Friday, July 28, 2006

Cinema meets India. India meets cinema.

By a strange twist of fate, Salon Indien happened to be the name of the venue for the very first public show of Cinématographe Lumière at one franc a head on 28 December 1895. It was a tiny hall with a sitting capacity of one hundred located in the basement of the Grand Café at 14 Boulevard des Capuchines, Paris. The first show of the Lumière Brothers’ six short films (Entry of Cinematographe, The Sea Bath, Arrival of a Train, A Demolition, Ladies & Soldiers on Wheels and Leaving the Factory) – each 17 metres long – was held on 7 July 1896, a night of thunder and lightning, in South Mumbai at the Watson Hotel opposite Kala Ghoda and the Jehangir Art Gallery, within walking distance of the Gateway of India. Seven days later, the venue was shifted to the Novelty Theatre where the show had twenty four features including A Stormy Sea and The Thames at Waterloo Bridge. The 32-day Mumbai run of the Cinématographe Lumière at both the venues, described by The Times of India as "Living Photographic Pictures in Life-Size Reproductions by Mssrs. Lumiere Brotheres" ended on 15 August 1896. But certainly not India’s tryst with cinema. Or, mine for that matter. I remember making magic lanterns and, later, even movie projectors out of shoe boxes and reels and drawing pictures on stiff tracing paper to make my childish movies. I also recall visiting most movie houses in my neighbourhood – there were at least a dozen within easy walking distance – for zanana (women and children only) shows with my sister. The ticket prices then were one rupee and five annas for stalls and two rupees and ten annas for a seat in the balcony or in a box. Those days, you could buy a garishly printed booklet containing the story of the movie in outline and the songs in their entirety for the princely sum of 4 annas or a quarter of a rupee. Or, you could buy for just 1 anna a crudely printed booklet with songs only in Hindi as well as Urdu scripts. I’m not quite sure when they stopped printing and selling these booklets. It was probably some time in the late sixties. Now they try to palm off on you lavishly produced books about the making of the movie you’re about to watch, often written by firang writers who claim to be teachers and/or researchers in a film faculty abroad but sound like publicists on the payroll of the producer.

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