Monday, January 9, 2012

Earliest memories of watching a movie

There are numerous memories, some hazy, some vague, some unusually clear, that I carry from the time when the brain cells had begun to hold impressions.  I tried to make a short list of only the memories related to movies.

My earliest in my memory timeline of watching a film in a theatre dates back to the early 1960s. It was a matinee show.  The theatre was Ganesh Picture House.  The movie was Absent Minded Professor.  [click on the link]. My late uncle who was fond of children, had taken me.  Some scenes from it have clung in my mind.  Fifty years on, my mind's eye can project those scenes much the same way Lee Falk's Comic hero, Mandrake the Magician, could project images [on the wall] from the minds of others using his magical powers!

Before I made a web search on this old movie, let me first make an attempt to briefly describe what I had in memory of those scenes in Absent Minded Professor.  I had seen only once, probably as a four-year old: A flying car, some people playing some ball game where players are jumping like springs and a little black rubber ball that goes bouncing everywhere; there were two cars crashing head on, both their fronts go up together and then come crashing down with a loud thud, throwing clouds of dust from the road.  This scene I used to animate using my toy cars for quite some time!  It was a fun sight!

As I grew up, but still very young, elders used to discuss about this film.  I used to give an ear to their talk.  So I learnt that the movie was about a professor, who was renown for his forgetfulness, yet, a genuis.  He calls one of his wonder-inventions in that story as "Flubber".  There was a game of basketball in which the players are using flubber.  This is all I knew for a long time.

Then, when the internet arrived, I have wanted to see if this is available to view online, by what we now call 'googling'.  Lo and behold!  It was there!  I could not wait!  I started to watch.  That was a fine copy, very clear.  I watched it in full for 100 mintues and drove down memory lane.   It stretched well past midnight and I wonder why Dear Drowsy kept away!  With a great feeling I went to bed having a sense of some great achievement!  Reliving some fond old murky memories from that young age was simply thrilling.  I was now able to compare with my memory those very scenes I actually saw now after a gap of nearly 50 years.

The players with flubber-shoes were unstoppable with their amazing 'slam dunks'. Then there was the professor in his car that goes flying like an aircraft. I did not remember the dog sitting by the professor's side during its flight.  What creativity!  I now wonder how such amazing scenes were filmed 50 years ago and how much trouble it must have been to bring out such magnificent effects!  I also learnt that not for nothing it was one of Walt Disney's most hilarious productions as well! There are some really wonderfully funny sequences which make me think of watching it again!

That car in the movie was a Model T (Ford).  My great grandfather also had a Model T for a few years in the late 1920s.  Here is the operation manual of the same car, just FYI!

Here is a link I found from Walt Disney site itself, about the movie.
During my web search, I discovered that the original model used in the movie is preserved in the wax museum.  See this 2-minute video. 

So much about the movie, now a bit about the famous Ganesh Picture House which screened it and enthralled thousands of people.  It was just a few furlongs down the street where we lived and could be reached within 5 minutes by foot.  It was one of the very few theatres which screened English movies and so had become popular with the English-movie-loving public.  Later at Christ the King Convent [which was adjacent to GPH] where I studied, we had a boy in our class by name Vishwanath, but everyone called him "King Kong".  Probably in our 2nd or 3rd Standard class, I came to know that he was the son of the owner of Ganesh Picture House.  He had probably been nicknamed after "King Kong" which was the name of the film in which the famous wrestler Dara Singh had acted. It was also popular in the early 60s!  Our little King Kong was a daringly naughty fellow too, if you know what I mean and fully deserved that nickname as much as Dara Singh was prefixed with the same name!  But we adored that that theatre was 'his'!

It was not a pleasant sight, many years later to see the theatre building being demolished. As of today, a new venture is coming up.  There have been so many fond memories of great movies thousands of people have watched there.  When I last saw a movie, the ticket rate was one rupee sixty paise.  I had seen a few with friends when it was only 80 paise too.   It must have been much less when my uncle took me there when I did not need a ticket.

Another murky memory is from the film 'Hatari'.  It may be around 1964-65.  My late uncle had taken both me and my little brother along, to Gayatri Talkies for this film which was actually released in 1962.  It was an action movie involving an African Safari.  I remember two scenes where a fast running Rhino is caught by a hunter using lasso from his open jeep that is moving close to it. The Rhino also gores the jeep with its horn. It was a thrilling sequence that has stuck in my memory.  I remember the theatre because I was now a little bit older.  Gayatri Talkies also screened English movies.  Some theatres were content with Kannada or Hindi.  This theatre is still active, though not with English movies due to changing times, but still in the news.  See this write-up (most recent) relating to this historic theatre.

Gayatri Talkies on Chamaraja Double Road

Deccan Herald, November 2011.

Woodlands Theatre near the Clock Tower is another old theatre.  It also screened various fine films.
I remember a particular scene from Sant Gnaneshwar, a  Kannada film, where a poor boy who is spiritually energetic bakes some rotis on his back.  He goes on 'all fours' exposing his back to the hot sun and the roti puffs up like it does on a hot pan!   The rotis were for another poor boy who was very hungry and  had nothing to eat.  Vague memory of the only scene but I clearly remember it was a morning show.  Some years later,  I was taken by my mother and late aunt to watch Arunodaya, also a Kannada movie meant for children as it was featuring some animals and birds. The movie was very nice, but somehow, the suffocation of the theatre hall was too much for me and I was feeling breathless - this word I can say now, but I never knew how to express it then.  Instead, I complained of 'stomach ache' and relented to quit at intermission.  We had gone to the matinee and I remember that we walked back home that evening all the way, past K.R.Circle and Lansdowne Building.  I was very relieved to be out of the theatre, not one bit regretting missing the movie.  They would not believe my seriousness because I was already renown to make these 'stomach ache dramas' when I wanted to skip school [I hated school-going].  But that evening, it was really discomforting.  We could never watch that movie again.  Sound of Music was another English movie I remember vaguely in the same theatre. I think this was the evening show - it ended in the night - it seemed a very very long time in!  I am not too sure if this was the movie in which it required two intermissions because of the length of the film. The movie was filled with soulful songs which I never understood, but one particular scene stands out - two people are singing under a garden gazebo.  It was a movie that everybody spoke about. "Did you watch it?" was a common part of conversation!

