Friday, December 19, 2008

Blood, sweat, tears - and celluloid

Blood, sweat, tears - and celluloid
We are the movies we watched, and how

By Cecil Pinto


'We are what we read' is a phrase often enough bandied around to
ensure that young children read the correct books that will result in
proper character formation. In this day and age, when small kids read
precious little other than their school text books, it would be more
appropriate to say 'We are what we watch' - on television. For a
generation of Goans in Goa, like myself, whose early formative early
years were bereft of TV, it would be more appropriate to say 'We are
the movies we watched'.

Let's run through my movie watching experiences as a child, to
understand why I became such a warped adult.

The earliest memories I have of moving images are of religious movies
screened in the village square in Aldona. I'm not talking about
Biblical classics like 'The Ten Commandments' but rather mediocre
amateurishly made movies about the birth, life, death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ.

Quite frankly despite being a devoutly guilty Catholic as a child I
did find 'Mahabharata' and the Hindu Gods much more colourful and
fascinating. Their many hands, heads, animal-body forms and
supernatural powers were far more enticing than our charismatic, but
pacific, Jesus. Even a spectacular Moses-parting-the-seas couldn't
begin to match the bewilderment caused by Draupadi's never ending
saree, as Krishna made an utter fool of Dushasana.

Someday sociologists will maybe discover that a whole generation was
disillusioned with their religion just because the other side made
better movies. For a country that, every year, probably makes more
movies than the rest of the world combined, this is a study worth
pursuing.

These makeshift open-air auditoriums were also the venue for screening
of the few Konkani movies of that time, 'Nirmon' and 'Amchem
Noxim'
being particularly memorable. One song from 'Nirmon' was particularly
prophetic as a rainshower disrupted the screening at that very moment
the song started, 'Cloudier, cloudier…"

I studied upto Std 3 at the St. Thomas Girl High School, Aldona, which
used to allow boys in the primary section back then. Approximately
once every two months a Hindi movie would be screened in the school
hall. We younger kids had to watch from a couple of large padded mats
thrown on the floor just below the screen. We couldn't quite
understand the plot or the dialogue of the B/W Hindi films but would
cheer when the good guys (mostly led by Rajesh Khanna) beat up the bad
guys (characterized by a swarthy bald mean villain named Shetty), or
when the good guy's dog (usually named Moti) rushed to the rescue of
his master - or his girlfriend.

In between screen fights, to relieve ourselves of the tedium of the
intervening story-romance-songs, we boys would hammer each other up in
imitation of the onscreen fights. The large padded mats were conducive
to exaggerated jumping, falling and dramatic dying. Accompanying
mandatory fight sounds, of 'dishum' for punches and kicks and
"dishtyanv' for gunfight ricochets, had to be muted so as not to come
to the attention of the nun designated to keep watch over us.
Sometimes the abrupt silence of a reel change necessitated a
mid-action abandoning of a fight – especially if the lights were put
on during this break.

Although it was a co-ed situation us ruffian boys were sequestered
from the girls while watching movies, not so much because of the
intriguing possibilities in the dark, but because of our violent
tendencies.

Sir John Shadrak, the Physical Education teacher from the Boys School,
was the only person in the village qualified to run the projector and
handle the complicated and huge celluloid reels. He was much in demand
for these services.

I was the second born of three brothers. My Mom, with us three brats
in tow, and accompanied by assorted neighbours and relatives
occasionally made a Sunday trip to Mapusa to catch an English movie.
The choice was El Capitan, now an office building, and the currently
still existent Cine Alankar. As far as I know at that time theatres in
Goa were either suffixed with a 'Cine' (Cine National, Cine Lata, Cine
Vishant) or with an El (El Dorado, El Monte).

