Near my childhood-home in Barrackpore, there was a run-down cinema-hall optimistically called Chitrabani (literally meaning ‘Picture and Sound’). The picture would jerk and shiver as if malaria-infected, and the sound was none-too-reliable, often petering out. The lungi-clad, betelnut-juice-spitting audience would roar their displeasure, disrupting the sudden, unexpected silence, and the man in the projection room would make frantic whirring noises, and the sound and the fury (on-screen) and the peace (off-screen) would be restored.
My dida (father’s mother) was an avid film-watcher, though she did not understand Hindi. My brother and I were allowed to accompany her whenever she visited Chitrabani, much to our wide-eyed (and cocked-eared) delight.
It was in the decrepit darkness of Chitrabani, perched on broken, bug-infested seats, desperately trying to get a full view of the screen between the oily heads of the people sitting in front of me (who would, invariably and infuriatingly, put their heads close to whisper at all the exciting moments), that I first met the tall and tragic Jai in the block-buster SHOLAY. I fell in love with the film (like the rest of India has for the last three decades: SHOLAY regularly tops the best-Hindi-movie-ever charts). And I fell in love with the actor playing Jai: AMITABH BACHCHAN (again, like the rest of India has for over thirty years).
On the huge, dirty-dynamic Chitrabani screen strode this intense-eyed, deep-voiced cynic-with-a-heart-of-gold, mesmerizing my seven-year-old-heart with his loyalty, wit, courage and sheer screen-presence. What clinched my captivation, I suppose, was his doomed-when-barely-blossomed love affair with the equally-reticent widow, Radha, and, of course, his death (sacrifice-to-save-his-buddy). Always a sucker for tragedy, I wept copiously and gloriously, returning home all wet with tears before the film ended because my brother had a high fever.
My dida thought I was upset because we hadn’t sat through till the end. So, next week, (SHOLAY is that rare film which runs for several weeks even in re-runs), the entire family went again for the ‘night show’; parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, all mellow and talkative after an early dinner.
Again the fast-paced SHOLAY-story cast its spell: the fascinating details of the lives of the villagers of Ramgarh, the drama of the good-evil conflict between the Thakur and Gabbar Singh, the Jai-Veeru friendship, the skirmishes in their battle with Gabbar Singh, their parallel-but-dissimilar romances, the many-mooded-songs-and-dances, the comic interludes, the swift, sudden strikes of tragedy.
Again I was caught up in the magic of Amitabh Bachchan, living (and loving, laughing, fighting, hurting) an intense-lifetime in those three hours. And again for me, the film ended when Amitabh (as Jai) dies, though I sat till the official end (when Gabbar Singh, the villain, is felled and Veeru, Jai’s buddy, reunites with Basanti, his belle), blankly gazing at the screen with sight-blurred-with-tears.
This was way back in 1980, much before the multiplex-experience. Till date, I must have watched SHOLAY over 25 times. Each time, I cry when Jai dies. Each time, for me, the film ends there.
WHICH MOVIE FIRST MOVED YOUR HEART? WHICH MOVIE STAR WAS YOUR FIRST IDOL?