Many of my close friends and family members call me a movie buff . It is rather interesting that I thought of writing about it at this time when I am in the late 70’s . Yes , I like to watch movies even now but only on an “on line ” format like Netflix, , Hot Star , Prime etc . I am not fond of watching movies on TV Channels because of the number of commercial breaks in between. . Why they call me a movie buff is because of my obsession with everything connected with movies, whether it is the theme, acting , direction, music or viewing records. In my young days at the college or later in the Army days , I was a moving encyclopedia of movies and its many facets. Many of my friends still do not know how this craze came around or where and when the seeding was done.
THE EARLY TRIGGERS My father , a lawyer , had a close friend named Joseph who ran a movie hall called Joy Theater in our home town Mavelikara in the erstwhile Travancore State [ now Kerala ] during the period 1948-52 . Joseph had a small recreation room next to his cinema hall where he and his friends used to play cards in the evening hours. My father was a regular member of this group and he joined them after his evening walk. He took me along[ not even a teenager then] many times and I used to watch a movie when the group was playing cards. It did not matter to me as to when I start watching a show or when I came out as it depended solely on the time when my father decided to join / go home. Many a times, I had watched the same movie a number of times and when I got bored , I strayed into the projection room to watch the movie through the opening in the wall or collect film strips , movie notices or posters from their office. Those days , they used to issue a booklet with songs also. These were my proud possessions back then. Most of the movies were in Tamil with a few Malayalam , Hindi and English movies screened occasionally . Malayalam movie industry was in its infancy then .
HOME THEATER By repeat viewing and due to my interest in the medium I remembered the dialogue , songs etc by heart and once launched a ‘ home theater ” at home. It was a small thatched roof made of bamboo and freshly cut plantain sheets with a hall for about six people and a ticketing window outside , in our courtyard. The audience was mainly my two younger sisters and our friends in the neighborhood. I made movie characters out of sticks and attired them suitably . I rattled off the entire movie dialogue , songs and action scenes , may be an abridged version to the delight of the captive audience. Mostly, it was a simultaneous release with the movie running in Joy Theater with bill boards picked up from there ! .This innocent hobby was short lived when my elder brother in a foul mood one day demolished the whole structure to the dismay and grief of all of us.
THE BUSINESS SIDE I continued this trend even as a teenager even though my father stopped taking me out . By this time , a second theater came up nearer to my home -The Sri Krishna Theater . As both the owners were my father’s clients , I had a free entry for shows any time . I also learned the commercial aspects of movie making, distribution and exhibition at this time from the owners , managers , resident representatives of the distributors staying at the theater and of course from my father who advised the theater owners. Producers borrowed money at high interest rates and took advance from distributors . Distributors took advance from movie hall owners who in turn again borrowed money from friends and relatives. One day I learnt that Mr Joseph has gone on arrears with one regular distributor called Seetha Films and Mr Swamy , its partner approached my father to help him recover the amount . They set up a ‘ Receiver ” arrangement by a court order , thereby curtailing the liberty of Mr Joseph considerably. Mr Joseph could take only a fixed amount from his collections for personal needs. . I heard from his son Joy -the cinema hall had his name – who was my class mate that his father , a very proud person , was a worried man and did not like this arrangement which could not be helped . Very soon , a tragedy struck the family when Mr Joseph went missing . He committed suicide by hanging by a rope in a garden property 30 miles away leaving a note for his wife. This incident left a very indelible impression in my mind. I started maintaining a diary recording my movie shows with dates and place which I discontinued sometime in the college days . I still have the diary with about 5000 entries in alphabetic order.
COLLEGE DAYS I was surprised my self when I came first in my district in the Matriculation examination, in spite of my time consuming hobby with distractions. I think , my father had a major role to play here as he curtailed my freedom to a great extent during the three years preceding the matriculation year. When I moved to a hostel in a different town for the next two years for my college education , I started watching movies again with friends and went to other towns to watch new releases. I must confess that this affected my class performance to some extent and I missed selection for engineering in the initial go . I made it in the following year and moved to Palakkad in far away Malabar in 1960 . As it was a new college with limited hostel facilities, some of us who met for the first time at the college on the opening day , decided to rent a house with a cook near the college. We had complete freedom there and spent most of the weekends visiting movie halls . It was an expensive hobby and we all had limited finances at our disposal. I remember me and my class mate Soju [ who later joined the Army after me] used to go for late night shows and buy the cheapest tickets for bench class to watch the shows. We occasionally went to Coimbatore 30 miles away to watch new releases like ” Jis Desh mein Ganga Behti Hai ‘ , Psycho , The Absent Minded Professor , North by Northwest etc. During these days , we also went to the nearby Malampuzha Gardens to watch movie shooting , many times cutting classes . I remember watching Sivaji Ganesan , Sunil Dutt , Vyjayanti Mala , Helen etc there. I also used to subscribe for periodicals like Screen ,Cine Blitz to remain updated on movie releases etc. I remember during our college study tours , I saw many film personalities like Shammi Kapoor , Mahmood, Sadhana , Dev Anand , Nutan , Saira Banu at the Metro Cinema at Bombay during a night show. . Even though I got a Central Government Scholarship based on my Pre-Engineering class results [ came in the first 12] , I narrowly missed a first class in my Engineering degree.
