Ali Peter John
The only source of my watching Hindi films those days was during one of the festivals like Diwali or the ten day long Ganpati celebrated in the gullies where I lived. There was a man who was working in someway for films who arranged for an old black-and-white film and there was another man who was working in the studio next to my house who arranged an old screen or a large sized white bed sheet and another man who arranged for an old projector. The name of the film to be screened was announced a week earlier to draw in as many people as possible. The screening was arranged only after nine in the night and the screening went on as long as the weather was good and there were several times when the screen collapsed and there was no time when a film could be seen in its entirety as there were technical jokes and breaks and there were many times when a real life fight used to bring the screening to an abrupt halt and the rest of the film was screened in another day and the crowd was still the same and sometimes even increased manifold which showed how hungry the people who were mostly poor and from the lower classes were. They could not afford to buy tickets and watch films and this was their only way of having their entertainment through films. I was a part of this and of a crowd and we waited for these screenings more than we waited for any festival or birthdays.
The first film I saw in these kinds of circumstances was called “Hariyaali Aur Raasta”. I still remember how I together with the whole crowd sat through the film sitting on the ground and bearing it all as long as we could see the film and there were times when the screening went on late into the night, midnight was the earliest and we were generally not allowed to be awake till such time, but exceptions were made during special screenings.
I didn’t know the name of the hero and the heroine at that time, but the hero who was very handsome certainly made a very lasting impact on me. I tried to see him on all the posters put up all over, in film magazines and newspapers whenever I could find them.
The Taj Haircutting Saloon,a place where lower middle class families sent their sons for their monthly haircuts which was a must like having a dose of castor oil was important in every family and both these experiences were very painful every boy avoided them as long as they could, but couldn’t escape them.
The Taj became my favourite place after I came to know that it kept old film magazines for men and boys to leaf through. I was so fascinated by old magazines like Filmfare and ‘Screen’ that I made it a habit to walk into The Taj even if I didn’t need a haircut. I had made friends with the senior, popular and less talkative barber who if he talked he only talked about something to do with politics (in which I was not interested) and Dilip Kumar. I still remember his name, it was Shakoor and I remember his hennaed hair which was fading away fast. He let me sit as long as I wanted when there were no customers, but asked me to leave very politely when there were men waiting in a queue (The Taj was considered the only clean and decent saloon in the area) even though the saloon was a shop and a home for a family whose head, Mr Mishra was a lawyer in the Andheri court.
I was going through an old copy of Filmfare when I suddenly saw a big and coloured photographs of my hero. I kept looking at the photograph and found out that his name was Manoj Kumar. I was gripped by the urge to have the photograph for myself and knew that it was going to be difficult, but my urge refused to leave me and I kept sitting in the saloon till I would be the only outsider inside. I had faith in Shakoor, but I was not sure whether he would allow me to do what I was hell-bent to do.
I found my moment, but I knew that I had to be very careful because if I was caught and anyone had complained to my mother, even my very loving mother would not tolerate it and I would get the appropriate punishment. I quietly took off the entire page on which the photograph of Manoj Kumar was and walked out of the saloon. It was the first time I had stolen something. And I for the first time came to know what the feeling of guilt was. I was not normal till I reached home.
I had done something brave and now I wanted to do something that was worth my brave effort. I wanted to paste the entire photograph on the wall next to my door, but I needed some paste to stick the photograph. I asked my neighbour if she could make some paste for me and the kind lady agreed. I was thrilled when I got hold of the pot of paste, but how would I alone stick the photograph on the wall which was made of bamboo sticks and cowdung. I had to find someone really reliable to do this delicate job. My eyes fell on the popular Chelliah who used to have his own able on which he used to iron clothes off the people around. He was a man who had no family and had to depend only on this job for his livelihood, but I knew that he never missed any film that was released at the nearby Usha Talkies every Friday, even at the risk of losing some buisness which he made up for during the night or the next day. He also loved telling us children the story of the film he had seen the previous day. I asked Chelliah if he could help me and he said he would if I waited till he had his lunch break which was for more than two hours, during which time he had a nap under one of the many mango tree as I kept waiting for him anxiously.
Chelliah came, he felt that the paste had grown cold and hated it and then started decorating my wall with photograph of Manoj Kumar. It took him only ten minutes to do it, but for me it was a lifetime of waiting while I even worried about what my mother would have to say about my madness. My mother came home in the evening and did not notice Manoj Kumar on our wall…
The next morning she did and I was awake before her to know her reaction. I expected the worst, but somewhere I also knew that she loved films and stars and Manoj Kumar was one of them. She came in and only told me that I should have at least told her about what I was doing, but on the whole, she had loved what I had done “because the photo of the hero makes our door look better”. I was very happy with my achievement and kept looking at my hero twice or more times every day and there were many others who stopped by our ‘kholi’ to have a look at Manoj Kumar. They all, especially the women called me “a mad boy” but they said they liked what I had done because where would they get another chance to see the photograph of a hero every day?….
I had many other heroes who I took a liking for, but I was not willing to take off the photograph of Manoj Kumar till two monsoons were over and the paper was showing signs of paling and peeling off and I didn’t like to see my hero in that condition and had to take it off one day. But I did not give that space near my door to any other hero. It was only for Manoj Kumar and no other hero could take his place…
Could I ever have imagined the Manoj Kumar who was on my wall would one day be in my heart and the feeling would be mutual?