It was not like any of the single-screens in Bangalore. The big compound, stone-tiled walls, the silence, the long range of hard chairs inside the small hall and the glass slides projecting local advertisements were vastly different, but strikingly familiar. I felt I was inside Sangeetha Theatre.
There were three movie theatres in our village. Sangeetha was the closest to my home; hardly ten-minutes by foot. My early movie memories are bonded with Sangeetha; a perfect specimen of old-world talkies. Tatched roof, bamboo walls and a large white cloth tied up in the end of the hall.
The earliest movies I can recall is Balachandra Menon’s Njangalude Kochu Doctor and Adoor’s renowned film Mathilukal. A screeching table bell announced the start of the show. Screenings usually started with ad slides and then a Film’s Division documentary.
Going to films then was a family outing. The entire assembly would definitely count more than ten. Even as a child, I never slept during the second shows. The faint smell of cigarette smoke and peanuts was the trademark. I liked it more than the AC perfume of Capithan’s, Sangeetha’s biggest competition in the locality.
Going to the town for a movie was more of an annual privilege, which came mostly during the summer vacations. It would be either my father, who came once in two years, or one of my uncles who took us to the movies.
Folks back home cleverly waited for a superhit movie to come in either of the local theatres, so that they can avoid the pain of taking the platoon all the way up to the town. Going to the movie hall with friends was strictly forbidden. (I had to wait till my plus-two classes to get a sanction.)
College was anarchy. Frequent strikes, frequent flow of money and all the time in the world left me a regular theatre guy. Even then, I had to be careful, because I always had a chance of bumping into an acquaintance. News would reach home in no time, as the town was very small, my family was big, and all the elders maintained their contacts well.
But that didn’t deter me from enjoying my new-found freedom. Theatres in the town -- Grand, Prince, Pranavam, Archana, Aradhana, Dhanya -- all became my current Sangeethas.
On such a day in 2002, blessed with college strike, I went to Kumar, the oldest A-class theatre in the town. The owners had painstakingly maintained the old appearance of the theatre. I suddenly remembered that the last time I stepped in was during the summer vacation of 1996, with my parents.
The next year, I attended first film festival for the first time -- in Thiruvananthapuram.
By then, Sangeetha was shut down due to losses. Cable TV and video piracy had made the run-down theatre an unattractive option for the families nearby. The commemoration shields of hit films in the 80’s, which decorated its office, were sold off as scrap. The theatre was pulled down. By then, my graduation classes were also over and I moved out of Kollam in 2005.
The very first day of our journalism classes in Kottayam, we made a plan to go for a second show. New Sangeethas were waiting for me in the town. But the strict schedule had forced us to be choosy on films. And the town had film festivals hosted by various colleges, giving us frequent glimpses of World Cinema. My Chennaiwala classmate, an ardent movie buff, never missed any of the Tamil films, even flops, that came to town. I used to tease him, but ended up in the same situation within a few months.
June 2006, Chennai. First job. First attempt to live outside Kerala. Terribly homesick, I used to look out for Malayalam releases. Sangam Cinemas was my Sangeetha there. They used to screen Malayalam movies regularly. I was alone most of the time, as my roomie-cum-colleague had stopped going to theatres long back. Even then, I used to locate company whenever possible.
Blessing came in the form of my roommate and colleague, with his laptop and two suitcases full of DVDs of Indian and foreign films. Needless to say, my day time was spent well!
Next June, I moved to Bangalore. Here, I found Sangeeth, which regularly screened Malayalam movies. But it was like any other city theatre — bang in the middle of the crowd. And, by chance, we found ourselves in Manoranjan.
The big compound, stone-tiled walls, the silence, the long range of hard chairs inside the small hall and the glass slides projecting local advertisements were vastly different from the regular screens, but strikingly familiar. After long, I was reliving the old days. I was inside Sangeetha Theatre.