As a kid I have watched, amazed, as the 'Sound of Music' unfolded in
glorious colour. Everybody in the theatre fell in love with Julie
Andrews but my fascination was more for the song of the Lonely
Goatherd as he went 'Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!' We rafted
down the Mississippi River with Huckleberry Finn and Jim the slave.
Tevye the milkman and his delightful family kept us enchanted with
'tradition' in 'Fiddler on the Roof'. And we cheered for the
'Lady and
the Tramp' but mostly for Tramp!

There were two very good movies I distinctly remember seeing around
this time which for some odd reason are not considered classics today
and have virtually disappeared. One was 'The Champ' about an ex boxing
champ, his son and his ex-wife. The champ is making a difficult
comeback to give his boy a better future. At the risk of sounding
clich├ęd there was not a dry eye in the theatre at the tragic end of
the movie. We kids were sad for the next few days not understanding
why the champ, our hero, had to die.

The other memorable, but now forgotten, movie from my childhood was
'Melody' where the cute young Melody and her 'boyfriend' decide
to get
married immediately, despite being all of ten years old at most. It
was about finding true friendship, I think, but all us young boys just
wanted to marry the absolutely charming Melody!

In 1973 we were on a family holiday in Bangalore when we saw the then
just released and much acclaimed 'Bobby'. Two chubby teenagers from
different income groups pitted against a world that does not quite
understand that true love conquers all. The Rajdoot motorcycle
speeding, and the Goa connection, was what we kids found more
interesting.

Many years later when I worked for a short while as a tourist guide I
realized that the Goa-Bollywood connection was much stronger than I
thought. There I was, everyday, taking a busload of middle-class
Indian tourists on the popular North-Goa tour. Invariably I would be
pointing out the geographical and historical significance of the name
and the place, at lets say Dona Paula, when some boorish lout would
ask me, "Arre bhai saab, voh sab chod de! Ek Duje ke Liye ka shooting
kahan hua?" I would then be obliged to point out to a random spot on
the jetty and take a photo with his camera, of him and his wife, as
proof to show the people back home. Just as I returned to my well
studied and rehearsed narration of the legend of Dona Paula someone
would interrupt, "Bhai saab, Ram Balram ka shooting kahan hua?"




I-N-T-E-R-M-I-S-S-I-O-N




Speaking of 'Ram Balram' one of my earliest memories of a Bollywood
movie was 'Yaadon ki Baarat' which also had Dharmendra and introduced
us to the concept of brothers separated when young who grow up in
totally disparate circumstances and then re-unite while/after
defeating the bad guys. 'Amar Akbar Anthony' was the penultimate film
of that brothers-reuniting genre. It spoke of Hindu-Muslim-Catholic
unity among trying circumstances and unlikely coincidences, including
miraculous recovery of sight by a blind mother. Keep in mind that I
was the middle of three brothers and so returning from a
brothers-reunited movie would mean not only the traditional
re-enactments of fights at home but also singing of the theme song in
voices. I was automatically relegated to the Akbar position while
Conrad got the much coveted Anthony 'Amitabh' Gonsalves role.

From my earlier childhood though 'Haati mera Saathi' vaguely comes to
mind with Rajesh Khanna, a whole lot of animals, and a possessive
elephant named Ramoo. I also recall 'Seeta aur Geeta' with our Dream
Girl, Hema Malini, acting a double role which was absolutely confusing
to us kids.

Then in 1975 'Sholay' came along and eclipsed everything. Jai, Veeru,
Gabbar, Thakur Baldev, Basanti, Radha… all of these and the dialogues,
songs, relationships, situations and locales got under our skin and
formed a part of our collective consciousness as Indians. We kids
naturally were no different from the adults in being totally awestruck
by the greatest Hindi movie ever made.

Of course these were path breaking times. We saw 'Enter the Dragon'
which starred the legendary Bruce Lee in the first ever mainstream
Hollywood movie about martial arts. All of us young boys, and I
suppose men too of that era, suddenly wanted to learn karate and
become Bruce Lee. We bought books on martial arts and took courses
from absolutely incompetent self-certified instructors. We made
nan-chakus out of bamboo pieces and dog chains. We attempted breaking
bricks, wooden planks and thermacol packaging material with our bare
fists. All this as you can imagine was not entirely injury free –
except for the lightweight thermacol practitioners.

