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Three Chennais

Gopalkrishna Gandhi writes about the truth of movie tickets, how to hold one’s own among music aficionados, and watching people on the beach front...

india Updated: Feb 21, 2010 23:15 IST

‘House full, sir,’ the man at the ticket counter says to me.

He has said the same to others queuing up to buy tickets in the Chennai cinema showing Three Idiots.

“Full for the matinee and the evening shows?”

He nods sympathetically. “Full for the late night show also, sir.”

“Then, for tomorrow?”

“Full for tomorrow also. And for day after tomorrow also, sir.”

“Ayyo, then for which show can I buy tickets?”

“Sir, buy online. Best. Online booking starting at midnight tonight.”

“Okay then,” I mumble and turn away, feeling very sorry to have to disappoint my visiting daughters who wanted to see the much-recommended movie.

Outside, the taxi driver who had brought me is waiting.

“Buy tickets online,” he had advised me on the ride.

“I have never bought tickets online. In fact, it is a long time since I bought cinema tickets. When I used to do that, it was always at the counter.”

“What film?” he had asked.

“Three Idiots”.



“A film like that?” he exclaimed in wonderment. “English?”

“Mixed. Hindi and English, I think. It has Aamir Khan and Madhavan.”

“Oh then, house full.”


“We shall see.”

“You were right,” I tell the driver on coming out. “No


“Ayyo. But sir, always there are tickets. People doing block-purchase of tickets.”


“Yes, sir. Cinema hall has its own people, people working there. Friends, then VIPs, officers, big people suddenly asking for tickets. Hall has to give, no? So they block. Inside, sir, surely plenty tickets.”

Two days later, a friend of a friend tells the young ladies at home that she knows a person who works in the cinema and could easily get the tickets. Much as I want them to see the film, I hope the ‘system’ has been right and that the courteous young man at the counter had told me the truth.

But no, the tickets arrive. From ‘inside’ of course.

“Will you come?”

“I don’t think so.”


Because I’m the fourth idiot.


December is the season of music in Chennai. The Music Academy featured, among others, the three leading vocalists of the Carnatic tradition: Vijay Siva, T.M. Krishna and Sanjay Subramaniam. Even one as untutored in the nuances of music appreciation as myself could not but see that Siva was sublime, Krishna spectacular, and Sanjay sparkling. The plangent raga ‘Ahiri’ was rendered by Siva with the delicacy of a twilight before moonrise. The emotionally wrenching ‘Brindavana Saranga’ was sung by Krishna with the tremulous passion of a divine supplication, and the rhythmic ‘tanam’ was delivered by Sanjay with an aortic pulsation.

A striking feature of all three concerts was the mathematical exactitude of timing. They started within seconds of the stroke of 7 in the evening and ended with razor precision at 9.30. As the hall emptied itself onto the parking lot and beyond, the cognoscenti dressed in rustling silk or ‘lace’ dhoti discussed the recitals’ finer points. They dissected the adequacy of the accompanists, of the acoustics and, indeed, of themselves as the audience. Each listener went his or her way reassured that whatever else by way of India’s cultural legacy may be under the threat of challenge and change, Chennai holds Carnatic music in its tender and uncompromisingly caring clasp.

I was lucky enough to be seated next to vidwans each evening and treated to nuggets of listener-discrimination. “Siva,” I was told on the first evening, “is subdued, restrained, free from all gimmickry. He is, in fact, a rishi among musicians.” On the young T.M. Krishna, my neighbour said, “He has everything it takes — looks, style, elan. Krishna not only sings, he captivates. He is, simply, a star.” Of Sanjay Subramaniam, the description was even more picturesque. “Sanjay is a marathon runner. He gets set, revs, shoots, and goes on and on until he has won. He is an athlete among them.”

“Have you been attending all the concerts?” I was asked.

“No, not really. I do not know the ragas, I cannot keep the tala, and as to the sahitya, I miss most of it if it is in Telugu, Kannada or Sanskrit.”

“Oh, I see. So you are a music tourist only.”

And thirdly, our real heroes

The beach in Chennai’s Thiruvanmiyur draws morning and evening walkers who, in their ardour and ambition for fitness, rank next only to those who walk along the Marina. Young fathers training their small children in aerobics; middle-aged dodgers of coronary and cerebral strokes; youthful couples in love; once-youthful couples in mutual toleration; ‘foreigners’ sprinting; ear-phoned professionals in a hurry; hearing-aided pensioners in none — all jostle to beat the sun, burn adipose, and prepare to face another harsh day. The Coromandel coast is at its most moody and playful here, ebullient and sluggish, smiling and snarling.

The beach has three kinds of visitors. One, those who come to burn their calories. Two, those that come to cool their nerves. And three, those who come ‘simply’. Despite valiant efforts by the city corporation and NGOs, this third category of ‘beachers’ deposit on it in a relentless flow of every manner of non bio-degradable garbage. The beachline here has a remarkable group of volunteers who clear the litter to the best of their ability. There is also a company that hires cleaners who remove the litter each day.

I asked a serene-looking aproned woman who was raking some plastic bags and rubbish off the road onto a mobile bin how much she was paid by her employer. “Rs 3,200 a month,” she said. I offered her an invisible genuflection with the thought that if our decorated artistes and medallioned professionals, our Shris, Bhushans, Vibhushans and Ratnas deserve the nation’s segmentised admiration each for his or her field of achievement, this untiring woman with her unthanked broom deserves our unsegregated admiration and our unqualified apology.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009.

The views expressed by the author are personal.