Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Picturesque Picture of a Moving Picture

Whatever be the dictionary meaning of picturesque, for me the word means a curious, pleasant explanation of a thing, a phenomenon or an experience. Picture is what you know, it also means a state of affairs for me. And that moving picture, which later got cut short to movie,- oh god! how people used to throng to the cinema halls, theatres and tents in cities and the rural India in those early days to see the magic of light and shade!!

I don't remember at what age I saw my first movie in a cinema tent made of bamboo and coconut palms in my little town in South Kanara, coastal Karnataka, but I do remember the thrill of walking a couple of kilometers to see the magic on the big screen. In my town and at the neighboring little bigger town, there were two such 'Tent Cinema'. Both were situated at midway between these two places making people of both towns to walk or cycle the distance. For us, little children in those days, cinema, film, movies, talkies and picture made practically no difference; they all were a magic of light and shade in pitch darkness on a white screen - black & white were the only colors. And I was a little unfortunate not to have the experience of seeing dumb movies, because I was born a bit late when Einstein had already invented the Photo Electric Cell, the basis of sound in a moving picture. But I am lucky to experience the thrill of colour coming to movies in stages. First it was only scenes of dance, war and song sequences were coloured, then, later on the entire film. I am not sure, but I think the first colouring of a film was done manually, laboriously, which could be the reason it was only selected scenes in the movies that were coloured.

Why, even colour photography came to India only in the mid 1970's! All the photographs of my marriage in 1970 were in black & white! Soon a process of coloring black & white photographs (hard copies, then called the positives and the actual films, the negatives!) became a new trend. I had learnt this process of colouring photographs as an amateur hobby and had coloured quite a few photos! A small book containing color strips was used for this. These are called transparent colors. A piece of a color strip was dipped in water to get the level of required concentration and then the coloured water was lightly brushed on the surface of the photo. It was quite a skillful art requiring wasting and distorting photos before perfecting the art. Contrast this with today's Photoshop tools!

Then came colour films in the market costing several times more than black & white. Processing service of colour films was available only at cities like Bangalore. Amateur photographers like me would deliver the roll-film to the local studio, which in turn send the film to Bangalore for processing making me eagerly wait for more than a fortnight to get the developed copies along with the 'negative'. There were no courier services in those days and one had to depend on Indian P & T parcel services, who took their own sweet time to deliver! Since the hobby was very costly in those days, I did not dare to order hard copies for all the shots. I would wait to see the developed film and then decide which and how many copies to order, which again took a fortnight's time. Compare this with today's digital technology! Still the fun and pleasure of the costly hobby is incomparable.

An amateur camera then cost more than a reasonably good digital camera with optical zoom today if one takes into consideration of the declined money value! (The value of a rupee then was equivalent to almost a kilogram of good quality rice!). First it was all German brands, mainly Agfa and Kodak. Then cheaper Japanese brands, mainly Yashica swept the amateur market and later slowly but firmly breaking the hold of German professional cameras. Yashica introduced competent professional brands at nearly half the prices of German brands. I started my hobby with a Kodak Box camera (now donated to an antic collector), upgraded to an Agfa Isolette and finally ended up with the magical Yashica 124 (SLR) model for which I paid a whopping Rs.4,500/-! (Remember, that kind of money could buy at least 30 quintals of rice, if not more, then!). Rolliflex, costing upwards of Rs.10,000/-, I think from Kodak gallery was the ultimate pride of a professional photographer. All are now an antic collector's items!

In movies, first came the 'Technicolor' technology. Then there was Gevacolor and Eastman color. Finally Eastman became more in vogue. I do not exactly know of the coloring technology of those days. The last movie I saw in a theatre was "Mr. India", with my wife and children, then in different grades of school and college; perhaps in 1990 or so!

In a tent cinema, there were three categories - matted or loose sand laid floor in the front near the screen, Bench (backless long wooden seats my dear!) and then the majestic chairs laid at the farthest from the screen. Ticket was four and half annas (0.27 rupee) for 'floor', bench cost 6 annas (0.38 rupee) and chairs a whopping 14 annas (0.87 rupee). In regular cinema halls at Mangalore, the nearest city for us, there were two categories below the balcony seats - front 6 annas and rear 10 annas. Balcony seats were at a premium, one rupee four annas or Rs. 1.25. All seats were chairs - plain wooden below and cushioned in the balcony. In bigger theatres balcony had two categories - front rows for Rs. 1.25 and rear rows (usually only a couple of rows) for Rs. 1.75. A few special seats were available for dignitaries and they were called 'cabin' seats; a few separate cabins each containing 6 to 8 seats to accommodate a family, on two sides of the projector room. One had to take a full cabin and a seat would work out to anywhere from Rs. 3 to 4. Most of the times these cabins were reserved for political and other dignitaries; common man however rich except a relative of the theatre owner would not get cabins!

During my college days (1961 to 65) at Mangalore we used to pay Rs. 1.25 on average for a movie show. Soon after my graduation, when I joined my first job in Delhi in 1966, it was the shock of my life - a mind boggling Rs. 4.50 for a movie show! (Mind you, I was drawing a princely Rs. 195/- per month as salary)

First it was only Tamil movies with occasional Hindi films during my school days at town, because a good number of common movie goers were speaking a unique language called the 'Beary' language. This language was nearer to Dravidian languages. So Tamil was most preferred, also could be it was far cheaper than Hindi for the operators. And Kannada, the state language films were not well developed and in rural areas in South Kanara, where the predominant languages were Tulu and Konkani, and Kannada was only the third spoken language even though the name of the district was Dakshina Kannada (South Kanara) and the state language is Kannada. So to say, South Kanara is home for a variety of spoken languages. There are at least three variations or dialects of Kannada and two to Konkani. Tulu, a Dravidian language, of course is widely spoken. And that could be the reason for Tamil preference for films in my town. In fact in those days, I used to speak fluent, chaste Tamil learnt only through cinema! Later, during college days American Quickies became my favourite though I saw more of Hindi films.

I think the seventies decade and the earlier part of eighties was golden period of Indian cinema. That scintillating Hindi film music evoking a lot of emotions with unforgettable tunes can never happen again! Even the newest generation people, even whose parents were not born when the songs were composed are having a collection of those old Hindi songs. The evergreen voices of the play back singers, the composition based on classical music to suit the actual moods and emotion of a particular sequence in the story line of the cinema..... oh! that is simply a long lost dream now! Even other language films of that period were memorable. Kannada and Tamil songs of the seventies are still wringing in my ears evoking nostalgia. Clint Eastwood movies of that period are very enjoyable even today. Audrey Hepburn is another great memory tickler. There were hundreds of great actors both in the west and east, whom the present day players hardly match the skills of their acting, when technology was at the lowest ebb.

The story of moving picture moves on and on, endlessly; let me stop for now.

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