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.