The earliest memory of my love for Hindi cinema is chasing the black-and-yellow taxis promoting the newest film release in town. That was the way movies were publicized in Jamshedpur. A taxi would criss-cross the streets with a speaker installed on the taxi roof. (Remember those speakers….dark grey steel cones with an extended snout in the center?). Songs from this forthcoming film would blare through the speaker and an announcer in his raspy voice would announce the date of the film release and the timings. I have always wondered about why they ever announced the timings; all movies in every hall would always start at 3pm , 6pm and 9 pm. There were just three shows a day. The biggest attraction of the taxi chase was the fistfuls of movie handbills they would scatter on the streets. I can remember movies like “Shahid Bhagat Singh” (the Manoj Kumar one) and “Bhoot Bangla” getting publicized thus. All of us kids would scramble- trampling over each other- to grab as many of these crumpled handbills as we could. A fierce competiton really…. “my-collection-is larger-than-yours”! Once home, these handbills would be tenderly patted flat and placed under the mattress for “ironing”. Handbills of course were letterpress printed on cheap semi-transparent paper. I wish I had preserved the handbills. They certainly would have made me a lakhpati in this era of film memorabilia auctions! Sometimes I am astonished to see my sons exchanging Pokemon cards; this is exactly what we used to do when we were kids. But the objects of desire then were those handbills!!
There was something else I possessed which would had certainly made me a millionaire, my collection of film song booklets! Song booklets were a big thing for movie buffs those days. These were printed on letterpress on yellowing newsprint paper slightly larger than your standard A4 sized paper. Hawkers on the pavement just outside the theater would sell them for 10 paise (MRP later raised to 15 paise). The “cover” would have a smudgy still taken from the movie (nothing printed on such paper could ever be non-smudgy!). As you unfolded the “booklet” you could read the lyrics of the songs of the movie. One idiosyncracy of the booklet publisher (someone in Tardeo, Bombay) was his economy with words. Like, for example, if the song went “Gapuchi-gapuchi, gum-gum, kishi-kishi, kum-kum” (remember this Trishul song?), what you would see in the booklet was “gapuchi-2, gum-2, kuishi-2, kum-2“). I am serious!! The digit always in Devnagari and not the Roman script. Thankfully, for “Kabhi Kabhie” they did not write the movie name on the cover as “Kabhi-2“, perhaps the official differential spelling of the two Kabhi’s misled them into believing that these were not the same words, who knows! I assiduously collected booklets of all movies I would see. Once in a while when I would be rich (like when close relatives would gift me Rs 10 or so) I would also buy film song collections which went under names like “Kishore Kumar ke Behatareen Naghme“. But I can tell you these collections were not as exciting as the booklets. (Recently, when I compiled a CD of my Beethoven favourites as a gift to a friend of mine and labelled it “Beethoven ke Behatareen Naghme” my friend did not like this nomenclature one bit! Poor soul!!). Unfortunately, in a moment of insanity, during a pre-diwali cleaning exercise I threw out the collection. The yellowing, decaying paper was becoming difficult to handle. Maybe I should have had these preserved chemically. I certainly would have had I known there would a great demand for such stuff later.
There is something I have preserved. While it will not fetch me any money in an auction, this one is a treasure trove for anyone researching the movie-goers of Jamshedpur in the late 1970’s! A 1977 diary, edges cracked and the sponge and the cardboard below the blue rexine cover peeking out. And, as you peruse through the diary, you would notice the meticulous manner in which the diarist has captured the ongoings of the period with utmost diligence. You will find a listing of all the movies I have seen during the period, complete with the date and the cinema hall where I saw it. You will know, for example, that yours truly watched first watched “Amar, Akbar, Anthony” on 8th October 1977 in Jamshedpur Talkies. And that this was repeated at the same venue on 12th October and on 30 November. (It may also be interesting to note that the first two viewings were just days before the final ICSE exam and the third viewing was the day of the completion of the exam. I did a reasonable job with my ICSE, thank you for asking!). On further perusal you may also notice that I saw a re-run of “Mughal-e-Azam” March 2008 on 3rd, 6th and 8th, all at Natraj. (Much after my ICSE exams, thank you once again). And if you were to be really adventurous and would plunge further into my diary, you would notice the annual listings of “Binaca Geet mala” (The title song of “Ankhiyon ke Jharokhey Se” was the numero uno song of 1978. (and you would notice in a small highlighted box on this sheet that Kishore Kumar had the highest nomber of songs -solo and duet- in the 1978 countdown; 15 songs, Rafi had 10. The music composers Laxmikant Pyarelal had 11 songs, RD Burman, 7 and Rajesh Roshan, 6, Bappi Lahiri merely 2!!). Mail me if you wish to know about the lyricists’ successes?