Friday, October 31, 2008

Cinema Paradiso

Being a lover of movies and its ways, I immediately fell for this one. It’s a charming account of a movie theater located in a freshly independent Indian town. The town is the modern day Trivandrum in Kerela and the writer, a septuagenarian reminiscing those days, using today’s tools like the computer and internet. His name is Prof Gopakumar K. and he lives in Trivandrum. The abrupt nature, interesting details and subtle wit of the description adds to the charm.

I’m putting the piece in this space, exactly the way it was written, with the old gentleman’s permission. Get charmed!

1948: Sreekumar Theatre, Railway Station Road
. Inaugurated.

Went with Appuchettan. 1st film MGM Technicolor, Bathing Beauty - Esther Williams . Only English movies. Every 3rd day there was a change. 15 Films a month. Other theatres were thatched sheds. Accommodated viewers on the floor (thara ticket). Then, on foldable wooden chairs. Rattan chairs in upper classes. Lice were carried home after the show.

But Sreekumar was a permanent hall. Viewers sat on numbered chairs fixed in rows. Cushion seat in the balcony classes. Rates stared like this: 4 1/2 annas (28 paise) - 10 annas ( 63 ps ) , Re 1 ( British Rupee ) & Rs 1 1/2 . The next 2 classes were in the balcony (upstairs) Rs 2 & Rs 2 1/2 ( separate cubicles ie Boxes ) . There were 3 boxes with 8 upholstered chairs in each. The middle one - The Royal Box was exclusive for the Maharajah & others from the Kowdiyar Palace. On days when Chithira Thirunal (the local King) came there was no Interval.

For keeping cycles 1/4 anna -1 anna = 6 naya paise (ie 1/100th of a Rupee). Cars were parked outside - no parking fee. 1 or 2 motor cycles / no scooters were seen in the car parking area. No Autos in those days. Till 1957 there was season ticket system for students (above 18). Students were spared from submitting any proof like photo ID or admission form countersigned by the Principal .The theatre people trusted the student community. Girl students were not issued with the concession - only accompanied women & girls were allowed.

1st show at 6:30 pm to 8.30 & the 2nd 9.30 - midnight. No A/C & standby generator. People smoked. Once outside after the show one could smell tobacco smoke in the dress. Tea Coffee & Cigarettes were sold at the stall outside .Fairly long printed synopsis were given free. I had season ticket 1953 -1957 Collected about 700 synopses. Still photographs of coming films were exhibited.

There was a pink curtain which rose slowly to the Spnish Gypsy song played on guitar. Then the famous Tamil song of K B Sunderambal (Njarapazhathe pizhundu) when Lord Subrahmonian’s slide was shown. Then came the Maharajah`s welcome etc. Started with Film Division’s B&W news reel. Ads in still slides during the interval.

Teachers in English encouraged students to read THe Hindu Paper & the films at Srikumar. Student Politics not popular. Today we have the TV & computer. In those days we knew more about the Holywood stars - Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergmann , Elezabath Taylor . Charlie Chaplin Marlan Brando, Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas & so on.

ShreeKumar theater still stands on Railway Station Road in Trivandrum
, showing Malayalam movies of the day. The ticket price is around Rs 50/- and the place is equipped with AC and dts.

ps: thats the poster of that 1944 musical, Bathing Beauty

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Shubho Bijoya!

Last evening, after much deliberation over the titles from my library, I picked up Ray’s classic, ‘Devi’, unaware of the coincidence of it all.

The movie, based on a short story by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhya, is set in 19th century Bengal and deals with highly prevalent superstition system in India. It begins with Shubho Bijoya and throughout the movie Maa Durga is main protagonist along with a very young and virginal Sharmila Tagore in her first major role; and Ray’s regular Soumitra Sen. Durga, in Hindu mythology is the demon-fighting form of Lord Shiva’s wife. Despite all my temptations, I’m not going to give away the plot as it will spoil the fun of those who haven’t seen this classic yet.

Today morning, I woke up to hear and see the celebrations of Vijay Dashmi across India, on NDTV. I began smiling to myself. Away from the country, I had completely forgotten about today’s significance.

Because I have a bit of Bengali blood in me I’d like to wish all of you in the typical Bengali manner. Shubho Bijoya Dashumi!

ps: thats the poster of the movie

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

An excerpt from a letter I wrote to my mother a year ago in an attempt make her see my point of view regarding a situation.

"Religion, in the strict sense of God, Priests, Rituals, Chanting etc doesn’t figure anywhere in my philosophy. But religion in the cultural context is something which I appreciate and enjoy. The beauties of the Moslem culture like the language Urdu, Shaayari, Clothes, Biryani, Qawwalis, Architecture etc are the aspects which appeal to me. They make me feel proud about belonging to such a rich culture. In fact, I think that you have a good role to play in this. I can trace back my love and understanding of Urdu Shaayari to you. Your love for masters like Faiz, Iqbal, Ghalib and Mehendi Hasan etc has seeped into my system too."

This excerpt has certain relevance today as we are celebrating Eid in the true cultural style of Moslems. Pooja is attempting Biryani for the first time in her cooking career. My contributions so far has been buying Kohinoor Basmati Rice, Chopping Onions, Crushing pepper, playing the right kind of music and moral support.

Interestingly, and to my best knowledge, none of the major Urdu poets with the exception of Josh Malihabadi, came up with a good Sher for Eid. There are many anonymous ones though. The one which has been highly abused, especially by Hindi movies is this. Its quiet easy to understand so I don’t need to translate it.

'Eid' kaa din hai gale aaj to lag jaa zaalim

Rasm-e-duniyaa bhii hai mauqaa bhii hai dastuur bhii hai

To find what Josh has to say on the subject, you can go here.

: will let you know how the Biryani turned out to be. the picture shows its beginnings.