Ahhh…., Central Talkies! What nostalgic memories are conjured up with the very mention of the name! The Central Talkies had played quite a big part in my youth. Those days, being unmarried as yet, I lived with my brothers, sisters, sister-in- law and of course my widowed mother, in a house in the Malleswaram area of Bangalore, quite close to the Central Talkies.
The Talkies (the name ‘movie theatre’ hadn’t yet come into usage) itself was a long, long way off from the posh multiplexes we see these days in the malls.
It was located near the huge textile factory, The Maharaja Mills and catered mostly to the factory hands. The hall, a permanent structure with tin sheeted roof, was spacious and smelly. There were rows of wooden benches, backless ones for the lower class and ‘backed’ ones for upper classes. The ceiling fans, few and far between hardly sufficed to keep the air circulated and ward off the mosquitoes. There were cheap loud speakers, 4 on each side dispensing tinny music. The ads on the screen used to be hand bills held in front of the projector, sometimes upside down. I don’t think there was any restriction on the audience smoking inside the hall, beedies mostly. What fun is in watching films if there are no snacks? No posh tubs of pop corn here. The licensed vendor would circulate in the hall selling roasted peanuts in pods. The audience had no compunction about disposing off the shells on the floor right near their feet. The acoustics of the talkies was of such a quality that those who were standing outside could follow the whole sound track..
We preferred to visit Central Talkies mostly because of its vicinity. We could easily walk the distance. There was no hassle of advance booking. All we had to do was send one of my brothers to be there when the ticket counter opened to purchase the tickets. Our visits would be mostly to night shows, called second shows- between 9.30pm and 1.00 am. It was fun going in a group of 8 or 10. The quality of the picture was hardly of any concern.
Once my elder sister was in convalescence, after her appendectomy. We took her to watch the movie as she could lie down on the bench and watch it.
We got to see quite a few hit movies though, with icons like Bhanumathi, N.T.Rama Rao, and the evergreen Tamil actors of the day. The music in the films used to be based mostly on classic ragas with million and one songs. The dances would be semi classical. The pictures would run leisurely for 3-3 ½ hours, with everyone given ample time to display their talent, including the famous comedian couple of the day.
The audience showed absolutely no inhibition in expressing their emotions. The noise level in the auditorium was purely dictated by what was being depicted on the screen—whistling, hooting, clapping, guffawing, loud crying and sometimes even tense silence as the hero and the villain displayed their sword fighting skill, one always standing at a higher level than the other, be it a slope or a staircase (The potential difference was duly maintained !). Sometimes the hero would even fight from air hanging from a chandelier
(a la Rudolf Valentino), or with the frightened heroine clasped in his left arm.
Once, one of the movies had an extremely melodramatic story with the heroine undergoing unlimited travails. The simple woman sitting next to us was shedding copious tears and sniffing noisily throughout. After the first half was over, the interval was announced and the lights came on mercifully. Travails or no travails, a mother’s duty would not be forgotten. Bathed in the bathos, the woman managed to control herself just enough to tell her son in a choked, woe- laden voice , “ ucchhe hoyid baro maga”(Go and relieve yourself, Son) and went back to her sniffing.
The talkies being what it was, I do not know whether it had the mandatory urinal or not. Even if it were there, I very much doubt whether the boy, why even the majority of the male audience, used it. What are the wide open side roads for, after all?!
Well, even with all this, we did manage to see quite a few movies in the Central Talkies. But, later, like all of us, the talkies also underwent quite a few changes, apparently for the better and finally gave way to a posh shopping complex. The mill area itself metamorphosed into one of the biggest malls. I do not know what happened to our fellow audience. They must have risen in the party cadres and ruling the country.
Whatever it is, my heart cannot help missing a beat every time we pass that way for ‘namma (our) Central Talkies’ with its wooden benches and cheap,noisy speakers.