The Central Talkies

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.


The Divine Surgeries

The long commute to work by the City bus had conditioned me to take a nap from the embarkation point to my destination. Well, don’t compare me with one of our former prime ministers who could take a nap anywhere and everywhere like a Pickwickian character. I was more like our first prime minister who used to make up for the curtailed hours of sleep in his long day by taking cat naps while in transit in those bulky ‘Ambassadors’.

Well, on that particular day, I had promptly dozed off even before the bus stopped to take in passengers from the second stop. As we proceeded, an excited buzz in the bus alerted me. I opened one of my eyes (my left eye always takes longer to react) to find the reason for the unusual behaviour of my co passengers. Out of the window I could see many characters, dressed in costumes, making a beeline for Dr.Smaran’s surgery. My physical body was too lethargic to forego the precious minutes of my slumber. So, my curious astral body floated lightly to the doctor’s surgery.

I saw that the first one in the line was made up like Lord Vishnu, complete with blue body colour and four arms holding Shankh, Chakr, mace and lotus in each hand. There were all types of characters in the line in addition to Shiva, Parvathi, Ganesha, Brahma- some boar headed, some horse headed etc.

I approached the first one and asked, “Why are you all ‘queue’ing like this and that too in your theatre costumes and accessories?” Mahavishnu told me, “This is not a costume. These are for real. Come and feel my extra arms.” I could see that they were not attached. They had grown naturally out of his body. “Likewise all the different shaped heads and multiple arms you see here” he said. Then he continued sadly, “That old Rishi Vyasa had a perverse imagination. He, in his 18 puranas, gave us all weird personalities and people just believed him naively. Their faith was reinforced by painters like Ravi Verma. He painted us just as Vyasa had portrayed and worsened the situation. In Christian texts they say God created man in his own image. But here, the Man has totally distorted our images. We heard that Dr Smaran is good at cutting off extra parts. So, we are waiting for an appointment with him”.

I was perplexed, “When there are so many surgeons in the world, why ‘queue’ in front of only one?” Vishnu said, “All those surgeons are busy dividing inner parts like kidney, heart and brain and apportioning them to the separated conjoined twins – a more complicated procedure; whereas here all this surgeon has to do is to chop off the extra parts.” How I love to look normal, say like a Greek God! When I showed my ‘Vishwa roopa’ to Arjuna in the battle field of Mahabharatha, he got scared and requested me to get back to my normal 4-armed persona, as if being 4-armed is normal for anyone!” “But what about your blue body colour? That is also unusual.” Vishnu said flippantly, “That is no big deal. The dermatologist has already promised us that a few jars of ‘FAIR AND LOVELY’ would do the trick.”

I passed down the line. Shiva told me that he was there to get rid of his ever dripping lump called Ganga and the crescent shaped outgrowth on his head that went by the name ‘moon’. He was also confident that the extra blue colour of his neck could be bleached with extra–strong fairness creams. “As for my third eye, I can pretend it is not there, since I am expected to open it only on the last day of the Universe.”

Parvathi’s complaint was unique. She found that she was always portrayed with a curvy posture and her palms open- one pointing upward and the other pointing downward unless she was doing something else. She wanted to stand erect with her hands at ease on both sides like a normal being.

This reminded me of the crossed feet posture of young Krishna, portraying whom, poor little boys and girls are made to hop around the stages, holding a flute near their lips.

Brahma wanted to get rid of his extra three heads. Puzzled I asked, “But Sir, your brain also will have to be quadrisected?!” Brahma gave an ungod like guffaw and said, “That’s where the beauty lies. Haven’t you seen my other faces not even blinking an eyelid while my front face talks? That’s because, those three are only dummies and have no brains in them. So, I have nothing to lose.”

I paused in front of the normally placid Lord Rama. “Rama, you have a normal handsome 6 pack body except for your blue colour which I believe is not much of a problem. But then why are you here ?” Rama said sedately, “I am here to see if the ‘doc’ can reconstruct Shurpanakha’s nose. I feel so guilty about it.” I shot back, “But why? That was the just punishment meted out to her by Lakshmana for lusting after you!” Rama explained patiently, “No, the mistake was ours, though Valmiki portrayed it differently. Actually, Lakshmana and I were fooling around with a discarded bottle of ‘AXE’. So, it was only the ‘AXE effect’ that made the poor Rakshasi come after us. We had no recourse than to cut off that nose which led her on that infamous pursuit.”

I passed on to Durga. I folded my hands in obeisance and asked, “Mother, your multiple hands were given to you to destroy all the evil in the world. Why do you want to get rid of them?” She heaved a long sigh and said, “I am fed up of the Western world parodying me. One author even had the temerity to describe his promiscuous protagonist as a man ‘all hands, even more than a Hindu god’. I know he was referring to me in particular. Even in dances, you must have seen me portrayed with many hands, but later all the dancers separate out making it obvious that they are all normal beings with just two hands.”

Ganesha was hoping to be provided with a human head, though with an elephant’s memory. He also wanted to know if Dr.Smaran would do lipo- suction of pot bellies.

I could not help wondering. “What would happen to our traditional art, literature, music, dance etc solely based on their present forms if the whole disgruntled pantheon decides to go for mass ‘make-over’?

The conditioned reflexes of my physical body were sending me signals that my destination was approaching. My astral body flew back to the bus to join its napping counterpart.