Let the movie begin... now!
Cinema has completed 100 years in India. Tributes are being paid to Indian cinema by both people from the film industry and outside. My homage to Indian films in the next few columns will be as someone who has been an avid film viewer since his childhood. The journey of Indian films has been spectacular and my association with Indian cinema has been enriching and beautiful. My memory of films goes back to the time in 1972 when I was around five years old. I remember the magical feeling that descended on me as a child when the lights were turned off in film halls and the action started rolling on the screen.
The sound system was nowhere what is heard in theatres today, but it still echoes in my mind, to some extent offering me the same mesmerising effect it had on me in my childhood. And the screen action towered before me when I was a child. I understood nothing about the story of the films, but was completely hypnotised by the action and emotions unfolding before me. The enthralment was so complete that I remember rising up from my seat in excitement and hitting the villain on the screen with my fists along with the hero. I loved fight scenes the most. A psychoanalyst might infer that I have a violent streak in me that surfaced in all innocence in my childhood when cinema fights happened before me.
A sound of dhishum accompanied the blows being exchanged in the film. Dhishum was uttered not plainly but with full emotional vigour in the film. And I would match it and say dhishum with the same energy from my place in the theatre. My parents loved my performance but I am sure it distracted viewers around me. My mother put her hand around my eyes to block my view whenever scenes that would horrify or in any way adversely affect the mind of a child were shown. I would try to remove her shielding hand, but she would resolutely keep it in place.
My mother’s action reflects the impact films can have on people’s minds. Laughter, sobs, fear, anger, hatred, love, dreams, aspirations, wonder, films give them all. They offer catharsis, hold the mirror to society, spell out problems, render solutions, entertain, outrage. After all, there is no business like show business and films are probably supreme among all show businesses. Coming back to my child’s eye view of cinema, I saw pictures in three cities as a child – my hometown Patna, my nani’s place Begusarai and my grandpa’s place for some years Benaras.
I often spent months together at Begusarai and Benaras and have heavenly memories of my days at both places. In the early 70s, many families considered watching films a waste of time and money and were not regular film viewers. Films were not seen as very healthy entertainment, especially for the young.
Many in the generations of my grandparents and to some extent my parents thought regular film viewing corrupted young minds. My grandfather saw very few films and my father says he never took him and other family members out for a movie show. I had much better luck. My parents often went to cinema with my two sisters and me. Cinema was slowly being accepted by much of India as bona fide entertainment in the 70s. This acceptance became complete in the 80s, when I was a teenager in intense love with a lot of heroines. But that will come later. Back to the early 70s. My memory says films based on religious themes were shown at least till the 70s. There were enough viewers till then to make such movies commercially viable. I joined my grandma and my father’s chachi when they visited theatres in Patna and Benaras on rare occasions to watch such films.
I saw a movie on the Narasimha avatar of Hindu deity Vishnu with them. The scene where the half man-half lion figure of Narasimha thunders out of a palace pillar and slays the demon king Hiranyakashipu on his thighs with his lion nails making blood spurt out of the demon’s torn chest has stayed with me. The mythological story was shown very plainly in the film, with none of the technological aids of today that go a long way in enhancing the pleasure of film viewing. But my grandmas were happy with the movie because it had shown them something very close to their heart – an avatar of their dear Lord Vishnu.
The enchanting memories I have of my grand mother’s house in Begusarai have a lot to do with films. I will talk about it in my next column. My story as a movie viewer has just begun. It will go on for 40 years and ‘The End’ will not come in the end, just like it did not in case of some movies. The story still proceeds with grandeur and glory at my present age of 45. Catch you in the next column. Till then, happy viewing.
The author is a senior
journalist and columnist