As I grew up movies were a big influence on me. Those days, television wasn’t as prevalent as now. We got a black and white television around 1982 when India hosted the Asian games in New Delhi. Until then, there was no TV at home. During 1974, when the West Indies toured India, some entrepreneur had set up a TV in one of the local schools and charged entrance fee to watch the first test match played in Bangalore. I still recall, I and my brother would go to the school just before 10 AM when the match started. We would watch the game for 2 hours in total darkness along with a crowd of about 25-30, come back for lunch (12-1) and head back to the game. This we did for five straight days – it was during summer holidays.
Our only other entertainment where we were not involved (such as a cricket game) was watching movies. Movie tickets were expensive relatively and it was not that I could watch one every weekend. My father would buy us tickets for some of the popular movies as he knew the co-owner of the Nanda talkies who was his student once upon a time. It would be most exciting to go to a movie on the first day if not the first week. In India, movie stars are treated like Gods, at least in those days, especially the really popular ones. I cannot erase from my memory the 50-100 feet cut outs of popular Kannada and Hindi movies starts put up in front of the theaters well in advance. Just watching these we drove by in a bus had excitement build up. The cut outs would be decked in glitterati and garlands. There would be always some people at these cutouts literally worshipping with oil lamps and flowers – such was the craze.
Since movies in theaters were expensive, the alternative was the touring talkies – a basic canopy of a structure with canvassed walls. The seating would be broken into two parts – the part closest to the screen half way along the length of the structure was all but sand! People would sit on the sand much like people in the US or the western world would sit on the grass to watch fireworks. Only difference is the sand and the inside was filled with people freely smoking beedies (the common man’s cigarette). The rest of the place till the back wall was your ikea-like chairs which was charged a ‘premium’ when compared to the sand. I remember paying 60 paise for the sand on occasions and 1 Rupee for the chair. However the comfort was, it didn’t matter at all to the group we would go with. One thing for sure, we never came back from a movie without watching due to all tickets getting sold out. One reason of course was that these touring talkies would play movies that already had had their run in the theaters. But since movies were a big part of entertainment to the common man and quite inexpensive, people wouldn’t mind watching a movie again.
Come Shivrathri – the festival day of celebration of Lord Shiva’s birth – the custom was to be awake all night supposedly praying. However the kids were exempt and we would spend the night walking around the town. The excitement would start after we finished dinner around 7:30. We would head out to one of the touring talkies for the 10 PM show; then head to another for an early morning show. It wasn’t uncommon for some of the friends to have started the watching frenzy starting mid-day and end the next morning with four movies in a row!
Among other things I remember of these movie houses is when I used to study at night. Once the din of the evening settled after 9 PM, I could hear the starting song which was alway a devotional song, waving in and out through the airs around 10 PM. This was a sure sign for me that it would be silent now on and that I could focus on studying better without disturbance. By this time, all the family members – father, mother, grand mother – would have settled to sleep or it would be my father going over his ‘accounts’ for the day. That little verandah I studied in through high school and college was a 8×8 room with a 7 feet ceiling and had all but one 40W light!