In Mr. India, a 1987 Hindi movie, Mr. Gaitonde (Annu Kapoor) is a newspaper editor who is tortured to bits everyday by wrong numbers. When he is not coughing like a patient on his massive chair, he is yelling into the phone begging people on the other end to ‘Please try to understand my problem’.
This is because someone has called him to book tickets for a matinee show at Ruby Talkies and then within seconds, somebody else has called him to complain about a buffalo that has stopped giving milk. In between this string of madness, he has to deal with angry reporter Seema (Sridevi) who cannot file stories on time because she hates kids. This is a scene that defines my childhood and in many ways, my happy relationship with Bollywood movies.
This amusement had to remain hidden during my time in high school because everybody was humming Backstreet Boys and Westside and other boy bands, whose names I vowed to by-heart after a freakish episode involving slam books. Everybody in school was gaga for Enrique Iglesias. I had only just heard his name once, listened to ‘Escape’ twice, and knew that he had a mole and that it was the best. And that’s why I wrote his name under favourite singer in one of the many slam books. Two days later, a friend comes to me looking flustered, demanding to know ‘who the fuck this Henry. K is’?
In 1994, we had just moved to Shimoga and as we unpacked our box of audio and video cassettes, a familiar wave of hunger took over me. I fished out the two most important video cassettes of my life, harassed all the uncles to set up the VCR for me and sat on the black and white mosaic tiles to watch my movies. Soon, it became a tradition to inaugurate the first night at new homes with ‘Hum Hain Rahi Pyar ke’ and ‘Mr. India.’ Mother would constantly remind us of the pointlessness of watching movies for the 50th time, while we sat in rapt attention as though it was our first time watching these movies. On repeat we watched ‘Chameli Ki Shaadi’, ‘Satte Pe Satta’, ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, and ‘Do Aur Do Paanch.’ We knew the lines by heart, knew what music would precede what dialogue and waited for our favourite scenes.
In Satte pe Satta, it was when Hema Malini comes home to find that her husband has 7 brothers. In Chameli Ki Shaadi, it was when Chameli tricks her parents and elopes with her lover. In Amar Akbar Anthony, it was Amitabh’s drunken conversation with himself. In Do Aur Do Paanch, it was Suresh and how nobody knows him.
When we began to irritably move things around our schedule just to be able to watch movies we have already watched, mother and father decided to keep cinema out of the house and ventured out to catch a movie every week secretly. My sister and I would rush to their bedroom soon after school just to make sure that they were there and not having a wild time somewhere, watching a movie.
Even so, mother was a bigger movie buff than anybody else and she bent the rules when she believed that sometimes really good movies can be watched twice. In Belgaum, she had us bunk our afternoon class to go watch ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ with her at Nartaki. It’s a theatre I still remember because it was the only theatre we went to, and also because at the entrance, it had two white figurines of women wearing nothing.
When we were making our way back from the theatre, we would desperately want to ask mother what she thought of the movie. Her opinion was profound. It somehow didn’t matter whether or not we liked it because she would always have something to say.
Bollywood probably always meant Shah Rukh Khan for me. I will blink twice and confess to you that I have never watched Sholay, but I will close my mouth and ‘haww’ if you have never watched DDLJ. I sold this movie to students once to make them see how cows in Western Europe are different from the cows in Eastern Europe or Basavangudi for that matter.
Slowly, watching Bollywood movies started to extend its boundaries to wanting to know more about these stars and somehow the only way I could get them involved in my life was by collecting their posters. This was banned at home and the only time I braved it, mother found my stash of collections and set fire to it. Years later, I would follow her footsteps and set fire to my journals because they weren’t safe and mother kept looking for them to read.
My father, the staunch Kannadiga has been a consistent Tamil cinema lover. Even though his affection comes from hating how much Sandalwood sucks, he watches on repeat some really old MGR movies. Simultaneously, he mourns the loss of all great Kannada actors and despises Upendra whose movies I love. His irritation hits nuanced levels when he sees some of the posters that bleed in red with titles like ‘Thriller Manja’ and ‘Deadly Soma’.
Today, I will still sit comfortably and watch Go Goa Gone or a Dabangg or any Akshay Kumar movie even though Tata Sky brings to me a host of other movies I have never watched. Years ago, in degree, I had a lot of Telugu speaking friends and soon I had watched and loved Happy Days, Magadheera, and all the Aryas. Now and then, I will watch a movie like Arundhati and want to write a whole piece about it. It’s just a want so after yawning a couple of times it goes away.