My maternal grandfather and I were very close till I entered my teens and slowly it mattered less and less to me that he was still willing to be my best friend. I still remember my school Principal very suspiciously asking me why I received so many letters at the school address. I told him it was Dadu (my grandpa) and Princi snorted in disbelief. Doesn’t he know his son’s address? Well, I could have enlightened him that it was not my father’s father but my mother’s, but it didn’t seem important, especially since my Dad loved his father-in-law a lot and was practically Dadu’s favourite son. Dadu and I enjoyed our special correspondence and I loved those letters addressed to me. I think he probably taught me more about letter writing than my teachers. I am straying though, I don’t really wish to write about epistolary matters. I wanted to write about when Dadu and I watched a film. The only time.
I have always loved watching films, my first film memory being Prem Pujari. In the beginning, anything was fun to watch. The snootiness came later, after I had perhaps watched an Anand or a Bhumika and realized that these films were special. I sought out more such films, discovered Ray and more… But before all that, when during holidays I often took a rickety cycle rickshaw in the company of my Mama (maternal uncle) to the small town cinema hall, I was willing to watch any film. The beautiful heroines, the handsome heores, the rapacious villain, the voluptuous vamp and the sacrificing mothers… I loved them all. I could not fathom anyone not wanting to watch a Hindi film, or claiming that they were too silly for words. My grandfather, to be precise, who firmly believed that good films were not made any more. All my efforts to drag him to KMBM or Roxy, the town’s two halls, proved unfruitful. Finally I thought I’d ask him what he considered to be the criteria for good cinema. He talked about some heroines that he respected because they were so dignified and then he talked at length about a film that he really thought was great. Mother India.
Being a budding film buff, I had to watch this of course. It wasn’t easy those days. A video copy was finally traced and rented, a VCR and a TV set too. All neighbours and relatives were informed and together with the servants, we were an audience of about fifty. I was of course lucky enough to be seated on the sofa in the front row. I don’t remember how the others fared but it couldn’t have been very comfortable. Not that we were exposed to Red Lounge comfort or rates in those days. The screening was in Dadu’s bungalow’s huge verandah and we waited for it to be suitably dark. Snacks were ready but there was to be no disrespectful munching during the film, they were to be served during the interval.
While my memories of the rest of the event are quite detailed, I don’t remember actually enjoying the screening. I think I missed my glamorous hero-heroine and the gaudy sets. I believe I started yawning soon enough and was asleep before the interval. They did try waking me for the snacks but having played in the sun all day long, I refused to wake up. My father carried me to bed, where I could sleep on in greater comfort. The next morning, the young film buff was teased by everyone in the household. I never dared asked my grandfather to watch a film with me again.
It was many years before I gathered the guts to watch Mother India again. I didn’t fall asleep this time.