marți, 8 martie 2011

Chitra Talkies

This is about a movie theatre which doesn't exist anymore - it was torn down to make way for an office building. It used to be in Pudupet. The building's facade was Art Deco, with motifs in raised stucco - a stylized eagle, and two side panels with elongated, flameless Olympic torches topped by geometric designs. "Chitra" was written vertically on the main, tallest portion. On either side of the main entrance were semi-circular cement ticket booths with cracks and holes in them, with wooden railings around the top, and small ticket windows with sliding wooden doors.

Most of the time an old black and white Tamil movie would be playing, because the theatre's receipts were too low for it to be able to rent first-run movies. There was a different picture each week, and a separate show at noon. The theatre’s new manager was struggling to come to grips with managing a movie theatre. He was a in his late sixties, his oiled hair dyed pitch black. He spoke with an expression of perpetual bewilderment. On the day I went with him to take a look at the theatre, he strode into the hall, then came back and said, "Did you see that? A whole row of seats has fallen down!"

He continued, “I was here in the morning, and the projectionist asked for oil to lubricate the projectors. He said they should use Vaseline, but it’s too expensive, so they use some other oil. I told him to buy only one litre, and gave him money from my pocket. Then he asked for a cloth to wipe the oil. He wanted to buy it from the petrol bunk. I told him, ‘Don't you know that one cloth there will cost 15 rupees? Take a bus and go downtown and buy it by the meter.’ I drew a map and told him where to go. Can you believe, for the cost of one cloth he got four cloths! I told him, ‘Buy four meters and get sixteen cloths, and they'll be slightly bigger than the ones you'll get from the petrol bunk.’

"On Saturday after the late show the watchman was opening the gate, and a taxi pinned him against it. They took him to the hospital and he died. All day Sunday I was running around to the police, the post mortem, arranging for a casket, attending the funeral.

"I told the police it was an accident, but then that man's son-in-law went and said, ‘It was a preplanned murder. All rowdies go there, and the watchman had so many skirmishes with them.’ So the Inspector came to me and said, 'What do you mean, reporting it as an accident, and now this man is telling me it was a pre-planned murder?' I said, 'If it's a murder, it's your job to investigate it.'

"One night we were at home, and the stall owner came to give me the receipts. Then he said, 'I'm having too much problem because outside people are selling cheap snacks under the gate, sundal and things like that, and I can't compete with them.' So I said, 'Then put sheet metal over the gate.' He said 'I did, but the ice cream seller would sell all his ice cream and then pour the salt water from the melted ice on the gate from outside every night, and it wore a hole, and through that hole they're again selling.'

"Last week four or five people got electric shocks, because the whole place is falling down. So I called an electrician, and he said, 'Sir, there is no insulation anywhere, it's all turned to powder, and all the wires have turned green. Everything has to be replaced.'

"Then one man came from the government and said, 'Sir, everything is wrong,' so I asked the manager, 'How much do I have to give him?' and he told me so much, but that man said, 'No, sir, we've been getting this amount for so many years, you must increase it now.' Then when I'd finished with him a man came from the pension fund and asked for free tickets for his friends and relations. Then the electrical engineer turned up and said, 'Where are the fire buckets?' So I asked the manager, and he said, 'No, they empty out the sand, and by the time the show is over the buckets have been stolen also.' So the electrical engineer said, 'Once a month when I come here for inspection you have to have buckets, take them on rental. Also, my four friends have come from out of town, so please let them in for free.' So I said, 'Give me some time, let me learn, I don't know anything!'

"Seeing all this, one woman was standing in the queue for tickets, and she said, 'Our Ayya!' I said, 'What?' and she said, 'I sleep on the footpath by your house, don't you recognise me?' So I gave her some money and said 'Okay, buy a ticket,' but she said, 'What is the need for tickets? It's our theatre now.' So then some urchins who were watching from outside started waving their arms and yelling, and they ran in, and then some others ran in, about twenty people went in without tickets.

"I'm so tired, I have so many problems, you know I put coconut oil on my hair, and last ten days while I'm asleep hundreds of ants come and bite me, I've got ant bites all over my body."