Sunday, May 25, 2008


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.



Aleta said...

The best movie experiences are not one or two specifics, but an over all feel. I have a childhood friend that I have known for 30 years now. No matter where we were in life, we'd always meet up and go to the movies. When we were little, it was the dollar theaters we would go to. You couldn't see over the people in front of you and the air conditioner rarely worked and your shoes stuck to the bottom of the floor (never put your purse on the movie theater's floor!) because of old candy or dried up butter from the popcorn. But those dollar theaters brought great memories and having a fun time together.

In fact, my good friend is coming back in town next month and we have plans to go to the movie theater!

She once thought about majoring in acting when she attended college and she was good at it ~ but instead opted for a math major.

Best friend and good memories, thanks for reminding me!

Mina Jade said...

Movie stars... maybe Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
And Jean Claude Van Damme (being that muscular, manly, handsome who could make my heart beat faster).

As for films, I like horror movies the best :-)
When I was a little girl I watched many films and cartoons. When I lived in a dorm I got accustomed not to. But I still like horror films.

K.C. said...

It's Camelot. Always Camelot... My 12th grade English teacher who will forever be my hero and inspiration introduced Arthur and Guinevere to me. I have watched it, like you, at least 25 times, and know it by heart. When Lancelot rescues her at the end, and Arthur is so relieved that he does, my heart just melts EVERY time. So good to remember it yet again! KC

Mina Jade said...

Oh, I thought it was about childhood heroes.

Today my hero is the talented authoress, Jo Rowling, she's a true genius (and besides she looks stunning). I love her much.

And Madonna - she's gifted, the best performer ever.

Piscean Angel said...

hehehe... a friend of mine still does that - cry every time Jai dies in Sholay. I'm more of a cynic I guess. [snort] :-) But yeah, I luv the movie too.

lopamudra said...

I remember watching 'Ram'er sumoti'.A bengali flick about a naughty boy.It was supposed to be a kids movie since the protagonist was a kid(!!??).It was a was officially my first movie.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

hi everybody,

thanks for those movie-ing memories. I think that capacity of forgetting-everything-and-getting-lost-in-the-life-onscreen is a precious sensation that we often lose as we grow up.