‘Going to the movies’ these days is one hell of a nerve wreaking and expensive procedure, shorn of the pleasantries that used to be associated with, years ago. It was in the 1980s as a MBBS student in Kottayam medical College that I got to watch a lot of movies. At least one movie per week was the rule. After the day’s involvement with academia, I used to return to the men’s hostel of the college in the college bus. On days of ‘going to the movies’, I used to remain in the bus, not alighting at the hostel, to go the movie theatre located in the town. A ride in the college bus allowed me a ticketless travel to the town along with my friends, especially of the fairer sex. I used to be accompanied by my roommate and other classmates. Watching movies as a gang is always fun.
Getting down from the bus at the town centre, we would walk to the theatre. The invariable destination before reaching the theater used to be a café to satisfy our stomachs, grumbling after a hard day’s toil as medical students. Our favorite eating place used to be the humble and good old Indian Coffee house (ICH for short), something which the modern-day movie-goers would snigger at. For them, anyplace other than KFC, McDonalds or subway is purgatory. At the ICH we would fill ourselves with our favorite ethakka appam(banana fritters)one of Kerala’s most favored snack, masala dosai, and if our stomachs continued to protest, the vegetable cutlet, and if our purses permitted, the mutton cutlet or the omelet, washing them down with the refreshing trade mark beverage of the ICH– the cold coffee.
After having our fill, came the most testing time- arrival of the bill. Those waiters in their white uniform, which included a broad green belt across their midriff of varying circumference, and a colored turban which resembled a handheld fan would place the bill on our table on a saucer with a few coins placed on it, to prevent it from escaping under the fan, from our reluctant hands reaching out for it. It is when we guys sense the arrival of the waiter with the bill, when we usually left to wash our oily hands stained pink by beetroot which formed the invariable ingredient of the vegetable cutlet and the masala inside the dosai in every ICH outlet in any part of the Earth including the poles! It was also during the ‘bill paying time’ that we used to be most busy reading the newspaper at the ICH. Anxious not to do the dishes at the café or sweep its floors as compensation for failing to pay the bill, it was usually my honor to reach for my purse. I am not boasting about it now, after all these years, but it was how the world worked for us those days-no formalities and hard feelings!, and no fuss over the trevia. After paying the bill, we would walk it to the theatre at a steady pace which helped the food ‘settle’ in our tummies, and also to ensure a place in the long queue, not too far away from the ticket counter, which would open at the ring of a bell. There was no luxury of a ‘book-my-show’ from the comforts of the homes those days. We got the ticket the hard way, which added to the ‘thrill’ of going to the movies those days. We sometimes had to jostle our way to the counters, earning us considerable admonition from others in the queue. We have also had to scale the walls and the gate of the theatre in times of rush, especially on days when movies used to be released. Some of us liked to eat the cake ‘hot, straight out of the oven’! Before others, to pull our legs would divulge the climax of the movie, in bad taste, spoiling the fun. My friend Oji, now a cardiologist in Orlando would be smiling if he happens reads this! With the tickets in hand we would rush into the theatre to occupy seats which would give us unhindered view of the screen. No ‘surroundsound’ threw us out of our seats, or threw us into a fit. No nauseating stink of stale pop corn welcomed us at the theatres. There were no reclining seats in the theatres those days to make sure our spines went into premature degeneration. I’m compelled to charge that these days, there exists a nexus between the spine surgeon and the multiplexes! We did not have to tuck into prohibitively expensive burgers and cheesecakes, thanks to ICH ‘Going to the movies’, therefore, did not emaciate our wallets those days. Neither did we have to order for ‘food’ inside the theatre, where you would be served stale junk (as in these times), which would imprison you to the commode the next day! Rats hoping for food split on the floor never run over your feet in the theatres these days because they know what to eat and what not to, much better than we human beings.
But back then, they did run over our feet, much to our horror. Unlike these days, cigarette smoke choked us at the movies, especially if we chose to empty our bladders! With the curtain going up before the screen, the much awaited movie would begin. Movies those days told us commonplace stories about simple folk (like the ordeal a commoner had to go through to get the tenants, who refused to vacate his house, claiming to be their own after years of renting it, vacated) in the most pristine manner and taste.
Watching the movies back then helped soothe our hearts and souls through rich and unadulterated humor, or sometimes a tear at the corner of the eye, and melodious songs, which still do enthrall us. Yes, violence was shown, but never repulsive or gory. The story would be rendered through the local dialect Malayalam in its purest form. Vocabulary borne out of movies these days like ‘adipoli’, ‘kili poyi’, ‘sasi ayi’ and many more to follow, lapped up by the ‘newgen’ did not violate the sanctity of Malayalam. Language was respected back then. Music lyrics were relevant to the storyline. Directors like Bharathan, Satyan Anthikaad and Padmarajan, and music directors like Johnson and Ravindran, singers like Jayachandran, Yesudas, chitra and Janaki, and scriptwriters like Sreenivasan and MT Vasudevan nair,, and actors like mohan Lal and mammootty and many others at the prime of their youth made sure that going to the movies in the 80s was a joyride!