It was but a matter of time till I graduated from the silent era to the world of cinema. My tuition money helped me to satiate my cravings for movies. But since most of the movies were in the Esplanade area (Chowringhee now) I needed to find a place closer home which I could disappear for a while without raising suspicions. That’s when I discovered Purna theatre about 2 km and 4 stops from Rashbehari Avenue Crossing or about 15 mins by the ever romantic tram. The bus charge today is about Rs. 7 so you can imagine the cost of a ticket on the second class of a tramways ride (Rs. 0.20p)
Every Friday, Purna (no longer exists) used to show English movies for the noon show. There used to be 4 shows typically. Noon, Matinee, Evening and Night and usually at set times 12 noon, 3 pm, 6 pm and 9 pm. Occassionally a morning show on a weekend would be at 10.30 for regional movies. I would beg my mom for a earlier than usual lunch and rush to catch the noon show. I used to go alone for movies as I could spend the time as I wished. No waiting for delayed friends, no excuses of money, no trouble to the choice of movie. I also wanted to be among the first to enter the hall.
On entering the darkened hall after showing the ticket (Rs. 1.25) and getting it torn in half, I would enter the hall and search for the second usher who would direct us to the seats using a torch. But since I would be early, I loved to figure out where I would be sitting.. checking out the hand painted alphabets on the side of the wooden seats by the stairs and then counting the seats by touching the back rest and pushing the folding seat and into the thick cushion. Occasionally one had to wait to find out where the counting started from and wonder whether I am on the wrong seat. The seat although cushioned would be covered with rexine and more often than not, would have multiple creases and the cotton mesh underneath showing up in places. In worse seats, you would find holes in the yellow sponge seen through. The sharing armrest would make for interesting claims for ownership, manoeuvring techniques would come to the fore.
Once settled in, I would wait for the Austrian (puffed) curtains to rise and watch every single projections on the screen. Starting from the National Anthem and the News in black and white to the various advertisements, this would be followed by the trailer of a movie and then the actual movie would start amidst great expectations. The interval in between would be spent quietly as any kind of indulgence was unaffordable. Movie over, one would make his way quickly and efficiently back home, somber expression on face, but guilt filled excitement inside which would be filed away till the next movie.
My enthusiasm also had its downside. Once I went for a noon show at Basusree and in my rush to get the ticket did not notice the crowd who were standing in the queue. It was in my karate days that this Bruce Lee classic “Enter the dragon” had come closer home. I ran to grab my seats and waited with bated breath to see the legend unleash his power with lightning moves and his “nunchak”. The trailer started. It was of a Bengali movie “Joy Baba Taraknath”. Then the trailer continued. By the time I realised it was interval and realised pretty late that the noon show was for this movie whereas the posters of Bruce Lee outside were for the other shows. Anways, it ensured I double check every time I go to the movies.
Another time I sneaked out for a movie in my lungi and T-shirt to avoid suspicion at home was for “Jaws” at Navina in Tollygunj. I even bought front row tickets of Rs. 0.75 to avoid notice. But to my luck, I had to be spotted by my history teacher and my consternation and embarrassment was a sight to behold.
A fantastic movie in an empty hall at the Globe that I saw was “Z”, which I later gleaned, was an academy award winner. The Tiger Cinema was also a favourite haunt as it was a single storeyed. New Empire and. Lighthouse next to it was particularly liked by the economically challenged as the front row was above the balcony as it was once a theatre of plays. This was where I saw Liu Chia-Hui (now Gordon Liu) in his career defining San Te in “The 36th chamber of Shaolin” which was the first first-day first show movie for me. This was just the beginning of a long love affair with Hollywood movies.
So thank you to my first English superhero movie “Super Argo Vs Diabolikus” a movie released in 1966 but watched by me in the 70s much before the modern day Avengers became rage.
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