Sunday Herald: In the tent to gaze at the stars

As old age creeps up on me with inexorable precision, early chapters of my life surface with nostalgia in their wake. Oh, for those halcyon days with no care, only the vista of rosy hue! One such interesting chapter of my childhood days are the tent-cinemas, as they were popularly known then, and quite the rage in rural areas as there were no theatres.

Being ignorant, the rural folk were apprehensive and loathed sending their clamouring children to that ‘magical box’. But gradually, the scene began to change as the higher class of the place started watching films there.

Encouraged, the manager played popular old films with colourful raja-ranis, thrilling sword fights, romantic dances and songs, what not! The business picked up and the manager stayed put for many days.

Men who wanted to go to the city now and then for pleasure changed their habit and took their wives and children to tent-cinemas, finding joy in their family’s excitement.

It so happened that we visited one such rural area when a tent-cinema had just camped.

Sportive that he was, our grandfather decided to introduce us, his city-bred grandchildren, to this form of entertainment.

I still remember the locals gaping at us as grandfather led the procession, majestic as a high official of government service should be (though retired) — erect with the usual Mysore peta covering his head, gold wristwatch peeping out of his coat pocket, and the posh walking stick to match his purposeful gait. How much we enjoyed that scene!

Recognising grandfather from afar, the manager would rush out and usher him to the best chair, and seat us on the faded carpet in the front.

How can I explain the wonder and joy we experienced while viewing the different types of films with hitherto unknown actors!

The melodious songs of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, the antics of the famous comedian pair Krishnan-Mathuram, the valour of the decked-up prince who kidnaps his enemy’s rajakumari from the marriage hall while he sings, fights and argues, enthralled us.

The full-throated exclamations of the local people, their guffaws, spontaneous sobs on watching the tragic scenes were a novelty to us. It stayed in our minds long after we came back home. We even recognised those songs as they came out of a new radio.

Now that theatres have sprung up in every nook and corner, tent-cinemas are no longer in vogue. But they remain etched in the chapters of my memory for the wondrous joy they had imparted by introducing many facets of life.

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