Friday, January 9, 2009

Nostalgia: Cinema, cinema

Bright, sunny morning in the village. Or a sleepy afternoon. You hear the beat of a single chenda (Kerala drum) in the distance. Faintly, at first, and then louder as the drummer gets closer. Everybody knows what it is – publicity for some cinema. Still, there is an element of excitement, particularly among children.

The drummer comes into view. Walking behind him, a man throws pieces of colored paper into the air – blue, yellow, pink, green. Those are cinema notices, mentioning names of the artistes and describing the story partly, always ending with the words ‘see the rest on the silver screen’.

If it was an important movie, the publicity would include a pushcart with color posters. In either case children scramble to collect the notices. Because of the social set up that prevailed those days, we couldn’t join the melee, but there were others to gather the notices for us.


We had an uncle, a cousin of Appan., who was considered to be mentally underdeveloped. He had two passions in life. One was music and the other, collecting cinema notices. He had bundles of them, almost always within his reach. There was a competition among us children to supply him with new cinema notices. Wonder what happened to his collection when he died in early 1960s.


As far back as I can remember we had a cinema about 3 kilometers from our house, at a place called Poochakkal. It is still there. As a child, it was my dream to go for a show there. Direct approach to the parents wouldn’t work. I told Chekkutty, one of our more resourceful kariyasthans (manager/supervisor) about it. This tall and impressive looking Muslim had joined our service at the age of 13 as ‘chellam’ (tamboolam box) boy of my great grandfather (see A judgment.).


Incidentally, Chekutty’s son, KC Mohamadu Kunju was the elected President of our Panchayath (Thycattussarry), a post comparable to Mayor, continuously for more than 40 years. That is a record.

Chekutty managed to obtain the permission and on the great day, escorted us to the show.
The theater, which Chekkutty eventually bought, was a thatched structure with white sand as the floor. It had four classes of seating, ‘thara’ (floor) right in front of the screen, behind that ‘bench’, then chairs, 2nd class and 1st class. 

In ‘thara’ people often used to lie back and watch the movie. Each reel had to be rewound before the next one was put on. There was a blue haze before the screen because of ‘beedi’ smoke that rose from everywhere.

I couldn’t understand much of the Tamil movie. The cast included NS Krishnan and his wife TA Mathuram and there was a lot of laughter from the audience. I was waiting for the part where Chekkutty had said I should keep my eyes closed.

And finally it came. On cue I shut my eyes but looked anyway. It was a ‘kuli’ (bathing) scene. A group of fully clothed women were singing and frolicking in a stream. There was nothing great about it. Those were the days when local women used to bathe in the village ponds wearing nothing except a loin cloth.

The truly exciting part was the days after the cinema, the way I boasted about it to my cousins and classmates.


Maddy said...

that was a nice one - getting permission to sit in the thara was a big thing. but before we grew up the thara vanished.

Anonymous said...

"Because of the social set up that prevailed those days, we couldn’t join the melee"

:-/ the off hand way you wrote this really brought tears to my eyes.

GVK said...

A touching piece that took me back to my days in schoolboy knickers in Coimbatore,watching the cinema cart move by through Telugu Brahmin Street.
I wished I could chase the cart, which was possible only when my grand-father wasn't watching. This rarely, if ever, happened. For my grandfather's room was right in front, facing the street; and he spent much of his time seated in his favourite chair by the window, with a view to the street.

Murali RamaVarma said...

Dear AT Sir, Nostalgic memoirs indeed!Chekkutty and that uncle of yours who used to collect notices on cinema comes out as colourful characters. If you had those film memoraphilia collections, it would have made a good fortune.Southeby's and Christies-auctioneers of London-do sell fil memoraphilia of various types at high prices!


Nice nostalgic post.

Anonymous said...

Dear Abraham,
Thanks for this simple yet wonderful piece of writing. I can even smell the rustic atmosphere in the 'Talkies'. Brings my childhood memory of seeing a remake of the Tamil movie 'Veendum Vasantham' in a "Kottaka" at Changanacherry. There was a large Tamil expatriate population in the audience. The hero was on his way on a bicycle to foil the nefarious intentions of the villain. Suddenly almost the whole of the "Kottaka" were clapping and were on their feet to cheer the hero! Such audience participation was limited only to Tamil movies. Reaction to Malayalam movies was restricted to laughs and weeping and some stray cases of whistling!
PS:- Currently in Sydney whenever I go for a Football match I see spectators clapping approvingly whenever a crunching tackle occurs! Just like the Tamil movie fans!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Maddy

Unknown said...

Anonymous, I am glad that you liked it.

Unknown said...

GVK, thank you for the comment.

Unknown said...

Murali, I am sure that somebody would have thrown out uncle's film memoraphilia soon after his death. A pity.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Anand.

Till you mentioned it, I had not thought of the audience participation. The viewers of Tamil cinema do get fully involved.

I remember watching MGR's 'Ulakam Chuttum Valiban in Ernakulam. It was so fascinating to watch the crowd reaction whenever the hero came on the screen.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Raji.

Mathuram Nallathambi CUA said...

I have heard similar stories from my mother. Nice. Enjoyed reading your post.