By cinema, my friend meant those cinemas which nowadays have been rechristened as single screen theatres.
As a kid, it was my dream to watch at least one movie in Heer Palace.
Sitting imposingly at Mall Road, in the heart of Kanpur, Heer Palace is still the grandest cinema of Kanpur. But it is losing to multiplex theatres.
I recalled my friend’s words while I was watching a reality comedy show on television.
A contestant posing as an ‘old theatre’ came on the stage and started pleading – ‘Please do not kill me; please don’t demolish me. Save me.’
His partner, posing as a multiplex theatre said, ‘Huh! Who cares for something old like you?’
The ‘old theatre’ said, ‘It was I who introduced cinemas to people.’
The multiplex theatre said, ‘But I give choice to people.’
‘I showed the Golden era of the Indian cinema to people.’
‘You have weathered. I am young and swanky.’
The conversation, full with satire and humour, continues.
At the end of the act, Sohail Khan, who was one of the judges of the show assures the ‘old theatre’ – ‘Your days are not numbered. You are not going to die.’
Sohail Khan said he watched the premiere of his movies only at Gaiety Cinema, a single screen theatre at Bandra, Mumbai.
‘It is only in a cinema hall that I get to know the reaction of the audience to my movies,’ said Sohail Khan.
Reaction to a typical Indian movie means clapping, applauding, hooting and whistling.
What did Sohail Khan mean?
Do people react only in the so-called single screen theatres and not in multiplex theatres? Has the audience in multiplex theatre become cultured or sober? Or more snobbish?
Abdul Hamid was my source of inspiration. Not the Indian soldier who died fighting Pakistani forces in the 1965 war but his namesake who was my elder brother's classmate.
I don't remember the exact year. It was 1983 or 84. I tagged along with my brother and Abdul to watch a movie in a neighbourhood cinema.
As Abdul stepped into the dark hall, he inserted the thumb and forefinger of his right hand in his mouth and let out a very sharp and loud whistle.
I was both shocked and impressed by his brazenness. He became my hero and I decided to master the art of whistling.
I started devoting hours to mastering the art. I dreamed that whenever I went to a cinema, I would also whistle.
But in any cultured family, whistling in public places is taboo. Hence, learning to whistle at home can invite dangers, especially if your mother believes only in corporal punishment.
In my home whistling was considered a weapon used by school and college dropouts and unemployed bums to tease girls and women in public places. Or a way of enjoyment for the 'uncultured' lot who occupied lower or rear stalls in cinemas whenever the vamp gyrated to a raunchy number or the hero bashed the villain.
Braving the dangers, I started working hard to become a skilled whistler. The early results were poor. But as the days passed, my perseverance paid off. The loudness and the sharpness of my whistles increased, as did my parents' admonitions. But I persisted and the final results were excellent.
But whenever I was in a cinema, I would get engrossed in the movie and would forget to whistle.
I watched the new or ‘dedicated’ version of Agneepath a couple of days back as I wanted to know if people react in multiplex theatres.
The Chikni Chameli song is in rage and I thought here was a song that would generate mega- whistling. I impatiently waited for the song.
Katrina looked stunning as she jerked and gyrated. But nobody whistled. I felt uncomfortable.
When the movie ended, I wanted to ask the young men coming out why they didn't whistle. But I kept my mouth shut.
Have audiences become cultured? No doubt, no man will dare to whistle with his girlfriend sitting beside him. But have guys stopped watching movies in groups? Have we lost the small joys and innocence of making a little mischief?