By Chitra Ahanthem
Ah well! Imphal now has a cinema theatre showing the latest English films after a more than decade long break. But the news does nothing for me bent on my own personal revolt of watching Hindi films. Heck, it was that ban way back in 2000 that made me so stark raving mad, I wrote a letter to the editor (IFP) dripping with sarcasm (NOT at my editor but to the folks who live under the ground…er!) and pointing out Hindi film bans should consider the tastes of people like me who love the clichéd “Bolywood jhatkas and matkas”. That letter was carried in IFP and I went on to write more and more till Editor called me in to write every Sunday. Unfortunately, the ban on Hindi films and TV channels stayed on and led to many other after effects including the theatres becoming departmental stores, educational institutions on one hand and depriving many women who earlier sold cinema ticket “in black” from earning a living. For me, the ban did not just make me write that letter but triggered an almost obsessive compulsion for Hindi films. I had to watch them because they were banned. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t given to watching them in the theatres every other day. Neither did I go the “borrow from the CD library way” prior to the ban: it would only be a “watch the ones I want when I want” basis. But once the ban came on, there was no way I was going to let it go unchallenged!
The first way of beating the ban was to watch pirated copies: they were now more cost inducing for me because of the ban again. Prices had gone up but often, I would rouse younger relatives and we would contribute on shared basis. But the aggressive eeyambas also went overboard and set about warning those selling Hindi films or either seizing them and horror of horrors (!), setting them on fire. The mention of fire reminds me of a hilarious (but very seriously discussed then!) anecdote: an aunt of mine living on the outskirts of Imphal and also a Meira Paibi (the eeyambas had this great show, continued to this day where they call in attention loving Meira Paibis who want their photos in newspapers and their screaming aggressive postures on TV every time there is an “anti-social drive”) called me up. She was hyperventilating- not because she would be in the papers the next day overseeing a truck load of Hindi films being burned on behalf of the eeyambas but because she wanted to ask me which ones I wanted for myself before the fire ceremony started. She got me quite an armful of them in the end!
Back then, I was a full time NGO employee and though there were times of getting out of the state (read, going to places where there was no ban), such trips were totally work oriented and so rushed that it would mostly be a trip to the airport to the place of my destination, then the hotel (for seminar, workshop etc) and back again. The movie watching experience then wasn’t worth pursuing alone: issues of safety and ticket availability were foremost on mind. The norm then was single screen theatres where every social strata packed in: the aggressive auto or truck driver lot who were prone to mad revelry every time an “item” song came on screen but worst, those looking for a physical grope taking advantage of the rush of people at such places. My only way to Hindi film Nirvana was hotel cable/dish TV. The moment I checked in, I would ask at reception,” Do you have Hindi films on cable TV?”
But once the multiplexes arrived on the scene, there was no stopping me! Every opportunity to travel to Delhi for work was a divine blessing for me once cinema multiplexes came into being. Delhi meant the additional safety net of my siblings and I would drag them one by one to watch films. Watching “Chak de” with my brother stands out: the sound effects of the theatre were such that when the hockey matches in the film happened along with the film sounds of whistling, clapping etc, I naturally turned around and asked my brother, “who was whistling?” He gave me a very disgusted look that was suggestive of my country bumpkin status and told me very firmly that he would not watch another Hindi film with me ever! Of course, given such an ultimatum, I could only drag him to another show of “Gandhi, my father” at the same multiplex: not a regular song and dance movie but the sound effect was my latest love. My brother would get back with his own: the next cinema outing on my next trip to Delhi saw him tricking me into thinking he had got me the tickets for the latest Bollywood film and I was easily conned since multiplexes have different posters for all the films they show…I went happily and went into silent disapproving mode when I realized that he was making me watch “Casino Royale” instead!
The James Bond movie episode marred my Hindi movie trips with my brother as I no longer trusted his ticket buying instincts! On a more serious note, I found that I could go on for a solo movie trip in the evening in metros and come back safely to my hotel. Whenever, a trip outside the state was around the corner, I would check show timings and theatre locations on the internet: check distances and landmarks on Google maps and then work out an itinerary…all for Hindi films! During the course of my trips, I found that Aizawl does not have a cinema theatre except for a family theatre put up for family of Assam Riffles personnel and other hangers on. Dimapur had none either except private screenings of Hollywood movies. In Shillong, I found a cinema theatre right in the middle of Police bazaar that I would have otherwise missed if not for my “where is the latest Hindi film being shown?” journey! I went inside and found I was only the 9th person in the entire beer bottle strewn hall dotted with giggling students in their school dresses and 2 couples who had their own reasons for getting into a dark cinema theatre.
Objectively, Hindi films aren’t the best of films in the world: they are based on formula, melodrama and often have sharp lines drawn up between the good guys and the bad guys, therein making the viewers easily judgmental. Before my own discovery of other world movies and certain Hollywood films, it would only be Hindi films for me for their sheer music and dialogue play. But the ban on them has only added to the melodrama aspect and like any typical Hindi film, I have my ‘setting’ of friends based outside the state who will happily send me the latest DVDs and pull my legs over when my next movie outing is scheduled. To them and the folks who put on the ban, I can only borrow from a Hindi film dialogue: picture abhi baaki hain…(meaning the show isn’t over).