I'm not sure what brought on this nostalgia attack, recalling cinema theatres I've loved. I think it was the Ganesh visarjan devotees playing Lungi Dance that brought it on: in my childhood, the sarvajanik Ganesh festival brought the community together in many ways. There were competitions in singing, making rangolis, antakshari, athletics, cricket and badminton. Above all, they would screen popular Bollywood and Marathi movies, projected on a white bedsheet strung up over the colony chaurasta. You sat on the road with hundreds of colony people and learnt the skill of watching movies seedha (from the projector side) and ulta (from the back of the bedsheet, watching images in reverse), depending on where you managed to sit. A couple of thousand people enjoyed these nightly shows in theatre-less bliss.
Regular movies we watched at Roop Talkies in Santa Cruz, an entirely wretched invention. We watched movies like Haathi Mere Saathi starring four elephants, Rajesh Khanna and Tanuja, 1971, with our feet on the seats, to avoid having rats scrambling over them. And it had a loo that must have stunk all the way to Churchgate. At Dharwad, then Dharwar, where I spent all my May vacations, we posh types sat on wooden benches at the cinema; the riff-raff sat on the ground. I saw Anuraag there, in which Vinod Mehra is in love with a blind girl, played by Moushumi Chatterjee.
Much later, as an arts editor with a Mumbai daily, I enjoyed movies at Deepak Talkies, built in 1926, next door in Lower Parel. I watched Bhojpuri movies like Kab Hoi Gavna Hamaar, starring Ravi Kishan, along with textile mill workers, tailors and sing-channa vendors. I was puzzled when the happy ending marriage didn't happen. The labourers laughed and teased me, "Kya madam, aap kuch bhi nahin samjhe." That's when I understood that the movie was discussing child marriage, fairly common: the protagonists were already married as infants, and on attaining puberty, the girl pines to be sent to her husband's, via a ceremony called gavna. Movies at Deepak were so much more fun than the cynical power play on display at press previews at Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi. Obsequious producers hovered over critics in the interval — "Ek aur samosa? Kuch thanda laoon?" — and learnt to gauge from how many millimetres a top Bollywood critic raised his eyebrow, how many stars he would give the movie on Friday.
I am underwhelmed by multiplexes, and my enduring favourite remains Gaiety-Galaxy, since called G7, at Bandra: it has seven screens and is even on bookmyshow. The largely tapori crowd goes hysterical when Salman Khan comes on screen. Once, Tom Brook from the BBC's Talking Movies, wanted to interview me, but in a cinema where people went wild at the movies. I said it had to be Gaiety-Galaxy. I was concerned there was no Salman movie that week, but I needn't have fretted: they shot the public screaming, laughing, whistling, singing and dancing right inside the theatre: it was Ravi Jadhav's delightful Marathi film Timepass. We know Hollywood makes $11 billion dollars and all, but show us one Hollywood movie that gets this response on its own turf.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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