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Once Upon A Time…

Friday, October 07, 2011
By Deepa Gahlot

There was a time, before the multiplexes came up, when the Friday movie fix was at a rundown suburban cinema, pretending to be a multiplex. The tickets were relatively cheap, so were the snacks, and over a period of time, one knew most of the ushers, canteen attendants and booking clerks by name.

The staff, made to sell tickets in ‘black’ outside, smiled sheepishly when one spotted them, and occasionally, when the show was really full, dug out favourite aisle seats. On one memorable occasion, an extra chair was placed for a regular when there were no tickets to be had.

There was a regular bunch of first-day-first-show fans, who one recognised and eventually befriended. Before and after the movie, one could chat with them, and get feel of what the public was thinking.

Even when the multiplexes came up and provided a better – if far more expensive—viewing experience, and tickets could be home delivered, this cinema still put up a battered ‘Housefull’ board outside, and tried to black market tickets. A viewer would be conned once before realising that tickets were available at the box-office too, and inside there were empty seats to be offloaded at the correct price once the film started.

This dinghy movie hall with its pot-holed, garbage strewn approach road that invariably got flooded in the rains, and its rickshaw-wallah audience that whistled at the entry of any star, was a habit, quickly abandoned when a good theatre came up nearer home, with a more decent crowd and the option of quick shopping in the attached mall. 

Then, yesterday, one went to watch a film at the old cinema after many years. The audience in the queue, almost all young men in shabby, but lurid coloured clothes, with one of two sulky-looking women, had come to spend their Dussehra holiday to see the new release. The same bunch of scalpers employed by the theatre stood outside selling tickets at higher prices, trying to make a desperate, tax-free profit at a time when nobody except maybe Salman Khan could command that ‘Housefull’ board.

Inside, as expected, many seats were unoccupied. The film started, the piercing whistles greeted every star and every bikini-clad woman and every cheap gag.

Filmmakers may try all they can to make better quality, more sophisticated films, but this is the audience they have to cater to in the end. They keep Bollywood alive and they make or break stars. One rediscovered that sitting in uncomfortable seats surrounded by leering men with smelly feet and oily hair.  The ears are still ringing with those two-fingers-in-mouth, shrill whistles that only the taporis can manage. 

Next week... back to the overpriced tickets and snacks of the multiplex.  And audiences who watch movies silently… sometimes a cell phone chirps.

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