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Watching movies on Doordarshan as a kid

Growing up in a middle-class family in a Mumbai chawl, TV was a way for us to learn about the rest of the world. It opened up our minds to all the different possibilities. But at the time, even those possibilities were restricted. The only channel on our TV was the National broadcaster’s Doordarshan.

The most awaited event of the week used to be the Sunday afternoon feature film. My sister and I used to patiently wait for it the entire week.

It used to be an event for our entire chawl. All the kids in the chawl used to gather at one person’s home and watch the movie. Similar to a theater but on a smaller screen. After the movie ended, we used to sit and discuss the movie. What we liked and what we didn’t.

Sometimes an enthusiastic parent would join us and narrate his experience of watching the same movie on the big screen. For the next week, all we kids would talk about was this movie, its songs, its action sequences. Someone with the means and resources would even go ahead buy an audio cassette that contained all the songs of the movie.

movie night, popcorn, tickets, film strip, cinema reel, coke, mat, now showing
Watching movies on Doordarshan

The Joy of Chitrahaar

Watching movies in theaters was a once in 3 months activity. Sometimes even longer if no family movie had released recently. In the meantime, Sunday afternoon movies was what we had to be satisfied with. The movies broadcasted would range from classics to new releases (depends on what you call new. For us, everything was new) sometimes trashy but we never complained. It was our only dose of any entertainment apart from Chitrahaar, a television program that used to show movie songs.

My First movie on Doordarshan

Fortunately, the first movie I ever saw (or remember watching on TV) was Sholay. I might have seen a couple of movies before that on the TV, but they were mostly forgettable. And honestly, the blog wouldn't be what it is if I said the first movie I ever saw on TV was Tehelka, right? So, let's stick to Sholay.

For the uninitiated, Sholay is one of the most popular movies from Bollywood and when it released in 1975 it ran for 5 years straight in a theater called Minerva (it no longer exists) in Mumbai – a record at the time that was eventually broken only by another Bollywood movie, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. But you guys already know this last piece of information I guess.

The broadcast of the movie was an immensely publicized event at the time. Small bits of it (which I later realized was called a trailer) were played on TV during various programs for a over a month. On the day of the broadcast, there were front page ads announcing the time it is going to be aired. What was usually a kids only affair had turned into a big community party. All the families in our chawl had decided that they wanted to watch the movie together and make it an even bigger event than what our usual Sunday evening movies usually were.

The Preparation for the big event

The day of the movie, all the mothers got together to prepare snacks and dinner for everyone while the fathers were either busy reading newspapers or discussing news amongst each other. All of us kids were given the responsibility to set up the place where everyone would eventually gather to watch the movie. Chairs for the elderly and mats for everyone else were laid out to accommodate almost 30 odd people from 7 families on our floor of the chawl. One of the uncles had gone out to get ice cream for everyone to eat for the post movie dinner and discussion session.

The fact that a quiz on the movie was also going to be conducted during commercial breaks added another layer of excitement to the already buzzing chawl of ours. The winners of the quiz would be announced by the film’s leading lady Hema Malini 3 Sundays from that day.

The stage (or the room) was set, and everyone was eager for the clock to strike 2 Pm. I was so excited that I asked my mom if I could wear the new shirt that I was gifted only a few months ago on my birthday. It was neatly folded and kept in the cupboard for an occasion just like this. I was smiling ear to ear when I stepped out wearing the shirt. I didn’t need any compliments. I was just happy that I got to wear that shirt.

By 1:45 pm everyone had finished eating lunch and a steady stream of people had started assembling at the designated area. Since the chairs were reserved for the elders, they were the first ones to arrive and occupy their positions. They were followed by an enthusiastic bunch of kids, their fathers and eventually their mothers.

The Opening Scene

I had already been informed that the movie starred 2 of the biggest stars ever. The excitement was palpable when the movie was about to begin. It started with a train approaching a station. Co-incidentally, the first ever movie ever made was also just a train approaching a station. I vividly remember the opening credits scene where a policeman is riding a horse with the theme music playing in the background and the credits started appearing on the screen. Of course, having watched the movie innumerable times post that also helps with such vivid memories about the movie.

Within minutes I was transported to Ramgarh – the village where the movie was based. We were introduced to Thakur, his servant Ramlal and eventually the lead pair of the movie, Jai-Veeru after an exciting action sequence involving bandits, horses and guns.

Introducing the most Iconic Villain of all time

The villain of the movie, Gabbar Singh is introduced only after the first hour of the movie. But you keep hearing his name multiple times before that leading to high levels of anticipation even before he appears on the screen for the first time. And when he appears, you already have a menacing image of his in your head.

Amjad Khan in his iconic role as gabbar Singh in Sholay
Amjad Khan as Gabbar Singh

The only other movie which does it successfully is Apocalypse Now where Marlon Brando has barely 5-10 minutes of screen time but the aura and tension persists throughout the film.

The fact that it is till date (for me) one of the most memorable introduction scenes for an antagonist speaks for the impact it had. There have been people who’ve made a career out of spoofing just this one scene. Dialogues such as, "Kitne Aadmi the", "Ab Tera Kya Hoga Kaalia", characters such as Kaalia, Samba, Ramlal have become a part of folklore (and unfortunately a butt of many jokes) in popular culture.

Our fascination was interrupted briefly (again and again) by commercials. But even those were exciting because during every commercial break, the leading lady of the movie came on our screens to ask us questions about the movie. The answers had to be sent on a postcard to a PO Box number.

For the next few hours, our eyes were glued to the television screens. Once in a while we’d laugh, or someone will imitate Gabbar. Moms would get up during commercial breaks and bring snacks for all of us. There was joy all across when Jai-Veeru escaped from the prison or when they give Gabbar’s men a taste of their own medicine. All the dads watched Helen dancing to the tunes of Mehbooba Mehbooba with their eyes wide open. And there were groans every time there was a commercial break.

The runtime of the movie was originally ~200 minutes but it must have gone on for an extra 40 minutes if you include the commercials. By the time the movie ended I’d laughed, cried, clapped and honestly even slept for 5 minutes during a song. Never before I’d experienced so many emotions in such a short period of time.

So, naturally I was a little sad when it ended. But at the same time, I knew in my head that I’d experienced something magical.

The Memories that lasted forever

For the next entire week, me and my best friend pretended to be Jai-Veeru. All the kids reenacted multiple scenes of the movie again and again. Some of the dialogues were etched in our memories. A friend’s dad who had seen the movie 10 times in the theater when it had released, had an audio cassette that had all the dialogues of the movie. We must have heard it so many times not only in that week but also multiple times in the coming years.

This lasted for the next 3 weeks when the results of the contest held during the movie were announced. We were surprised to learn that no one from our chawl had won anything. Even more surprising for a lot of us was that Sholay wasn’t Gabbar Singh’s (Amjad Khan) first movie. He’d appeared in a couple of films when he was child.

I was so fascinated by this little piece of trivia that collecting movie trivia sort of became a hobby first and over the years a passion. I went on to become a Bollywood trivia writer for a popular movie channel in India (Sony MAX).

The opening scene of the train approaching a station may or may not have been a homage to the first ever movie made but it certainly is etched in my mind forever. The 5-year-old kid watching that movie is now 33 years old and over the years has seen innumerable movies - good, bad and trashy.

But the joy of watching a new movie is still the same.

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