The irony isn't lost on me. Over at my other blog I have written extensively on history cinema in this part of the world. I wanted to write even more. The fact that the place where I was born has no cinema halls keeps mocking me. I remember the first ever movie I ever saw in a theater was in Srinagar. The first and the fast in Kashmir, somewhere around year 1988-89.
A seven year old kid goes to a late evening show of a Mithun movie with his father and an uncle. Two men walk a kid and a green atlas cycle to a theater. The theater looks like a palace. The kind you read in storybooks. It's majestic with all its pillars and high ceiling. After buying tickets from a pigeon hole in a wall at the end of chain cage. They walk into the hall through a small door that didn't befit a palace this size. Inside, a sudden darkness seizes him, terrified, he holds on hard to his father's hand. Father, it seems, can see in the dark. Just like a cat. The kid doesn't realize that it's just that his father has spent too much time wading through these aisles. They find the seats, somewhere near the front, just as the kid's sight returns. He sits feeling the handle bars of a flat wooden chair with his hands. He turns and a strange setup confronts him. A wall with what appears to be giant purdahs hanging at two sides. It suddenly lights up. His eyes follow a beam of light. The source somewhere high at the back. He looks back but can't make out anything in the darkness. Just a lit little window. It was then that his father asked him,'Where's Bh'Raja?' Uncle was missing. Father asks the kid to get up and look around to see if he can find. The boy gets up reluctantly asking,'How do I find him in this darkness? I can't see!' Father a bit disappointed in boy's intelligence, 'You just call out his name.' The boy starts walking towards the back of the hall, towards the light window box, all the while meekly ringing out a name, 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu.' He is embarrassed of the thought that other people besides Bhaeiraaj Nanu might be hearing him. He realizes the light box at the end is too far. He doesn't want to loose sight of his own seat. The thought of being lost in that big hall among stranger, frightens him. He makes his way back faster.
'Couldn't find him!' he exclaims with a puff, as if tired.
'Look down at the front. Try the lower stall. He must have bought a stall ticket for himself. That's where he likes to sit.'
'Down. At the front. Go look.' Father know the kid has a lot to learn. A couple of more trips and he too would think himself the lord of this theater.
The kid walks to the front. There's a wooden railing at this end. He grabs it. He get's still closer and sneaks a peek down. Down, there's a big dark pit. In the white light coming off the screen he can see heads of people seated in chairs. Some hurriedly walking to their seats. Some walking at leisure. As vertigo starts to set in, he takes a step back. Still holding on to the railing, he starts chanting, 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu'. He is sure uncle is down there. He chants a little louder. The walls of the hall respond back with a faint echo. The force in his chanting increases. He doesn't care who is listening. He cries out still louder. 'Bhaeiraaj Nanu. Bhaeiraaj Nanu.' Just then the screen comes alive with colors. A second later, hall is drowned with a cracking sound. And then trumpets blow. The show had begun. The kid ran back to his seat praying his uncle is really down in stall.
'Couldn't find him.'
'Alright. Now, let's watch the film.'
Bhaeiraaj Nanu passed away a couple of years ago. He died in a road accident on his way to "back to Kashmir" trip with some old friends. He was an expert ticket buyer. Father tells me getting a Palladium ticket wasn't easy. For a new show, the lines would be long and the crowds maddening. Theater owners had a man employed solely for controlling the ticket buyers. And this man would do his job by whipping people with his leather belt. Or just by the sight of his belt in hand. The ticket booth was at the end of a caged structure. An expert ticket buyer was one who could, like a lizard, crawl on the sides of the cage, over the heads of men standing in queue and forcefully place his hand into the booth's pigeon hole for tickets.
|Palladium cinema, Srinagar.|
Probably early 1980s (based on the film)
Credit: Wish I knew who uploaded the photograph so I could give proper credit
Via: Aga Khan Visual Archive, hosted at Mit Libraries. The archive offers 'Images of architecture, urbanism, and the built environment in the Islamic world'.
"Due to Non Arrival of Print Private Benjmin
Showing Hera Pehari"
|Palladium cinema, Srinagar. [1930s - 1992]|
Shot by me in Summer of 2008
Another one on philim culture in Kashmir. Source: Unknown (came across on Facebook. I wish people of the network would start citing sources more often). Year: Probably early 1980s.