Cinema from Home


My home also caught the not-so-depressing and distressing aspects of Calcutta. My neighbour was a sprawling cinema hall — Basusree–on whose screen I watched some of the most lilting fantasies of the age. If a Shammi Kapoor “yahooed” with Saira Banu on the snows of Kashmir, there was Joy Mukherjee rickshaw-pulling Sadhna on the ups and downs of Shimla. Waheeda Rehman’s ghostly song on the moor to allure Biswajeet (not Baskerville) haunted me all right, but I grew up at a time when cinema lit up our minds with a spirit of positive pleasure.

As did so much else. Even those eking out a precarious living — by, for example, selling “puchkas” (golgappas) or “jhal murhi” (flattened rice) or “chanachur” (mixture) — seemed to have a song in their stride. Maybe, the Devanands and Asha Parekhs who played out of fantasies just yards away from these poor hawkers exuded an infectious charm that no face-mask could guard against.

Yet, despite the unbelievable and what appeared like the unattainable, movies made bold statements against societal prejudices and injustices. Care for orphaned children, the strength to follow the dictates of love, and compassion for the weak were ideals that were woven into the scripts in such an innocuous manner that one hardly felt like being lectured on.

As the frames flashed by inside the darkened auditorium of my neighbourhood cinema, life outside rode by on sometimes the frail shoulders of the old man, who sold on the pavement below my home the most intricately moulded miniature clay birds. There was a variety of them, which “flew away” by dusk to their new nests. Some stayed on with the man in the hope of a better morrow.

On some other days, Satyajit Ray’s monkeyman would appear in a three dimensional form to keep us absorbed with an endless array of tricks. But when actor Rabi Ghosh or star Uttam Kumar or director Mrinal Sen walked into the theatre to catch a glimpse of “Sonar Kella” or “Come September”, my day was truly made.

My home, and, more specifically, the balcony provided a great window to a life that went by. The tramstop meetings that either dissipated into eminently forgettable infatuations or blossomed into eternal romances, the male bonding that grew out of tea-cups and into thick friendships, the lawyer’s chamber light across my building that grew dimmer with time, the tyre seller below my balcony, a genial “Sardarji” who always had a moment or two to spare for a schoolboy like me are like the lines of a drawing etched on my mind’s eye.

And it was my home — at one level slabs of cement held together with iron — that gently nudged me towards a fascinating existence that Calcutta was, steeped as it were in a rich diversity of music and merry passions, film and football, and “sandesh” and spirited freedom.

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