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The rise and fall of the Empire

Rahul da CunhaAs a 13-year-old, I was blessed with the most vital aspect of early teenagehood — facial hair. The beginnings of a reasonable-sized moustache was the envy of all my schoolmates.

As adolescents we had that one bastion that had to be conquered — the ‘A’ movie.



Illustration/Amit Bandre

Opposite the VT station, stood the New Empire. Solidly built with a hint of sleaze.

Art Deco-ed, but not much to dekho, compared with its showy sisters, Metro and Eros.

But in 1974, the movie, Summer of 42 came to New Empire. Inspite of living in a YouTube-less, Google-less, Wikipedia-less age, we the ‘pimpled, hormones raging brigade’, knew why this ‘coming-of-age’ film had to be seen.

“Hey there are kissing scenes, ya!”

“How do you know?”

“My chacha saw it in Dallas.”

But it was ‘For Adults Only’. And growing up in a VHS cassette-less, DVD-less, download-less era, the three-week run at New Empire was the only chance we had.

What stood between us seeing those ‘hot scenes’ or not were two Darth Vader characters at the theatre — the ticket guy at the entrance and the torch-bearing usher inside. These two had the sole power to allow or disallow entry. They didn’t pat you down, or run a detector over your body looking for an AK 47, like today. They just asked you with surly intent — “Umar kya hai?” A two person self-appointed Censor Board.

How to get past them was the question in the mind of every under 18, Bombay boy.

(Actor Chunky Pandey apparently wore a burkha).

My moustache, while symbolic, was not a shrubbery yet. I looked 15, but 18 was a stretch.

The answer lay in eyeliner pencil. Subtle daubs to make the ‘muchhi’ seem longer and fuller.

D-Day dawned. With the precious ticket in my hand I was ready, fully moustachioed, replete with tight-fitting jeans (a brand called F.U.S), and the kind of high-heeled shoes John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever (Also a New Empire release).

The usher gave me the once over, as he tore my ticket, the dull entrance light masking the eye-liner section of my hairy upperlip. Hurdle one had been overcome.
I settled down in my seat, hiding from the usher’s torchlight. There I was, one green horn in a sea of grown-ups, the illicitness of it, as joyful as Jennifer O’Neill. All was fine, till the dreaded interval arrived. To go out or not, that was the question. The usher still loomed large. The artery busting chicken rolls, with green mayonnaise, (not Ulhasnagar-made nachos in red plastic trays) beckoned temptingly.

But food tonight had to be sacrificed at the altar of fear.

As I left the auditorium, triumphant, I felt a hand on my arm — it was the surly usher who said to me, eyes twinkling

“When you are really 18 come back.”

And so 40 years on, this little jewel of a cinema house has downed its shutters.

The last film poster reads 300: Rise of an Empire.

Maybe one day.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

The events and quotes in this column are part fiction: Author

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