and these are mushrooming with multiple shows at staggered times. Where i live in Gurgaon, we have 2 of them within walking distance and a i could watch a big star release at any time between 10 am and 11 pm. TV channels have expanded rapidly with multiple 24 hour ‘movies only’ channels and you can watch many genres, even exotic foreign language films.  DVDs and free downloads, have made access even simpler.

So, all the problems have been resolved – I am retired and do not have the demands of a job, access is no longer an issue and almost anything one may like to watch is only a click away. So, do i watch a lot of movies? Not many more than i used to,  a few English or International movies on TV, and a few at the muliplex. Of the latter one or two are with the grandchildren as the ‘holiday release’ has become a money spinner. So, while I did not go for “Chotta Bheem” (a lucky escape), Udai and i enjoyed “Lorax” a few days ago and today both Aadyaa and Udai were fascinated by “Arjun” as were the adults who accompanied them. The hall was full of families and the movie outing is certainly one of the essential rituals of the holidays. We now look forward to “Madagascar 3” in the coming week!!

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