When I first heard the American expression – ‘going to the movies’, I thought, how many movies do they watch in one visit to a cinema hall? In Rohtak that I grew up in, one cinema hall showed only one movie at a time. Much later, when I discovered my first multiplex at PVR Saket in Delhi, I thought to myself, maybe all American cinema halls are multiplexes. Then the use of ‘movies’ and not ‘movie’ made sense. In a few years and a few visits to America later, I came to appreciate the ‘slang-ism’ in American language.
Anyways, this post is not about American slangs or the movies. It’s about going to the movies in Rohtak of the late 80s / early 90s. Rohtak of those days was a straight line in my mind with seven red dots, beeping the way the GPS location of criminals, beeps in all CSI kind of crime investigation series on TV these days.
Somewhere outside of my geographical imagery, beyond the Bus Stop point on the straight line was the first red dot, Bangar, the cinema hall where I saw the only Haryanvi language movie I have ever seen (because the hero’s father knew Dad and invited us).
Next was my home (which was not a cinema hall but could have been in my mind), from where began a small distributary towards Partap, the cinema hall where Mom and Dad sneaked many a movie nights after putting the three of us siblings to sleep. I still view it not as romance but betrayal on their part. Who puts their kids to sleep and goes to watch a night show and then scars them by sharing this fact many years later? Partap too closed down by early 90s, with the advent of VCRs and then the Cable TV, this landmark from my parents’ early years of marriage suffered a terrible fate. To the best of my memory, I remember it as a stinking, pissing place for the market around it. The building became shards eventually, ready to fall down at any time.
Coming back to the straight line, a couple kilometers ahead was Subhash, again at a little more than a detour from the straight line that I had come to view as Rohtak. I was way too young when we watched any films there. My elder cousins and brothers do remember a time when they showed decent films before slumping into showing the quick money spinners (read Blue films) and eventual closure.
The fourth beeping red dot on the straight line was Asoka, tall and magnificent. That’s the way I remember it, like a palace, much before it was broken down to make a shopping complex. For once, Asoka was on the other side of the sword. It all began with Asoka, all things fun broken down to make more of malls, markets, selling and buying places that made no sense to me and still don’t.
The straight line slurped ahead but there was something to break its motion. A railway track cut through this line just before the fifth beeping red dot, Liberty. This railway crossing caused all of us kids, a whole lot of anxiety, every time we wanted to reach in time for a movie in any of the cinema halls that lay beyond. Our anxiety set a series of events in motion that included us shrieking, Dad giving us one of his famous ‘Stop doing whatever you are doing or you have had it’ looks, us going on the silent mode for a few minutes before shrieking out loud again.
Liberty made for a beautiful red dot, because I visited it much later too during my college again. Next on the straight line came Raj which was reduced to another piss place and bulldozed eventually.
A little more than slightly parallel aberration would take us to Sheila, which in my mind was always out of the city, in a jungle, and it still is. Though, I do believe, that in reality it is pretty much in the city.
I am not sure why I loved these cinema halls the way I did. They were where I came to see life beyond my home and school. In cinema halls of those times, there was a hierarchy of seats. The front rows from the screen were called lower stall, it had the cheapest tickets, and people threw coins at screen at every macho dialogue and every great dance.
The upper stalls were the seats just behind the front row, a little higher in the hierarchy but still cheap. We only sat there in desperation if we didn’t get tickets to the balcony and box. The balcony was really a balcony right above the upper stall and directly in front of the screen. Boxes were one level above the balcony, but they didn’t provide a roof for balcony the way balcony did for the upper stall. Boxes were stationed above the boundary wall directly behind the last row of the balcony. Boxes could seat 6-8 people and were meant for groups / families. Boxes were where we watched most of films. It’s only now that I can imagine why. There were no seat numbers. The mob at the gate exploded the moment the gates opened. Running in midst of a mob crazy to get the best seats in the balcony with three kids in row would be too much for my parents.
It could also be that I loved the movies. As the legend goes, I was the only of us three siblings, who never slept in a movie. It could also be that after every movie, Dad bought us fish, egg, or bread pakoras (fritters). Being brought up in a strictly vegetarian joint family, the movies became his window to show us the world he had seen while studying away from home in his youth. He would tell us stories of how he once cured and befriended an old lady patient while studying and living in a hostel and that lady turned out to be the mother of a cinema hall owner. They gave him a free pass to watch any film that he liked, to come and go as he liked. It became his only source of entertainment, his very salvage at a time he lived on a low allowance in the hostel. The first movie he ever saw there starred Asha Parekh and till today he has stayed loyal to his memories. He has loved her though all of us at different points of time in life have argued that she was ugly and probably not that great an actress.
I could have gotten this love of the movies from Mom as well. I am not sure if she watched any movies prior to marriage while growing up in Punjab of the 50s and 60s. But she sure did make up for it while we were growing up.
She tells us the story of this one movie that one of her uncles took her and her sister to watch. They were staying with this particular Uncle and Aunt because my Mom’s mom, my Grandma wasn’t keeping well. My mom and her sister had very long, thick hair that probably used up a lot of oil and soap and her Aunt wasn’t too happy about that. So this Uncle took the two sisters out for a movie, treated them to a cold drink, and somehow convinced / dragged them to get their hair cut. Despite the heartbreak my Mom suffered for her love of the movies, she never gave up on it. She was as much a patron of the commercial romantic films and tearjerkers, those Rishi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna kinds of movies, as she was of the serious cinema – Arth being her favorite over the years. Exactly the kind of movies my Dad hated as they stood in contrast to his love for Amitabh Bachhan’s ‘angry young man up against the evil’ cinema.
Though I love both kinds of movies, my Mom is still my hero when it comes to loving the movies. When Mr.India was released, all of us kids went crazy. I don’t remember which cinema hall was showing it or any other events / scenes from this memory, except that one Sunday afternoon, we were getting ready to watch the film when Dad said to Mom, ‘I will be back in a few minutes. I have to meet someone before we leave.’ For a man who once took two hours to buy bread because he met someone on the way, few minutes could be any amount of minutes. Mom waited for exactly 15 minutes, got us all into an autorickshaw and went to the cinema hall. She bought one extra ticket and gave it to the gatekeeper along with Dad’s description. Dad sneaked in and sat next to us just before the interval. In a small town in extremely patriarchal Haryana of the 80s, a woman taking her kids out alone to the cinema hall was a mean feat. And Dad never left us stranded prior to a movie ever again.