Thursday, November 11, 2010

Earliest memories of watching a movie

I must have been 5-6 years young.   My late uncle had taken me to Ganesha Picture House (which no longer exists - flattened to the ground) to watch Absent Minded Professor.  This is the earliest memory of me watching a movie in a theatre.  A few scenes from this are still fresh in my memory. That movie was about the forgetful professor who was a genuis and keeps inventing things. One of his inventions was [in that story] called "Flubber". He accidentally drops a piece of flubber and it keeps on bouncing all over the place. That gives him many ideas and he tries it in various applications like shoe soles, car tires... he plays a game of basketball using those flubber shoes and none can catch him as he can jump higher than all players  and 'slam dunks' all his shots from high above! That was very funny! Another scene is that his car is in flight like an aeroplane, that he fits with flubber tyres! It was a great hit in that era for its stunts and tricks and the impression it had created among the public. To any of those that forgot anything he was labeled or called as "Absent Minded Professor". Such was its popularity. It was also the time in the early sixties when English movies had become popular in our city. 

"Sound of Music" was yet another English movie hit in those times and I vaguely remember to have seen that as a very young fellow. That movie was full of its beautiful songs. I think this was the film that went on for many hours or so it seemed to me. There was an e-mail in circulation recently showing some recent pictures of the same artistes having a reunion!  It was wonderful!  

I recollect having gone with the uncle and brother to Gayatri Talkies (still thriving) to see an action film on African Safari.  It was "Hatari". I remember the scene where a running rhino is caught by the person throwing a lasso at its neck from his moving open jeep. Wow, that illustration is shown in that link I just gave!!

I remember three Hindi movies in particular.  One was 'Sant Gyaneshwar' - it was in Woodlands theatre I think. Next was 'Dosti', a great hit for its touching story and songs.  I clearly remember that by the time we were inside the theatre, the movie had already begun!  The third was 'Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai'. I cannot recall any scene from it but the song by Mukesh 'Mera Naam Raaju...' was my favourite at that young age and my mother feeding me with food was easy for her when it was on the radio - morsels would be downed effortlessly!  I've embedded a video clip of this song at the bottom of this post.

[These bookltes with song lyrics and gist of the story used to be sold in theatres for ten paisa]

The darkness of theatres, the ushers coming in to show late-comers their seats [sometimes a nuisance when he came blocking the view of the big screen], the "newsreel" produced by the govt., the highlights of the upcoming movie, the advertisements [very few], looking at people around me in awe during the intermissin when the lights were switched on and in the end, people getting up and moving out slowly rubbing their eyes and discussing a point or two while leaving the theatre.... they were thrilling in themselves!

I have another vague memory at a theatre where two intermissions were necessary as the film was too long.  I cannot remember anything more at all.  Very unusual to have two intermissions!

When I left behind some years, may be 10-12, I used to feel suffocated inside the theatre due to its closed doors and windows what with smokers puffing aplenty.  Once I had forced my aunt and mom to quit at intermission as my breathlessness was quite unbearable. I was unable to express breathlessness, but in my own simple terms, it was 'stomach ache'!  It was a good Kannada movie, 'Arunodaya' which was meant for children.  My mother even remembers how we quit the hall without watching it in full.  They still think it was a drama. We could not go to watch that movie again. In fact, that sort of 'stomach ache' drama I used to really make when I did not want to go to school!  That was the reputation. 

We used to go to theatres when a good movie arrived. It was a great occasion to visit a theatre - usually many from the familly or friends went together. It was one of the very few sources of entertainment. Mysore can boast of theatres dating back to the 1940s. Krishna Talkies (defunct since long) in Gandhi Square is said to be the oldest.  There were four shows per day. Morning show, Matinee, Evening show and Night show. Our normal choices were morning or matinee.

[Gandhi Square: The tiled building is where Krishna Talkies functioned]

The light rays from the projector lens directed at the huge screen, through the little square opening was a pleasurable sight!  Because dust and smoke wafting across the light beam made good viewing!  There was a Kannada movie 'Jedara Bale' (Spider's Web) and when I was looking at that projector beam opening when the film was on, indeed there was a huge web at the opening from where the beam was coming!  It was great fun when I showed it to my elders.

I must tell here that my father was a "Sound Engineer" having worked for the Films Division in Mumbai in the early 50s and he used to mention how he did song recordings for "Phakheezah" (a hit Hindi movie) and how the great Lata Mangeshkar rehearsed before the final recording.  Later, he was also working as 'projection operator' in an institute in Mysore where his job was to screen 16mm films.  He knew about those light beams and all, but we did not know until he showed us a 16mm film projector in action!

[Father examining film from a reel - this is the 35mm version]

In the olden days, bed bugs was a problem not only in homes but also in theatre seats. They had coir cushion seats.  Foam had not yet been introduced widely. It was a great haven to those little blood suckers. We boys wearing shorts used to scratch our thighs by intermission time. We'd have already donated blood to them by then!  There used to be wide rashes by the end!   Those suckers also used to ride with people into their homes to infest there too. It was a menace in those times really. When seats were renovated in most theatres gradually with the passing of time and availablility of good cushions and upholstery, this was solved as crevices in upholstery and seat were no longer available to them.

I'm a die-hard fan of Laurel and Hardy and CharlieChaplin comedies. They are my all-time favourite. I never get tired watching them.  Funnily, I do not remember at what age I must have seen their movie for the first time, but I went to see in later years whenever they came to Mysore. 

 The greatest comedy duo

Man of the 20th century

Movie-going was great entertainment in those times and it was an important topic in discussions when people met.  "Have you watched that film?" almost followed "Did you have your coffee?"  Technological aspects in movie production and conditions in theatres have risen but the quality of screen content has gone the opposite way.  With less technology then, people enjoyed a great deal!

Listen and watch "Mera Naam Raju":

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