Ramblings on Movies

By Thathachari (thaths@netscape.com)

A lot of people have felt that I am high handed. I may have inadvertently portrayed such an image of myself. A lurker in this newsgroup (soc.culture.indian) took immense pleasure in saying "So, the high and mighty Thaths has fallen" when I had recently made a blunder. This article is to dispel the notion that I am somebody who is unreachable.

I am as human as the rest of you. I am as Desi as the rest of you. I watch my quota of Hindi movies with atleast one Khan in them. I have visited the Rajinikanth and Kamal Gasan Homepages. But I have to confess that I do draw the line someplace. For example, I do not visit the "Indian Image Archives" maintained by Arun (who incidentally is still waiting for his buddies to come back from their months long holidays to vote on his brain child).

I am not immune to the disease that plagues the Indian sub-continent - addiction to movies. The earliest movie I remember seeing is one that was shown on TV. The philosophy of Doordarshan has changed little in the decades since then - "Never Ever Screen Popular Movies". It was one called 'kaNavanE kaNN kaNda theivam' (The Husband is God Incarnate) A mega tear jerker sexist piece starring Gemini. The movie had it all - Snakes, damsels in distress, a cute kid that would have made millions from starring in advertisements if he were born today, magic that only Vittlacharriar would have appreciated and umpteen songs.

I guess addiction to movies runs in my family. Take my aunt, for example. It was while watching her watch movies that I understood that people could and did think aloud. Something that, previously, only characters in books seemed to do. For the benefit of those of us who had not understood the intricate details of a movie she would rattle off the names of the characters, their political leanings, what she thought about the director, her own beliefs, pro life propaganda, the day's menu and her mothers maiden name. All in the form of questions, as she had, recently, become a fan of Alex Trebeck.

The scenario was even more complicated when we watched an english horror movie. She would keep pestering us scared kids to explain the plot to her. She had the habit of screaming a warning to the hero behind whom the villainous swamp thing was poised for an attack. Many an adrenalin rush had we kids missed out on thanks to her. I suspect that she had a rather low opinion of our intellect as she made it a point to explain, loudly, to the packed captive audience what was happening in the movie. I have often stopped my brother from murdering her by holding on to tightly to his knife weilding arm.

There is also the other end of the spectrum. My cousin - the 'Jhola Wallah' - wannabe. He would sing praises of directors like Fellini and Eisenstien. He would watch Solaris in slow motion for a whole day. He would then watch 'The Stalker' frame by frame. His reasoning for this slow torture was his belief that movies watched at their natural intended speed was like falling into the trap knowing fully well that it (the trap) existed. He was of the firm belief that there was a secret conspiracy by the cinema industry which wanted us to believe in things that are not true. His proof? The fact that most people saw twenty four distinct frames flashing before their eyes per second as being fluid motion.

It was from this cousin that I learned enough jargon to survive the coffee shops of Austin. My cousin and I would spend our limited resources sharing a smoke and a "single tea" in the 'pOtti kadai' (tea shop) near our house analyzing the latest film from the Adoor Gopalakrishnan. And it was my cousin who taught me to distinguish between film and movies.

Indian movies are a really complex phenomenon. Where else would you find a completely new usage of a filming technique? Our directors have the ability to totally turn around a technique. If 'Battleship Potempkin' used slow motion to improve the dramatic tension, our own Manmohan Desai would use it to show our Hero bashing the refuse out of twenty thuggish extras. Cinematic techniques being adopted to the Indian mele, my brother explained.

Fellini would be surprised to know that the close up can be used for things other than showing that faces can tell what goes on behind them. Very often we see that the close up of the pock marked faces of the heros with blood shot eyes (a subtle hint the director drops to let his audience know that the hero is angry) is targeted at the 'Rasigar Manram' (fan club) audience. I suspect that such scenes are made at the express orders of a very powerful lobby - the sweepers of the theatres who collect the loose change that rains down onto the dirty cinema hall floor when such close ups come on screen.

The time I watched the most number of movies was definitely during my undergrad years. My friend and I were actually so jobless once that we went for a matinee show of 'Guru' - a 70's flick very loosely based on Zorro. I was rolling on the floor laughing when, in one scene, Kamalgasan says, in English, "This is preposterous!!". The housewife sitting in front of us was so offended by my irreverence that she actualy turned back, glared at me and asked me to show some respect. The heady days of being an undergraduate often saw us making our way regularly to the theatres and then making solemn promises that never again would we watch such moronic movies in a mosquito infested theatre.

There are, of course, a few among us who believe that foreign movies are better. We had a professor in Annamalai University who felt the same way. He used to regularly visit a theatre called 'Blue Diamond' in Chidambaram. This theatre was famous for its "bits." They usually screened such movies like "Women From Amazon" and attached the required "bits" of soft porn to it. Some of my classmates happened to run into the above mentioned professor in the theatre once and beat a hasty retreat. The news spread through the usual channels and when the professor was berating the standard of Indian movies the next day in class, there was spontaneous laughter from the whole class.

Watching the first show of a movie is a really nice experience. It is a status symbol among teenagers. I remember the one time when my brother dragged me along to 'Sapphire' theatre to watch the first show of 'Thirty Sixth Chamber of Shaolin.' I was so happy with the fact that I was, at last, accepted by my brother as an equal. Oh those naive thoughts. Oh innocent childhood!! My brother dragged me from the bus stop to the ladies queue and plainly and calmly ordered me to go get a ticket. Even a twelve-year-old knows that there is a basic difference between men and women. I was embarrassed on one hand and scared of my brothers very short temper on the other. After weighing the scale for a few seconds I found that nature won. I flatly refused to join the ladies queue. Partly taking solace in the fact that my brother could not thrash me in public. We went home a ticket-less dejected pair. Never ever did my brother let me tag along with him.

Even puritannical schools in Madras seem to have fallen to the lure of the profit motive. P.S.Senior had an annual fund collecting event during Deepavali. A couple of weeks before the festival "Rajam-miss" (the terror of the school) would come in and start giving out tickets for a movie to the students and ask all of us to bring a hundred rupees for each ticket. Most students tried protesting mildly only to be shown their fathers income (filled up during the admission process). "Rajam-miss" drove home the fact that the students could afford it. The protests died down when it was announced that the movie being screened was the latest from a super hero.

We Indians are a very emotional lot. Take the case of the sobbing audience. The other day the local Tamil Students Association organised the screening of 'Bombay.' There is this scene in the movie where the arsonists douse two annoying cute kids with a flammable liquid and are trying to set them on fire. As in most such movies, the sequence was shown in what seemed like ultra slow motion. I joined the rest of the crowd in expressing my displeasure with the arsonists. Spontaneously hisses escaped my throat.

Indians seem to have given an entirely new meaning to the term parallel cinema. Let me explain. The lifestyle and events that take place in Indian movies is so totally removed from typical life of a typical member of the audience. The worst thing about it is that people believe in the stuff they see on the screen and accept it in their stride. Be it a hero bashing twenty some villains with one hand and throwing back grenades after many acrobatic stunts with the other.

What does all these ramblings leave us with? The moral of the whole story is that movies are as integral part of an Indians life as popcorn is to movies. How better to end an article on movies than with a typical final shot? To facilitate this I request all of you to please return to that part of this article that all of you found very good. And you must sing a happy song and laugh obligingly along with the rest of the people in the newsgroup staring at the monitor. Thank you!!

Copyright © 1994-2000, Sudhakar "Thaths" Chandrasekharan
Last Updated Sat Nov 25 12:10:05 PST 2000