The Crown

We had two movie theatres in our town where I grew up -Regal and Crown. Regal had three classes: Floor, Bench and Chair, while Crown had four categories with an additional balcony. The ‘arrived’ went to the balcony and looked down upon the poor souls like us literally. While we saw movies in both the theatres, Crown had its privilege as a theatre for some excellent English and Hindi movies. I rarely got to see the English film, as these would play for two to three days. There were no subtitles, and it was always challenging to follow the dialogues. Crown hired translators, possibly local teachers, who would stand near the screen and did free translation using megaphones with the movie on the silver screen. Multi-tasking was necessary to see the film and listen to the commentary simultaneously.
For Hindi movies, it was a different story. We had a three-language formula in our school that we needed to learn mother tongue, English and Hindi, our national language. My Hindi teacher encouraged us to see Hindi movies to improve comprehension. Whenever I went for a Hindi movie, the assignment the next day was to tell the story in Hindi in fifteen minutes, which was an excellent exercise for me to improve our Hindi.
I remembered the day in August 1968, my friend Bheemanna and I decided to watch a Hindi film called Sangam. Unlike other movies, the movie’s length was four hours. We rarely get to see movies of such a length, which was a great ROI. We did not prefer the English films as they get over in one and a half hours.
As the film started early, we went to the theatre directly from the school. We bought tickets for the ‘floor’ class for two reasons: we did not have money to go to an upper category, and secondly, there would be plenty of space. We could lie down and watch as a few people come to watch a Hindi movie. We had saved a few coins to buy peanuts and drink a colour soda in the two intervals.
We stretched ourselves with our books as our pillow, leaving chappals on one side. We kept an eye on the chappals as the Crown is known for thefts. In the beginning, we saw some colour slides of local businesses such type institutes and restaurants followed by the ‘war reels’ made by the Films Division for twenty minutes. The main feature film started at 6 pm. It was the first Eastman colour movie in my life, and we were excited as the movie rolled on.
Triangular love stories were popular — two heroes go after one girl, and one finally succeeds. The lesser soul usually commits suicide or ends up in an accident or with a significant illness.
We knew by intuition that Raj Kapur( Flight Lt. Sundar Khanna), the producer, editor, and director, would survive while Rajendra Kumar (the magistrate, Gopal Verma) would eventually die. It was a foregone conclusion that the beautiful Vyjaynathimala( Radha Mehra) would marry Raj Kapur, and they live happily ever after. There was no rocket science here.
Radha loves Gopal ( obviously), while Sundar is madly after Radha. Sundar enlists himself in the Indian Airforce and goes for a dangerous mission in Kashmir. Gopal and Radha get into some beautiful duets without losing time; that was a treat to watch. The movie proceeded very linearly, and there was an announcement on Radio that Sundar died in a battle in Kashmir. Sundar gets a Param Veer Chakra immediately after the news bite. It made way for Gopal and Radha to continue their duets and strengthen their bond. We arrived at the first intermission.
Sundar returned as a single piece without any scratch during the second segment and continued trolling Radha. I do not remember all the details; Sundar married Radha, leaving Gopal in the lurch. The third segment revolved around a love letter that Sundar found, and he was on a journey to find the author.
As the movie kept dragging, we did not have the heart to walk out as we had paid for the tickets. We both went into a blissful sleep as someone tapped at my shoulder and shouted. I thought it was a dream. The theatre was empty, and the cleaning crew with brooms were waiting for us to get up to prepare the venue for the next show. As I guessed, our chappals were gone, and we walked home bare-footed.
On the way home, I remembered that the first period was Hindi, and we had the assignment to narrate the story. Neither my friend nor I had a clue about the climax. The following day, my friends and the teacher waited for our Hindi pitch on Sangam.




…back to a time when I had time.

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Dravida Seetharam

Dravida Seetharam

Life long learner with interests in reading and writing

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