It used to be quite fascinating watching people coming out of a
theatre after watching 'Enter the Dragon'. Every male tried to
cultivate a slightly jaunty Lee-esque style gait, simultaneously alert
and relaxed, and looked around aggressively. A lot of fist fights did
occur outside of theatres due to this testosterone laden atmosphere.

Towards the late Seventies, approaching my teens, I teamed up with my
elder brother Charles to watch movies. Our target used to be Rs. 4/-.
We needed Rs. 2/- each. One rupee each for the to-and-fro bus ticket
to Mapusa. 95 paise each for the Lower Stall tickets. 5 paise each for
the peppermints - pronounced 'pipirmit'. Now naturally the question
arises - Why couldn't I go myself? Well I was a bit of a sissy then
and Charles was two years older than me and much tougher. The Lower
Stall booking counter at Cine Alankar is a cylindrical cemented
structure quite distant from the Upper Stall and Balcony counters. It
is populated by the dregs of society – alcoholics, whores and
toughies. Queuing was unheard of. Booking a ticket involved a mixture
of gymnastic aptitude as well as brute strength - and an ability to
bear dreadful body odours. Charles would manage the actual ticket
buying while I provided cover from backside attacks.

Tickets finally in hand after a lot of bruising, we would then find
seats in the unnumbered Lower Stall section which consisted of two
rows of seats just below the screen. A truly wide-screen experience
that involved a lot of horizontal and vertical neck action if one was
to catch all the movements. It was also the dirtiest filthiest section
of an already soiled theatre that smelled of sweat, urine and rat
droppings. But all was forgotten and forgiven as we watched Clint
Eastwood make our day, blowing away the bad guys with his .44 magnum
in 'Dirty Harry'.

This pain-in-the neck perspective at Cine Alankar is also from where I
saw an interesting science fiction movie named 'Rollerball' about a
violent inter-country sport involving athletic looking men on roller
skates hanging onto high speed motorbikes while chasing a metal ball
in a circular velodrome. This inspired me to bully friends into riding
their cycles on tarred roads while I tagged along on my roller skates.
It was quite hard on the cyclist and I lost a lot of friends - and at
least one pair of roller skates to the potholes on the Aldona-Mapusa
road. Charles and me did experiment with cycling to Mapusa, to save on
the bus fare, but the consequent risk of fatigue and punctures made us
soon abandon this route.

Somewhere in the mid-Seventies a Konkani movie 'Boglant' was released
to a starved Konkani movie audience. It was running at El Capitan and
our whole family went for it, especially because all the songs were
composed by our fellow Aldonkar - the prolific Alfred Rose. There was
a huge crowd outside the theatre and fortunately we had purchased
tickets in advance. I saw a slight commotion and pushed my way through
the crowd to find two well built men viciously beating a scrawny young
boy. One held him by his hair while another had twisted his arm at an
odd angle at the back. He was screaming in pain as they kept on
punching and kicking him. Nobody moved a finger to stop them. Seeing
that I was visibly agitated, and upset at this injustice, my father
called me aside and explained that the young boy had been selling
tickets in the 'black' and had been caught by the police.

I protested that the punishment was far too cruel for what was
basically an act of desperation - and entrepreneurship. Nobody else
seemed to see it that way. I decided two things then and there (1) I
would never sell tickets in the black-market (2) I would never become
a policeman.

In the next mega installment, about how cinema influenced my life,
allow me to walk you through the movies, and movie watching
experiences, of my teenage years and young adulthood. Observe how the
focus gradually shifted from Luke Skywalker's laser light saber in
'Star Wars' to Zeenat Aman's cleavage in 'Qurbani'.



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The Two Part column above appeared in Gomantak Times dated 20th and
21st November 2008
Feedback welcome at
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