It was fun to watch the ushers coming in with battery torches to show late-comers their seats by pointing the beam of light on the empty seat/s.  When we were already seated, it was a nuisance when someone came in the way of the screen!  The smell of cigarette smoke that filled the hall was awful.  The huge fans added more misery.  The darkness inside the hall was not a pleasant sight!! When someone moved in and out, the light from the door/curtain distracted people.  Balcony tickets were slightly higher priced.  During the time when we had entered the theatre hall well ahead of time, lights used to be on and I wondered why the wall on which we see the movie was a curved surface.  When the lights were switched off, everybody went silent as it was a sign that the show would start.  When the movie started , I could not 'notice' that curve on the wall! 

In the olden days, bed bugs was a problem not only in homes but in theatre seats as well. They had coir cushion seats in the pre-foam seat era!  It was heaven to those little blood suckers. We boys wearing shorts used to scratch our thighs by intermission time and kept scratching the areas even after we returned home!  The suckers also used to ride with people's clothes into their homes to infest there too. It was a heck of a problem. I hope theatres have got rid of this pest!

[Image of Bedbug borrowed from the web]

I used to derive pleasure from watching the beam of light passing from the projector lens on to the screen and the dust wafting across the beam adding effect!  I used to wonder about how the beam from such a small window diverged on to a big screen!  

Small booklets were sold in theatres for ten paise.  It contained the lyrics of songs and a gist of the story of the film that was being shown.  My late aunt had a great fancy for collecting these and I have salvaged a few from her collection.

There were also Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy comedy movies that were screened in Mysore, but I cannot remember having seen any in my young age in theatres, but I have some weak memory of watching probably one of Chaplin's, which was shown at CFTRI by its film society.  In fact, my late father had taken me pillion on his bicycle specially for this and I used to sit by the 16 mm projector which he operated there.

I cannot remember huge crowds at theatres for buying tickets.  Queues were short and people walked in leisurely to the ticket-issuing window.   There were four shows per day. Morning show, Matinee, Evening show and Night show. Our normal choices were morning or matinee probably because my Ajji - Grandmother wanted us back home safe before dusk!

 Mysore can boast of theatres dating back to the 1930s. Krishna Talkies near Gandhi Square was perhaps the oldest.  It had become non-functional in my time itself!  The building is still in existence - Kaveripatnam Market.  Picture below.  Opposite/behind this, was my grandfather's famous office on Rave Street.

Lakshmi, Gayatri, Uma, Prabha, Padma, Shantala.... all female Godess names.  They are all names of theatres in Mysore, besides Opera, Olympia, Sri, Prabhudava, Rajkamal, Sangam, Ranjith, Ganesha, Krishna...

Though I do not remember having watched Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai - a hindi movie released in 1960, the song sung by Mukesh "Mera naam Raju..." has embedded in memory.  It was very frequently played on the radio.  On hearing it, my ears would straighten!  My mother had found this out.  I can vividly remember, when this was being aired, I'd open my mouth and accepted spoonfuls of cooked rice-rasam without a fuss, much to the delight of my mother as it saved her some trouble feeding, which usually was a circus!  We can now watch the song sequence here.



Abraham Tharakan said...

Nice reading. It is good to record our early memories which certainly be of interest to our children and grandchildren. In fact my daughters keep insisting that I write down my memories in a book format. After all,memories are history.

I do remember the English movies you have mentioned and also "Jis desh me..."

YOSEE said...

Nice, nostalgic round up of movie-going experience in old mysore.... I must have seen Hatari 4 times !.... re. Ganesha Talkies, we as youngsters used to get cheap thrills by "watching movies for free" from our cowshed from where, through an open window/door of the balcony of the theatre, the screen would be visible.Even though the picture seen was small and angled and the sounds indistinct and muffled, it was quite exciting.

Hold on to those old song books. I read somewhere that they command high value today in the antiques market !

kasturi said...

Your postings on blog (about bed bug - thigane) took me back to early 70's. My father used to take us to movies (mostly second show) and we used to carry snacks. Once we visited Opera House theater for second show with vattu shaavige (both sweet and khara). While watching movie and eating shaavige, rats came on our laps to eat shaavige. After finishing shaavige, we kept the empty basket on our feet and feet one ft above the ground. The rats were prowling below the seats till the lights were on. That day we took our relatives along with us for the movie. Even today we remember the incident whenever we meet - Krishna Rao


How nice! Earliest memories may be few, but so clearly embedded in our minds. The description of the cinema house is precious, when such places have practically disappeared. I also loved seeing the song books - I was an avid collector of those.

Abhyudaya Shrivastava said...

Hey! It was a nice read. Although I belong to the generation of 90's and my first film in a theater was J P Dutta's Border!

Anil Jagalur said...

Interesting post.
Olympia is also a goddess but a greek one. I had never realised it that so many Mysore theatres have such names! :-)