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The Indian Premier League (IPL) and the tussle between Producers and Mulitplexes in Bollywood has taken its toll on cinema and cinema-goers. IPL has become another name for “reality show”. It is the baap of all reality game shows – these CRICKET matches. IPL has yet again proved that it has a “power” even over the other most important source of entertainment for Indians — TV Serials, Poll Tamasha and CINEMA. This is because Cricket in India is not just a game, it’s a religion. In general, both cinema and cricket make the staple of our entertainment dose, and in fact move beyond entertainment to being the life breath of people who take these as “national pride”. But, the IPL fever has been such that cinema has suffered a serious setback. For a “cinema worshiper” like myself not going to theatre because of the lack of new releases and “good” movies has become some kind of a punishment. Added to this, recession has made the going extremely tough. While, I see many of my seniors and batchmates struggling for a “decent” pay check even after toiling like hell on their thesis or MTPs in IIT, the only thing I feel like having is a heady dose of a real good masala blockbuster in a theatre.

I am becoming nostalgic and slightly angry! I will come to the nostalgia part in a short-while, but first let me recount the reasons for my anger. Let’s pan the camera towards some of the bigger movies that have released in the last few months: Chandni Chowk to China (CC2C), Dilli6, Billu Barber aka Salon Specialist (latter my addition), Aa Dekhen Zara, Firaq, Raaz — the Mystery Continues, Siddharth…. This list is recollected from memory, apologies for slippages if any. Unfortunately, I do not appreciate any of the above movies. The less said about CC2C is better…Dilli6 had the possibilities of an amazing movie with one of my favorite star cast (Waheedaji) and some of the best tracks that I have heard in the recent times (I like Masakali and Genda Phool immensely). But one has to remember that a movie should “speak for itself” rather than “speak about itself”. I went to watch Firaq in the theatres. It is a technically very well-made movie, but if you ask me about its content I would say that it is flawed. Movies which are made with a “social message” are supposedly “balanced” in their “judgement” of a particular incident. Firaq comes under that genre of cinema and so naturally one expects that it shows a certain kind of “balanced” portrayal of the sensitivities associated with both religions. But….

I am having a hunch that in the name of making “serious cinema” or “matured cinema”, our “cinema-making” capabilities are suffering badly. Added to that, media, cinema-makers and actors have made “gossip” a staple for PRing a particular movie. If you observe the current trend of Bollywood, before every release there is a new gossip to pepper the marketing of a movie but no one bothers to look into the subtleties of acting or making a “real good movie“. I suspect it is the PR-ship of a movie which is responsible for the saleability of the movie rather than the movie itself. Take the war between Khans, the over-hyped and sometimes maligned life of Salman, Katrina-Ranbir/Preity-Ness and innumerable such stories. It seems that the “cinema-lovers” attention has now diverted from actual cinema into the rumours and real life drama in the lives of celebrities. We are virtually given the life of Big Boss viewers. Not that there were no gossips or rumors in the yester-year celebrities. Starting from Nargis-Rajkapoor to Hemamalini-Dharmender or Amitabh-Rekha to the current Sanju-Manyata rumour mills have always been ablaze. These yesteryear stars were not only celebrities who gave reasons for rumours because of their public image, they were also great actors and immensely dedicated to their career.

The trend has changed now. Today the personal lives of stars are so flavored and served in such gorgeously decked-up china platters that they appear more delicious than their movies themselves. For instance, while reading articles one on Sharukh’s pay cut and the other on Rishi Kapoor’s recent interview to Rajeev Masand in a famous news channel, I felt a twinge of sadness and sympathy . The life of an actor like Shahrukh is being measured by the “cut in his pay check” and that he had to accept it in a wedding “for not dancing”! Similarly, it was actually not in a good taste to say that Katrina is “better” than Deepika just about the time when a new movie of Ranbir-Katrina Ajab Prem ki Gajab Kahani is about to hit the theatres. Is this gossip thing not going a little too far and actually destroying the potential of good actors who are now paying more attention to their lives off-screen rather than on-screen?

That brings us to the “small town cinema” aspect and to Amarnath Talkies.

