Since I am mandated to do so, by the very definition of this column, let me partially indulge in one of the afflictions of age, which make the young impatient and the old misty-eyed, which makes the young marvel at the obtuseness of the old, and the old at the ignorance of the young, which sets the distance between dinosaurs and spring chicken — a recall of those days when 25 paise counted for something and when that is how much you paid to buy a ticket at the cinema hall.
Going further afield into the past – when my grandfather paid 25 paise for the stitching of a shirt, the material for which he had purchased for 50 paise in those good old days in Lahore!
In any case, in the 1960s, 25 paise was the cost of the ticket at Kiran Cinema in Sector 22, the first movie hall in town in 1955. That entitled you to a seat only in the first few rows. But you had to get into a horizontal, or at least as nearly horizontal as possible, position in your chair for a panoramic view of the screen. Even so, to your upturned face, Nutan’s face still looked somewhat elongated and oblique as you watched ‘Sujata’, while the crick in the neck only found relief by steadily gazing at your toes for long hours after the movie show.
You do lie down in a Lazy Boy chair in the auditorium even today, if you have gold tickets at `600 apiece for ‘Piku’, but look thoroughly degenerate in the process, with your unshod feet stretching out into the screen, your dignity of demeanour compromised quite severely in a public space while you dive into a popcorn bucket.
In the old days, for 25 paise, you could cock a snook at dignity, whistle at a love scene on screen and make short work of the dignity of the heroine and her feminist rights with cat-calls. I am not, of course, advocating one over the other, merely laying down the coordinates and also underlining the irony of an absurd common ground that lies between the common man then and the man of means now.
Going back to my vantage of age, I do recall that even the best tickets cost only `1 and 50 paise.
But then, I am dwarfed by my mother’s memory, which goes back to 1954 in Chandigarh. There were no cinema halls, but an enclosure of corrugated sheets had been created in Sector 19, then known as Nagla, the name of the village that the sector was supplanting.
It was close to the structure housing the office of the department of building and roads, which was then the hub of all activity, since Chandigarh was yet not a city but a construction site.
This building, a rambling barrack, exists even today and houses Haryana offices — Tax Tribunal, Human Rights Commission and Public Relations and Cultural Affairs.
The screen was sheltered by a make-shift, cloth awning, with an occasional strand coming loose and flapping in the breeze. Viewers had to contend with the onslaught of weather when it decided to get angry.
My parents watched ‘Mela’ even as a dust storm swirled around them, and in the parking lot, a long row of engineers’ cycles went down like skittles. My parents rode the storm through, being reluctant to tear themselves away from a Dilip Kumar starrer and also having paid 50 paise as the entry fee!
(The writer is a writer and English teacher in Chandigarh)