Those were the days when an opportunity to watch a movie, if it came your way, was the greatest thing to happen to you. Not very long ago, going for a movie was never considered to be a socially acceptable thing.
People would keep a watch in cinema halls, to locate and report about the boys in their streets or mohallas of their 'misdemeanour' or 'undesirable indulgence' to their families. That nobody questioned the 'reporters' themselves being there in the cinema hall was another thing. Perhaps some errant ones were to be excused.
The silver lining then was the government PR (public relations) departments which generally showed movies on social themes, and other classics sometimes, using a portable 16-mm projector. The entire scenario is worth a recall, juxtaposed with the modern-day moviegoing experience, which provides the choice of watching any number of movies any number of times.
The projection movie was 'walled' (rather than 'screened') at a building with white paint. The setting up of the projector instantaneously invited large crowds. Some peeping through the vantage windows, others sitting on rooftops, some squatting on the ground and the more daring ones perched on boundary walls. No, there were no chairs. Even the operator sat on a stool.
There would be a large box with reel spools. One by one, these spools would be fixed on the projector and the movie-watchers bore with every change of the spool. Another reel was fixed and the projection would initially show a blank luminous rectangular frame, followed by some numerals, still to be followed by a cue from where the last reel had been shown. Focusing was needed for clarity of the moving images on the wall. These movies were largely in black and white.
The projector's whirring sound did interfere slightly with the sound track played through a single horn-shaped loudspeaker, placed appropriately to cater to the ears of all and sundry. The projection would not be more than a 6x4 sq ft patch on the wall.
Sometimes, the flipping and flitting flying creatures would come in the way of the beamed projection, to appear with their size multiplied on the screen. Everyone would first have a laugh, and then wish these were gone the soonest. The reels also got snapped or broken at times.
I remember having watched 'Amar', 'Andaz' and 'Insaniyat', thanks to a projector, in an open, makeshift theatre. The last of this series was Dev Anand's 'Ek Ke Baad Ek', which had a social message of arresting the population growth, beginning to be felt then (early 1960s) as disastrous for the country's future.
These days, we have 3D movies, with all technological inputs of even dissolving and manifesting, on screen, of things too solid. But the projector movie scenario can't be forgotten for the extra amount of thrill, excitement and association which it had at that time, when you would feel blessed having seen 'yet another film' which added to your account of, maybe six or seven. And yes, the experience that came gratis and cost you just your discomfort of not having a proper seat to sink in. But who the hell cared for it!