April 22, 2013

#3: Maiden Foreign 'Trip'

“The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different.” - Terry Gilliam's 'Twelve Monkeys' (1995)

Every time I think of the single screen theatres of my hometown, every time I go into my memories of them, there are certain images that never fail to turn up. Today, in the world dominated by multiplexes with top quality seating, projection, and acoustics, those images seem to be from a different world, or a past life. Those screens were huge, and the capacity several times more than that of the largest multiplex theatre near me. Green-yellow walls loomed over us, decorated with coloured glasses, as we rose up the wide, paan-stained staircase to enter the movie hall. There was no air-conditioning but several noisy, and habitually inefficient fans lined the edges of the walls, adding to the humdrum of the excited, rowdy crowd. Once it went dark, the little doors with 'Exit' sign above them fascinated me. Why it is important to mention that these doors take you out - I never knew! The movies were always preceded by the timeless ads for Vicco products, and during the intermission, hand-written transparencies were projected in a slide-show, advertisements for the local sari shops and gift stores. Several minutes before the 'Intermission' titles appeared on the screen, it was 'announced' by the uninhibited entry of vendors, selling soft-drinks, Uncle Chips, and pop-corn of the most pathetic order. The soft-drink wallahs had their bottle openers using which they made an irritating but inviting sound on the glass bottles. Gold Spot and Limca were our favourites, occasionally Thumbs Up. Pepsi and Coke were unheard names. I remember, asking Mom for these or other eatables was not easy - she was strict with what we ate outside the house, even though all of us were out on a 'forbidden' trip to the movies. I also remember that during the Intermission, all the people around me looked like midgets, and especially their faces appeared shrunk. Possibly it was the after effect of watching the giant images on the screen that the real people suddenly appeared tiny. Possibly, it was only in my head. But that sight was not pleasant - tiny faces look evil - was my observation. Even my Mom looked strange, and it was particularly discomforting. I also remember the echo of the dialogues in the hall - it required sincere effort and imagination to understand the lines. And I remember the bed-bug ridden seats - that completed our movie experience.

The creatures and the faces and the sounds and the energy among the audience - all was to adopt a different meaning one morning as our school - an orthodox Christian school that punished us if we were caught talking in Hindi - took all students to the Konark Talkies for a movie. It was Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), possibly the first international film to reach every small town of this country, and definitely the first Hollywood film that grossed more from overseas than the American market. That was one unforgettable day. All lectures were cancelled and it was amazing to see the entire hall crowded with us kids - in white shirts and navy blue shorts (for boys) and red skirts (for girls). That was my first taste of American or non-Indian cinema, of a master film-maker, of a film without songs, and of the breathtaking spectacle that cinema can be. I still remember how little quirks in the film impressed me, as I had never seen them in our 'own' films - like Sam Neil clumsily tying the seat-belt when he is unable to figure out how to lock it as the helicopter descends down on the island with a waterfall in the background and a mesmerising background score playing on the sound-track. That I loved the film would be an under-statement. And the setting - with all friends and school-mates together, made it unforgettable. To think of it now, it was to be the only film I watched with my earliest friends.

On returning home, I shared the story with my Mom, excitedly. After listening to me, she said, "Imagine how this film would look in 3D". "What's that?" - I asked and she explained to me what 3D was. A middle-class housewife from a small Indian town talking about 3D in the early 90s! I didn't know then what it meant. For me, she was my Mom, who knew 'everything', sharing her knowledge and awareness of the world with me, as we let our imaginations loose about what 'Jurassic Park' in 3D would look like!

Last week, that twenty-year old imagination came alive, as I watched the movie again, re-released globally in 3D. And all those memories came rushing back to me - of those movie halls and my school friends and that conversation with my Mom. 'Jurassic Park' was my first, and deservingly so, entry into the amazing world of international cinema. I hardly knew back then, that the beginning made that day will turn my world into an amusement park of movies and turn me into a kid refusing to grow up. Today, I see the flaws in that film, which is rightfully considered an inferior film in the filmography of Spielberg. But for reasons mentioned above, and those that can perhaps never be expressed but only felt and cherished - 'Jurassic Park' remains, and will remain, one of the very favourite films of mine.

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