"Cinema for me is not a slice of life but a piece of cake," said Alfred Hitchcock. The maxim describes my passion for movie-watching since teenage.
Braving hot and humid weather to queue up outside Neelam and Kiran cinema houses in Chandigarh for the first-show tickets is still fresh in memory, and so are the desperate attempts to buy the admission rights on the black market when the sign at the window read "house full'.
That flashback brings home the realisation how times have changed in the ways the movies are made and promoted. The big-banner releases were announced either in newspapers or through the rickshaw-mounted loudspeakers. Television now has taken over the role of creating hype.
My journey into journalism started with the launching of Hindustan Times in Ludhiana. Covering lifestyle/culture beat gave me an opportunity to remain in touch with my passion. Every Friday morning, I worked with redoubled energy to wind up the chores by 9am and be at one of the theatres for the first-day first show.
Unlike the well-designed halls run by corporate houses these days, the old cinema houses were built by movie aficionados, who were not in the business for money but for sharing their passion with general public; not to miss the pride they took in inviting the eminent residents and movie buffs to special screenings.
Aarti had the best screen in Ludhaina in the 1990s, and its old manager, Ranjit Singh, drove an old-model Bajaj Chetak scooter to work. As soon as he would alight from it, people would mob him for tickets. In his mid fifties, he could never manage a carefree smile, as it would be lost in his quirked brows behind his pair of spectacles. Nonetheless, he never forgot to instruct the gateman to escort me to his office from the grilled and chained entrance; and loved to give his views on how the new film would do.
I am nostalgic about the steel tray with rough edges that had a sealed pack of popcorns and a glass bottle of Coke on and which a canteen boy would carry after me inside the box. Late Kanwaljit Singh was another memorable personality. In spite of being successful in a different business, he followed his heart to build Orient, Ludhiana's first multiplex. He would never let me leave theatre without a cup of coffee and a long discussion on the new release.
On occasions, he would sit through the movie in the hall to gauge the audience reaction. Known for his larger than life attitude, he often hummed the famous old Hindi film song "Ik din bik jayega maati ke mol, jag mein reh jayenge pyare tere bol (A day will come when you will get sold for the price of earth. All that will be left in the world is your words)", which still echoes in my ears.
The latest multiplexes may have brought comfort and style into movie-going but I miss that special touch of the golden old days.