I am sure that hardly any of my readers might have even heard of “Amarnath Talkies“. It is a small single-screen theatre of a capacity not more than a 150-200 people in the sleepy town of Dhenkanal somewhere in the heart of Odisha. The theatre has a balcony that is called sankha and a small arena called samudra. The balcony caters to the “well-to-do” people of the town and also to the newly married couples who get a rare once or twice in a life time privilege of getting away from their extended families in the name of “taking ‘her’ to the cinema” πŸ˜‰ . The cost of these balcony seats extend not beyond 20-30 rupees per head. The movies that premiered in Mumbai are released in the these small-town theatres after nearly a 7-8 months gap. In those days, we used to read reviews in Cine Blitz or Film Fare, read gossips and wait eagerly for a certain movie to release. The release of a certain block-buster movie carried a great fanfare. A peddle rickshaw decked up with huge posters of the movie and a man sitting inside with a bhonpoo (loud speakers) in hand, would be shrieking and announcing the arrival of a new movie in town: “Heyi heyi re! Asantu dekhiba Amir-Juhinka Dhamaka Ishq apanka nijara Amarnath theatre re (Let’s all go and watch the new movie Ishq starring Amir Khan and Juhi Chawla in your nearest Amarnath theatre) !” I always enjoyed listening to these announcements as they really served to heighten the anticipation for the movie πŸ™‚ .

Well, we hardly got to watch movies in Amarnath Talkies and the reasons were simple — the theatre was always littered with pan thook and smelt of bidi . The hoot and whistling in the hall almost drowned the voice of stars performing on screen. Generally parents were afraid of taking their “grown-up” daughters to such theatres because the comments were somewhat “below dignity”. Yet, there were unique occasions when parents could not deny taking the kids to watch movies. When movies like Saajan, Ishq, Dil toh Pagal Hai, Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai released, their fame was such that they could be avoided at no cost. These movies came to the theatre almost a year after they were released in Mumbai and by then they had already become mega blockbusters.

My own experience with these small town theatres are highly nostalgic. For instance, an entire theatre in Angul (my parents worked there) was booked by a relative as a birthday gift for me. We all went to watch Raja Hindustani with four-five friends and their families and the relatives’ family in that theatre where we were served tea and juice. In general, on most of the occasions it used to be night-shows in Amarnath Talkies with aunts, uncles, parents and friends and that too with “dinner only at home” as the condition (not like cinema goers of Mumbai). Watching a movie was no less than a carnival. πŸ™‚ In another instance, we had run away from school to watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in one of these theatres. We bunked school after the tiffin-hours and went to the Talcher talkies with friends to watch this movie which had become a cult of our times. But, the fear of being caught and punished kept looming large and made the experience of the movie even more enjoyable. My grandfather took me to a special screening in Amarnath Talkies of the English movie ET and its Odiya adaptation, meant specially for journalists, writers and critics. Those were the times when we could connect to the movie itself and the thought of the movie remained fresh on our minds like the taste of chocolates….

These small town theatres served another purpose. They were the major source of promoting regional cinema in their showtimes. Every Durga Puja or Kali Puja or Id , blockbuster movies released which sustained the regional film industries. But, with the arrival of VCD/DVDs and pirated movies, regional movies suffered huge losses. As a result, today you do not find movies like Amada Bata (The Untrodden Path), Danda Balunga (The Street Loafer) Adina Megha (The Unseasonal Cloud), Samuka (The Shell), etc any more in Odiya film industry. Regional films have actually suffered a huge setback in Odisha (in Maharastra to some extent too) where the audiences are more biased towards Bollywood. Not only the viewers are responsible for the debacle of regional movies, but also the producers/directors are equally responsible with their small investment, verbatim copy of Bollywood movies and very bad cinematography (Telugu and Tamil movies are exceptions to some extent). It is not correct to say that good writers, scripts, directors are lacking in these places. There are good writers, scripts and directors, but the investment is definitely poor and so is the mindset. Moreover, since most of the small-town theatres have closed down so where would the prints be sold? Many of these theatres have been converted into Kalyan Mandaps or worse still have become places where goons, loafers and underworld lives. But the thought of Maharaja theatre, Shreya-Stuti or Amarnath theatre in Odisha arouses the same kind of longing for a “good” movie as does the thought of Regal, Metro or Shreyas in Mumbai.

Somehow, as an ardent movie-fan I wish for a change we made some real cool masala hits, forgetting the “technicalities” and the “processes” of movie making. Recently, I was talking on phone with an aunt in Odisha and she was going gaga over Salman’s God Tussi Great Ho which she got to see in one of these smaller theatres. I was wondering what was so intelligent or cool about the movie? I went back and watched that movie and I am not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed it much more than Singh is King (the latter was a huge hit)….

Hmm! how I pray that this war between producers and multiplexes end soon. I have already started missing the movies…. πŸ™‚