EARLY ARMY DAYS On Commissioning after a grueling 10 months training in IMA Dehra Dun , I reported for the Young Technical Officers course at EME School [ South] – now MCEME , in July 1967 for another 11 months training. The Twin Cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad had many attractions for bachelors like us , the 50 odd movie halls – one of them , suited my temperament better . While I participated in all games , I was not very passionate like some of my worthy course mates in this activity . I did play football in schools and colleges though. I hold two very important records at Secunderabad during this time – Watched at least one movie in all the 54 movie halls in the twin cities and 5 shows on a Sunday – the 8 AM Malayalam morning show at Minerva , 11.30 noon show – Hindi movie at Paradise , the 2.30 PM , 6.30 PM and 9.30 PM English movies at Plaza, Tivoli and Dreamland all located within a one KM radius. Took a night bus [Route 4 ] at 12.30 AM after a late dinner at the Garden Restaurant [ they have demolished most of it now to make way for the metro rail] and reached my room by 1 AM and be on parade at 6.30 AM on a Monday morning ! After 29 years , when I retired as a Brigadier from MCEME , the Commandant – Gen Kochhar spoke about my achievements in the Corps and Army in general during my farewell dinner from our Corps Mess. In my reply speech , I told the participants which included spouses , about my two other records , not widely known , concerning my movie viewing in the twin cities back in 1966-67! . Now , Hyderabad boasts about a world class Ramoji Film City and a very vibrant Telugu Movie Industry and animation studios.
LATER YEARS IN SERVICE My craze for movies weaned off quite a lot in the later years . But I remember an adventure when I skipped a training day on a Saturday while doing an advanced course in Armaments at Baroda to go for a morning show in the city [ I was still a bachelor] . The movie was ‘ Who is afraid of Virginia wolf ? ” starring LIz Taylor and Richard Burton – a master piece in Social drinking excesses and gross misbehavior story line with brilliant acting by the lead players! After my marriage in 1972 , though Malathi enjoyed good movies with me , she never had an obsession like me. I remember our field area days where we watched select movies at mobile cinemas and also a Malayalam film festival at Vignan Bhavan while posted at Delhi in 1973. During 1976 to 78 , when I was working as DAA&QMG in a forward area brigade at Bhimber Gali , one of my job was to arrange movie shows for the troops occasionally . My predecessor was not very enthusiastic about this . My Commander Brig Bali was a good Gazal singer and a movie buff like me. He asked me to revive the movie shows for the brigade . We had two 35 mm projectors lying in disuse. I got them repaired at Jammu and mounted in a one ton truck . Soon , I arranged cinema shows at Battalion bases widely distributed over an 80 KM stretch near the LC [Line of Control] .We also had a movie hall in bad shape at the Brigade HQ. I got it done up and made it fit for matinee shows also.
I arranged movies from Jalandhar through an agent at Jammu . The print used to come by bus to our TCP and used to get circulated further to other brigades. We were permitted to keep families for two months in a year and it was festival time for all officers. We made our own reserve movie with cuttings [ mostly songs] from the movie prints .The agent never caught on to this as the print used to reach Jalandhar back after almost a month from J&K sector.
MOVIES AND ARTISTS I am not a fan of film personalities and therefore find the fan clubs and crazy fan following they get rather strange . This trend originated in Tamil Nadu and Bombay first and spread to other cities. Kerala which never had such fads have also changed now . My all time favorite actors are Anthony Quinn,Audry Hepburn and Clint Eastwood from Hollywood, Sanjeev Kumar , Om Puri , Madhubala , Madhuri Dixit and later on Alia Bhat and Tapasee Pannu from Bollywood and Satyan , Mohan Lal and Shobhana from Malayalam . I consider Sivaji Ganesan from South as an all time great and vesatile actor . My favorite movie directors in India are Satyajit Roy , Guru Dutt , and Mani Ratnam. The top ten movies I liked are Gone with the wind, The Longest Day , Wait until Dark , Schindlers List , and Doctor Zhivago in English , The Apu Trilogy in Bengali , Pyasa , Jane bhi do yaro and Mera Naam Joker in Hindi and Manichitra Thazhu in Malayalam .. My favorite singers are Kishore Kumar ,Geeta Dutt , KS Chitra and Yesudas and recently Shreya Ghoshal and Arjeet Singh. The music directors I like are Khayyam , Jaidev, S D Burman and A R Rehman.
SUMMING UP The advent of TV and later color TV , VCR’s and now satellite TV and on line Apps made the movie viewing quite different now a days. The Multi Plex giants like PVR are still holding sway but the trend has definitely shifted to watching movies or TV Serials at your own time , place and pace. The technology has made cassettes and DVD’s antic pieces [ I collected more than 500 of them ] . Some of my favorite TV Serials in English are The Wire , House of Cards , Breaking Bad and the Grey’s Anatomy .
In our life time , movies and TV entertainment have gone through quantum changes from Bioscope of Dada Saheb Phadke to the present day 3 D cinemas ,satellite screening and OTT platforms . Drone Cameras and Computerisation , VR and other imaging techniques have expanded the user experience . We are privileged to be part of this great journey.