Movies were invented so that we can take our minds off terrible happenings in the world like wars, stock market crashes, a spouse’s suspected extra-marital affair etc. So that’s why it’s become a great idea to escape problems and se e good films like “Pearl Harbour”, “Wall Street” and “Fatal Attraction”…Ooops, sorry. Perhaps I should have chosen some other examples here…
Anyway to rewind a bit — let’s go back a few decades, when both the movies as well as language weren’t as colourful as they are today.
I remember my children used to wonder, when they were small people, whether I was born when God was still perfecting the concept of colours, as everything on earth then was black and white, judging from our family photographs and the movies made in that era. Also, they discovered people of that era spoke silently, with lots of hand gestures. And walked very very fast. Well, that’s what all movies of that time showed them as evidence. (But my kids also figured out that Beethoven was the music director for almost every movie then —from Charlie Chaplin films to Mickey Mouse cartoons).
Anyway, going to the movies became very popular all over the world after colour came in. Though scholars of human behaviour, and several Ph.D. dissertations on the history of movies, point out that this trend should rightly be attributed to the invention of popcorn.
Well, around the early 1950s, sex was introduced to movies (bashful young couples, most of them unmarried, began to hold hands as the lights dimmed in the movie hall). And shortly thereafter, violence too came in (the man behind the ticket counter used to snarl “No Change!” and looked really murderous when one gave him a five rupee note, while buying a balcony ticket for Rs. 1.25).
Those were also days when smoking became a widespread habit in India, as droves would leave the hall (after placing a handkerchief on the seat) badly needing a smoke while the Films Division of India played something called the Newsreel — and even Melville De Mello’s distinguished voice did nothing to enhance the B&W footage of our national leaders doing namaste while stepping off Dakota planes.
But the smokers would all rush back to their seats when a rare treat came on: Advertisements! Nobody wanted to miss rotund teenage models; for example, someone called Rekha with her bouffant hairdo, cavorting with a bottle of Gold Spot. Not even the ad where a man in a white coat, who made us all believe he was a doctor (what a revolutionary idea!) who would hold up a tube of toothpaste for a whole minute and give a sermon on its virtues, ending with “Colgate stops bad breath” (although with the imperfect sound system of those days, we heard it as “Colgate Tops Bad Breath”.) Advertisements then were so well loved, with some fans going to movies just because they were showing a brand new ad for Tik 20, a cockroach killer, or Himalayan Bouquet “Snow”, India’s all-in-one cosmetic.
But no matter what film we saw those days, comedy or tragedy, historical or hysterical, they always had a very patriotic ending. The National Anthem was played at The End, and a grainy film of the tricolour fluttered on the screen, making us stand in stiff attention.
Meanwhile America had innovated on the movie experience, and invented the Drive-in Movie, though there are instances of movie-goers driving in late and watching the action of a torrid love story for a whole hour before realising they were watching a car, and the screen was in the opposite direction.
Coming back to India, every city had their first movie halls with Western names like “Liberty” and “Casino” and “Plaza” (even if the current trend is to have righteously Indian names like Satyam, Sivam and Sundaram). And despite wearing age-fighting creams, and visiting botox specialists, some people in parties unwittingly reveal their true age by saying in a swoon of nostalgia: “Remember how we used to just walk in for tickets, without advance booking, to see movies in “Casino”? (Omigod, wasn’t Casino demolished soon after the British Raj? You were already born then?)
Well, a lot has changed, including the change you get back after pushing a 500 rupee note through the ticket counter these days, and even though new-age kids are now flocking to theatres to watch films with names like “The Skull-Smasher Who Loved Me” and “I Know Who You Killed Last Summer”, I still admire them as they have a pretty good knowledge of old Hollywood classics. And often use famous lines from old movies. I hear that even 10-year-olds today yell at their parents “Show me the money!” And after shopping for the latest upgrade in mobile phones, today’s youth always tell the store-owner “I’ll be back”.
And I’ve heard of the pre-teen too, who saw her current boyfriend hanging out with another girl at the school cafeteria, and said quite nonchalantly, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”