Like many in the cantonment, our joint family-was fond of cinema. The gang or in ones-and-twos explored all modes of transport; Hand-drawn rickshaws, jutkas, cycles or even the long trek in the blazing sun to catch ‘the first day first show’.
It was a bit of a distance when one walked from Tasker Town to reach South Parade or Majestic where latest Hindi movies are screened. But everyone in that movie mad family did it some time.
Many years later, it was at Palace that I saw my first American film, a re-run of Samson & Delilah. It was my first cinema outing without mother. To see this DeMille’s spectacle my older cousins walked me from their house to Quadrant Circle, a distance of some 4 kms in the summer sun. It was the movie that, however, troubled me.. Why did that beautiful lady, Hedy Lamarr, give up Victor Mature? Why was not the blinded man immediately taken to the doctors? Were there no doctors those days? Why didn’t someone stop Samson from bringing down the big building? Instead of answers I got
When older, I tagged along with other boy cousins in the joint family to the movies –most of which was to the nearby Lakshmi theatre for the morning shows. There we saw Alibaba and the Forty Thieves in Tamil and several morning shows of B grade ‘serials’ that had Buster Crabbe or Flash Gordon. About that time came that ‘incredible unstoppable titan of terror’ Godzilla to the Empire Talkies. Adding to the hype was a gigantic balloon bobbing over the theatre. Bangalore had not seen anything like this. Everyone and his uncle went to see this dark, terrifying Japanese classic.
The modest and inexpensive Elgin tucked away in a back street in Blackpally, was a favourite among my perennially cash strapped cousins. The movie hall was good value for money. Tickets were priced at 5 annas (30 paise)…. And even lower for morning shows. Movie going there was a most fascinating and unique experience. We would sit in the ‘bucket seats’, on wooden benches. People around us would freely lit up cigarettes and bidis during the show. Elgin had a separate enclosure for women where burqa clad ladies sat in large numbers and for some reason always had their wailing brats with them. When the movie started the black cloth screen was noisily drawn back and the infants’ crying sounds would burst out in stereophonic effect.
Once during a re-run of a dull morning show of Amiya Chakravarthi’s Seema a harassed man in the front rows stood up in the bench and yelled out to the enclosure: “Stop that little brat from crying.” That was followed by a momentary silence and the kids were back with a vengeance. Manna Dey’s Tu Pyar ke Sagar hain was drowned in the chorus of crying.
On another afternoon at the Majestic, despite commotion in the hall, Ashok Kumar untied his wrappings to become invisible in Mr.X (1957), Nalini Jaywant saw her lover disappear into thin air and somewhere C.Ramachander’s lal lal gal… rocked the house and set it on fire. On another afternoon at the Sagar, a love lorn Johnny Walker woed Anita Guha with one melodious number after another in Choo Mantaar (1956) Hero Mahipal in Caravan (1956) trekked the desert, fought off the baddies astride camels and made romantic overtures to the pretty Shakila amidst approving whistling and catcalls. In another morning show at the Himalaya theatre, fearless Nadia on a white stallion chased the crooks aboard a hurtling train with faithful Alsatian on tow. But suddenly the dog and the action chase ground to a stop as the movie hall was plunged into darkness and total chaos. Power failure.. Sometimes it was the projector skidding to a halt due to a technical reason. The audience threshold for such interruptions was low. Almost immediately the auditorium exploded with yells and choice angry expletives many of which sounded like Bhajji calling Symonds a monkey.
Normalcy was restored when the film was restarted. So even if a movie did not entertain, there was some excitement or other at Elgin. In time we learnt such ruckus as part of the entertainment at the movies.
The mood of joyous abandonment continued in school when there were screenings of films like Tarzan of the Apes or when Elizabeth Taylor’s Ivanhoe was screened.
In the 60s Bangalore had more than a hundred cinema halls ….and we school students could rattle off their names right from ‘A’ for Alankar to “V” for Vijayalakshmi. At St.Joseph’s, in the cantonment we were surrounded by movie going ops –a period of our lives when movie madness went into overdrive. There were movie halls just around the corner then. When the closing bell rang in school, the Imperial sounded the bell announcing the matinee. Movies changed some times twice a week in the Globe and the Plaza theaters and old movies were re-run at morning shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Our problem: so many movies so little time and even less pocket money! Yet we caught quite a few.
Today we have state of the art cineplexes, and infinitely better made movies. But we have lost almost all of yesterday’s cinema houses being replaced by multiplexes And yet yesterday’s cinema pleasures –the delicious sensation of entering the cool depths of a theatre on hot afternoons and the equally wonderful sensation of feeling the intense rays of the late afternoon sun on our faces when coming out and all the wonderful things that happened in between are what memories are made of and what drove my movie mad generation.