A cinematic affair

When we ran out of cash, we would bribe the usher with chai for ringside seats. (Getty Images)

During my growing up years, I was hooked to English language films, more precisely westerns and action-thrillers. Every weekend would see me join the serpentine queues in front of theatres. The Bengaluru of yore was a cinema paradise with scores of movie houses all over town. Regional films never ever interested me save for the odd Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan hit. Frank Sinatra, Carry Grant, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Roger Moore, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee — to name only a few — were my movie idols.

The English theatres in the Cantonment were our favourite haunts and we would wheel down there on our bicycles. Everest cinema was just a hop, skip and jump away from our home in Frazer Town and regularly ran English movies in the mornings. For just a few rupees, we could get transported to another world of beautiful people, death-defying stunts and mind-boggling action.

There were different levels beginning from the ‘dress circle’ and ending with the balcony. You could occupy a particular class depending on the size of your pocket. Cinemas, interestingly, also had a cloakroom. It was common to see a hawker vending assorted snacks and cigarettes from a horizontal wooden holder slung around his neck. Some theatres had a separate enclosure for couples and love birds to cosy up and the tickets for this class came at a premium.

On days when we ran out of cash, my siblings and I would bribe the usher with a cup of chai and gently coax him to take us inside and offer us ringside seats. Sitting right in the front had its own perks! The backbenchers would resort to chucking coins at the big screen whenever the hero bashed up the villain or frolicked with the heroine. It was thrilling to see the front benchers jump up from their seats and fall head over heels to grab the precious change!

The huge cutouts of lead actors and eye-catching posters displayed in front of movie houses also enticed pedestrians who would spend a long time ogling at them. Photographs from the film that were put up on the display board was another special attraction. Though the halls displayed a ‘No smoking’ board, patrons cared a hoot and puffed away merrily. Black marketers made hay and managed to call the shots.

Though we seldom watched movies in a ‘picture tent’, the experience was galling. These normally screened seconds and, unlike in theatres, movie-goers would be made to sit on the floor. A few smart alecs would pile up sand or park themselves on a brick, thus completely obstructing the view of those seated behind. Scuffles would inevitably ensue.

A hilarious event in 1996 brought the curtains down on my movie rendezvous. My toddler son, wife and I had gone to watch a Rajinikanth blockbuster that was playing at a theatre near us — my better half is a diehard Rajini fan. After the initial advertisements and the newsreel, the lights went off as was the practice before the main film began. Left in the dark, my son let out a terrifying shriek evoking protests from the audience. We quickly packed up and made a hurried exit never to return. That was my last trip to the movies!

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