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When a cinestar isn’t a mirage!

At every twist or twirl of the danseuse, the audience would throw coins towards the screen

Gulf News

It was sometime around 1950 when I was a school-going boy. Like any other lad of my age, I was also fond of watching movies, though I never bunked classes.

One day, my younger brother, a cousin and I decided to see a movie that was being widely talked about in town. I wanted to see for myself why it had become a rage. Courtesy my uncle’s friend, who owned two prominent theatres, we had easy access to the two cinema halls.

Lest we become cinema addicts, uncle’s condition was that we would pay from our pocket money. Given the fact that we had to pay only the tax component, it was a good bargain. We happily agreed.

Judging from today’s standards, most theatres in those days were primitive. But there being no option, they were the best for cine-goers. The halls had ceiling fans fixed on the side walls (there was no air-conditioning) to serve the viewers even in the unbearably hot weather.

Despite exhaust fans, body heat of the audience often added to the woes. But the craze for the movie and the enjoyment it provided overshadowed the discomfort.

The hall had three classes — first, second and third and the prices were abysmally low. The first class had cushioned arm chairs, the second class had fixed wooden chairs while the third class had wooden benches without backrest.

The most privileged class would be seen seated in four ‘boxes’ behind the first class. They had their own exclusive ceiling fans. The boxes were meant essentially for newly-married couples or families wanting complete privacy.

We were happy sitting in the First class where vendors would barge in the moment intermission began, selling locally bottled lemon-soda and snacks. They often annoyed one with their shrill cries of “soda-lemon-soda”.

But more agonising was the chorus of sound coming from all sides, of people cracking the monkey nut shells throughout the show. Unlike today, when no such practices are possible, there was little we could do in the era of primitive theatres.

Now about the movie and its leading lady, who had driven many a fan crazy. The movie had become a hit due to the captivating dance sequences featuring a gorgeously-attired pretty heroine and the accompanying lilting music and enchanting songs.

Till the day I decided to see the movie, I found many people humming the songs “sung” by the heroine — not knowing that she had only done lip-synching. Her ardent fans would not believe this and could even pick up a fight with anybody who challenged them. “The pretty lady is not only a wonderful actress, but is a versatile dancer and an unmatched singer as well,” the hardboiled fan would tell you almost in a veiled threat.

Some of the fans would get hold of a couple of posters, albeit torn, bearing her photo. Such was the infatuation!

Frankly speaking, when I saw the much talked-about actress on the huge screen, I too fell for her, knowing full well that she must have been at least 8-10 years older to me. So, I told myself, “Grapes are sour”.

But I was not the sole admirer. When she presented a dance number, even the most sober-looking persons tapped their feet. Some on the front seats and those in the second class clapped in rhythm with the song.

But the audience in the third class, which was closest to the screen, reacted in a unique manner. At every twist or twirl of the danseuse, they would throw coins towards the screen. The screen being quite a distance away, a few who had brought marigold flowers along would throw them at “her” like an Olympian participating in shot-put.

The fans of the actress seemed happy at the thought that their “feelings” would reach her. But happier was the theatre’s sweeper who went home richer after each show.

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.