Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cinema Those Days

My father was a movie buff when we were young. Because of his interest, our entire family used to go to movies. Those were the days of 50s to 60s when he often used to get transfer from one place to other during his service days in Madhya Pradesh. This gave us a chance to see the cinema theatres of many towns and even small villages in M.P. We all brothers and sisters used to eagerly wait for Sunday when my father used to call me to announce that we are all going to a particular movie that day.
There were no twin theatres or multiplexes. All were simple, ordinary looking non- air conditioned single screen theatres which more or less looked like present day FCI Godowns with asbestos sheet roofing. Before the commencement of the show, songs were played over a speaker so that entire town used to know that its time for the film to start. Normally the first song used to be some devotional song. There was no dearth of devotional/ religious songs as majority of the movies used to be either Religious movie or Historical movie. Later on AVM & Gemini film companies started making family movies all of which became hit with the masses. People used to throng the theatre well in advance to see the photos of the movie. Those days, photos of several scenes from the film used to be displayed on a specially made poster board outside the theatre hall in the foyer. During intermission, I used to revisit those photos just to know what all scenes have come before the interval and wait for the scenes which are yet to come after the interval. Songs of the movie printed on small foldable sheets used to be sold for a paisa or two. Even while going to the school by walk, the cinema posters here and there used to fascinate me.
During interval, gate pass used to be given to those going out of the hall to be collected back on their return. This was to ensure that no ticket less person gets in to the hall. I remember, once when I was in my college, went to watch a movie bunking the class and without telling anybody at home. In the interval, I took the pass and came back home with the idea that I will watch the remaining part later as I had the pass. After few days when I went to the theatre after the interval, I was denied entry by the gate keeper because they were using different colour pass for different days and the one I had was not being used that day! I had to cut a very sorry figure before the gate keeper and returned home without watching the remaining film after interval.
Being a gazetted officer, my father used to command high respect in small towns. At some places, the film used to start on our arrival to the theatre. We used to watch the movie from highest enclosure called ‘Box’. As the name suggest, all the theatres used to have two boxes like cabins on both side of the projection room. It was one class higher than the balcony. Boxes used to have limited seats. While watching the movie, we also used to hear the whirling sound of the projector from balcony or box class. There used to be a separate class for ladies only. During interval, the ladies class used to be covered with a screen so that no one could peep in. The lowest class used to be just ground in front of the screen where villagers used to watch movies squatting on the ground. Smoking ‘beedies, eating groundnuts, chewing ‘Paan’ during the show and spiting all over the place were common sight in all the theatres and no body used to complain or object.
The film publicity was normally used to be done by hand push carts and the man pushing the cart used to shout to announce the name of film and their cast. I remember, at one place Sagar, one of the theatres used another novel way of publicity. They had an old Austin car with a carrier (normally used for to keeping luggage) fitted on the top. Film posters used to be mounted on the carrier on all the four sides and during night times used to be lit with tube lights. This car used to go round the town during night times with full illumination and announcement made over a mike. Sometimes, the sound of generator set fitted on the back side of the car will be so loud that we used to run out of the house to find out which new movie has come.
While recollecting about cinema theatres, I particularly remember a unique theatre of those days called ‘Starlit’ at Indore. From outside it looked like a domed shape godown made of asbestos sheets. Inside, the ceiling was covered with steel rods in a pattern. At each joint of those rods were small blue coloured bulbs like stars. There were no bright lights inside except one in the middle to give a look of moon. The theatre from inside used to look blue (e-la Leela Bansali’s ‘Sanwariya’) because of the glow of several small blue lights. The slide projector was also a unique one as the projected slide advertisement used to traverse from floor up to the screen and thereafter from screen to ceiling and again back to projection room. I have never seen such a theatre elsewhere. Probably, it was a concept well ahead of its time. Alas, that theatre does not exist now..
After experiencing all the comforts and fun of present day hi-fi theatres, Dolby sound system and several screen multiplexes, it was still a thrill to wait for Sundays to watch a movie those days.


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  2. Very nicely written. I remember visiting such theaters, usually called talkies, when I visited relatives in small towns. It was always a thrilling experience back then.

  3. This makes me feel nostalgic. Thanks for writing this article.

    I grew up in Canada, so I can't say that I shared your experience exactly, but a unique one of my own - we lived in a small town hours away from any place that had Indian movies on videotape available for rent.

    On our rare trips into the nearest small city my parents would rent two or three Bollywood films. I never liked watching them when I was young, but I acquired an appreciation for many of the classics later and watched them all - I think it was because my father is an old movie buff at heart, and he always extolled the virtues of Bollywood classics.

    By the way, what is a gazetted officer?


  4. This is an amazing post ...i have read about the movies of that time but reading about the theatre n how they advertise is so different ... thanks for sharing :)

  5. Dear trivcap, 'gazetted officers' are government officials whose appointments are made through the governmental official Gazette notification. They are also empowered to attest documents on behalf of public.

  6. Posted on Buzz:
    Padmanabha Vyasamoorthy - "looked like present day FCI Godowns with asbestos sheet" How true!
    Nice post raising nostalgia. You forgot about compulsory news reels and Jananagana mana.And what fare was available to munch in intermission.2:00 pm
    Shri Ram Ayyangar - Yes, I forgot those as also the small sized one page song books of the movies.

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  8. Comment posted on FACEBOOK by- Suresh Ayyangar-
    All I recall of watching fillums in old 'talkies' in our small towns was the rancid odor of ammonia mixed with Khaini wafting around during 'interval' and smell of 'beedis' lingering on clothes for hours. The fun was not in the bug-infested creaky chairs or the lice that came as freebies from management but in the great family outing and the big gang that one went out with to the cinema. It used to be an event.
    As he correctly says in his Blog,SR's father was not only one of the finest aficionado of cinema but he was a great host too. He had style who could make it all enjoyable! He let me see the full movie, while back at my home town my mother used to shoo me off the theatre once Indian News Review of Films Division was over!

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  10. This is a really awesome retelling of an experience. Currently I'm trying to get back to blog more about real-world experiences than virtual ones. Articles that come straight out mind and is styled by the heart. Articles that can be written without an internet connection. :)

    Thanks for sharing this experience :) My family was not so much into theatre-going as they were into videotape renting.

  11. I find your blog very interesting.
    Will return soon.


  13. Movie magic :) A great post once again :)

  14. Absolutely loved this post, even if I have discovered it a bit late. The magic of cinema in those days is very moving.

  15. As we grew during the same period I can very easily connect with the era you are talking about. I was my self a movie buff and use to watch almost all the movies those days. If you remember we have jointly seen many movies in Jabalpur specially Hollywood ones in Empire & Delite talkies.
    Those days English movies use to change within a few days hence we could watch 2 to 3 movies in a week!