Edifices of Ecstacy: The Cinema Halls of Jamshedpur
The cinema halls of Jamshedpur were where we would be ensnared into the magical world of Bollywood. You may want to know that this was the era of the 70’s, far removed away from the TV, internet and video games; our only entertainment outlets those days were radio and cinema. Dharmendra was still garam; and what was even more “garam” were the quartet of Amitabh, Vinod Khanna, Shashi Kapoor and Shotgun. And for the more curious readers we shall talk about the garam actresses of the era later!! This story is not about heroes and heroines but those silver screens where we would see our favourite actors- the cinema halls of Jamshedpur!
Jamshedpur those days had just five cinema halls, Jamshedpur, Karim, Basant, Regal and the then pride of the city, Nataraj. While Jamshedpur, Karim et.al. were called “talkies”, Nataraj had the singular honour of being called a “cinema”, Nataraj Cinema. This alternate descriptor somehow endowed to Nataraj a “new-age” feel. And new-age it was. Nataraj was touted by us as the international face of Jamshepur; an airconditioned cinema hall! And by virtue of this Nataraj would command a premium for its seats. The class which would otherwise cost Rs 3.15 uniformly across all theaters would be priced Rs 3.75 (actually an exotic amount like Rs 3.72 or something). What’s an extra 60 paise for the air-conditioned comfort. The added advantage of watching a movie at Nataraj was that one could stroll into the popular Bombay Sweet Mart right across the lane from the cinema hall and partake of some good masala dosas. (BSM was also the favoured snacking joint for the family on our rare-rare outings to Bistupur Main Road till one day my mother discovered the waiter using the bunch of forks in his fist to scratch his back. That was the end of BSM for us!)
Jamshedpur and Karim were perhaps the oldest halls in the city and probably also the most primitive in creature comforts; ripped seat-cushions (sometimes no seats, just a seat number!), creaky fans and leaky urinals…. you get the idea, right? But the redeeming thing about these two halls was that they happened to screen all the hit movies (Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Hum Kisise Kum Nahin etc etc). And if the movie was a super-duper hit then it would play on both the screens, Jamshedpur and Karim. These two halls were located together and probably shared the same projection room. (The precursor to multiplexes?) So I can well imagine the projectionist putting reel one of a movie in, say, the Karim screen while the manadatory “newsreel”/ Vicco Vajradanti ads were screened on the Jamshedpur screen. Then when the reel one got over at Karim, he would place it in the projector for the Jamshedpur screen. Or some such arrangement.
Regal was housed in a magnifient building right next to the (then) called Regal Maidan. (I think the maidan is now named after Mr V. G. Gopal, the Tisco union chief). Regal somehow managed to get not-so-hit movies. It also had this curious pricing strategy. Typically cinema halls price the front benches the cheapest and the rows away from the screen would be priced more. And then the floor above this is the balcony class priced even more and then came the DC class (which I think was there only in Nataraj those days). Regal had yet another floor above this and curiously enough was priced only slightly higher than the front benches! Actually once you succumbed to this so-called “bargain-class” balcony you would know why they had priced it low; level of this floor was so high that I reckon one looked at the screen at a downward angle of 70 degrees which, to be frank, was rather taxing on ones visual alignment. One lasting memory about Regal is about the day when we were seated inside Regal waiting for the Rajesh Khanna starrer “Aashiq Hoon Baharon Ka” to start. Just before the lights were to dim, a man leapt on the stage (yes, the hall had a stage in front of the screen) and slashed the screen with a large knife and quickly ran away. What was remarkable was the calmness with which the seated public took this episode; no panic, no rush, no tension. It seemed as if this was a pretty common day-to-day affair! (not quite true in my experience. I had seen knives come out a couple of times outside – the bone of contetion being jumping the queue, but never inside a hall). We all filed out of the hall and lined up to take back our refund. Of course we returned to Regal after a few days to watch the movie. We could notice the stitch marks across the screen. When we were coming out of the theater after the movie was over, I told my friend, ” Perhaps that slasher the other day was not a vandal, but actually a good samaritan; that was his way of telling us to save our money by skipping this lousy movie!”
Basant Talkies, located at the most vantage point in the busiest market place (Sakchi) had doleful crumbly look about it. The frontage of the theater was a large collapsible grill which gave the building an even more hideous look. And the concrete edifice in which the grill nestled was forever plastered with film posters, old and new. Basant perhaps specialized in family fares, or maybe I have this impression because of the movie Jai Santoshi Ma which ran there forever!
Did I say five cinemas in Jamshedpur? There were actually eight if one counted the ones in the outlying areas as well. There was Star (run by the Jamshedpur/ Karim conglomerate I was given to understand) near the station and Goushala at Jugsalai and Shyam Talkies at Parsudih. These cinema specialized in re-runs of old movies and were pretty heavily patronized by me in my zeal to catch up with the “oldies” which I had missed as I was born a few years too late to have watched them in their first run! So what if Star and Goushala talkies were rather far away from home, I had my faithful Avon cycle to pedal on! (Shyam Talkies, Parsudih was a bit too far even for a person of my enthusiasm) particular remember watching a re-run of Padosan at Gaushala. I had gone with a close friend of mine who (unfortunately for me) had seen the movie earlier. Before Kishore Kumar (or Mehmood, or Sunil Dutt for that matter) would appear on the screen and unleash the next funny one, my friend would exclaim “Arey, beta, ab dekh kya hoga” and would slap me on my left shoulder. (he was sitting to the left of me). And the slaps would be rather hard coming as it did form this dear friend who was the school javelin throw champion. After the interval I was glad to be able to interchange my seat with his so that my other shoulder would now bear the burden of his excitement!
May one should add the ninth cinema hall, the travelling cinema! Yes, we still had the travelling cinemas those days; I am not sure whether they exist anymore, at least in Jamshedpur. Some club or society would decide to raise funds for their use and would pitch a tent in an available open space (it was perfectly the done thing to block off a street as well.). The publicity was via a broadcastor moving about sitting in a cycle-rikshaw announcing the time and the location for the cinema. We would descend on the location well before the start of the cinema and occupy the sheet metal chairs (upper class) and sometimes squat on the dhurrie right in the front of the screen (lower class). There was another way to watch the movie free-of-cost which I never had the courage to try: perch on the nearest tree overlooking the screen! (Old timers may immediately notice the similarity of this arrangement with what they would routinely notice outside the Beldih Club walls on weekend evenings).