Magical encounters

Right in the Middle

Her slice of paradise is time in a movie theatre. With a twinkle in her eye and a conspiratorial smile, she confesses that she takes off on an enchanted expedition — alone — whenever the mood strikes her. It could be at 9 am on a Monday morning in Malleswaram or 11 pm on a cold weekend in Cincinnati, where her daughter lives. The 9 am movie mania, which gripped her as she was toasting rava for her morning upma, saw her abandon the upma and make a dash to one of Majestic’s surviving movie-theatres in the hope of catching the latest Anant Nag-Suhasini film.

We meet because of the very same movie mania.

Spying me standing at the yet-to-be-opened ticket counter, she marches up to me and asks ‘balcony?’ I mumble a ‘yes’ and a smile wreaths her wrinkled face. “Buy one ticket for me too. I will sit with you,” she declares, thrusting a Rs 100 note into my hands.
Her silver hair, knotted into a hasty bun, her unfussy cotton saree and her ready smile make even the dour doorman warm to her. Till a few minutes ago, he was eyeing me suspiciously, wondering why I was waiting — alone — to watch a movie in a theatre in Majestic on a weekday morning when the City was swamped with multiplexes. With ‘aunty’ — never mind that we were clearly two strangers — for company, I had earned respectability in his rheumy eyes.

Polite to a fault, aunty prefaced every sentence with “I hope I am not being a bore...” When reassured, she came up with priceless stories: of paying just 4 annas to watch two films back-to-back in a theatre in Shillong in the 40s (‘Pay for one, watch one free!’); of playing truant from college and sobbing into her plaits when Rajesh Khanna succumbed to cancer in ‘Anand’; of agreeing to marriage only after making sure that her husband-to-be shared her passion for movies; of celebrating every wedding anniversary thereafter in a movie theatre!

Black-and-white psychedelia or Eastman colour, she devoured them all — first with her siblings; then with her husband; later with her grown-up daughter and sometimes with lucky strangers like me.

When we parted two-and-a half hours later, I didn’t know her name nor she mine. All I knew was that she had effortlessly recreated the magic of the movies — so what if it was in a crumbling theatre in a not-so-pretty part of town.

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