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TALKING MOVIES

At St. Xavier's Godavari School the biggest punishment one could possibly get was missing the next monthly movie. We were some of the very few who were privileged to watch Hollywood movies in the Kathmandu of the sixties, courtesy of our Jesuit fathers and their excellent relationship with the American missions in Nepal. Hindi movies reigned supreme in local cinemas and there was no market for English language films, except for a few mega hits once in a while, like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia and The Ten Commandments. When a punishment was meted out for transgressions and we missed a Sunday movie, there was no consolation. One sat in an empty classroom reading, cast away like a leper, while rest of the student body was transfixed by the visual imagery dancing on a large white screen. Yes, I have been there just once but it felt at the time like a lifetime.

My first recollections of movies screened on to a white screen was at home. They were often times grainy, black and white, silent films shot in 16 mm from my father's hunting collections. There was a potpourri of these amateur films: Maharajah Juddha shooting wild buffaloes in Koshi Tappu, King Mahendra's hunts, my father shooting tigers when he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Nepalese Army, iconic images of my father posing with a tiger he shot with a Colt .45 pistol. The indelible impressions I carry of these early introduction to moving pictures must have helped make me a movie buff forever.

The movies from the fifties and early sixties were our monthly diet at Godavari. There were big films then with even bigger stars; Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles to name a few. Some of us became such ardent fans of movie stars to the extent that even our mannerisms noticeably changed. I remember our classmate late Lekh Rana transforming himself into Santee taking after the gun slinging hero of an eponymous Western movie. Another friend Buddha Basnyat reinvented himself as Paul Newman, the luminous smile, the forrowed brows, et al, sans the blue eyes.

One looks back with bemusement watching romantic love scenes in a Jesuit school. The moral censorship consisted of a strategic palm on the cine projector lens just before a film sequence went "adult" rendering the screen blank to our protesting howls and hooting from the older students. We could only imagine in our mind's eye Elizabeth Taylor being kissed by the handsome hunk Rock Hudson, pretty innocuous stuff compared to what children are exposed to today. Of course, James Bond movies were beyond the pale.

There were some horror movies that scared the pants off us kids. Village of the Damned comes to mind in particular. I remember my friend Mahendra Jib watching the scary scenes through gaps on his fingers held over his eyes. Oh, how we jumped when the villainous Alan Arkin character pounced on the blind housewife played by Audrey Hepburn in the climactic sequence of the terrifyingly great Wait Until Dark!

I particularly enjoyed the "post mortem" of epic movies like Doctor Zhivago or Gone With the Wind. The Jesuits filled us in on the historical and social background of the films with great erudition and we transported ourselves back to the grim canvas of revolutionary Russia or to the near death throe of a young American Union over the question of slavery. We learnt how to analyze the films and we were encouraged to interpret them with our own faculty. We let our imagination run rampant with "what if" and "why not".

That is probably the reason why I joined the Cine Club when it came to signing up for extracurricular activities in the 10th Grade. Orson Well's Citizen Kane was the trail blazer in cine techniques used even to this day. We also viewed art house movies of many of the world's best directors including those of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Satyajit Ray. The potential of cinema was mind-boggling.

At school I meticulously kept a list of movies I saw in long hand, including the names of the stars and sometimes of the famous directors too. Perhaps I had a secret ambition to get into films behind the camera, I cannot say for sure now. Somewhere down the school years I misplaced the list. It was like losing a close intimate part of me. To this day I do not miss a good movie given half a chance; perhaps I am subconsciously making up for missing that movie once upon a time in Godavari School.

Comments

  1. Subodh, this is lyrical writing. I especially like your ruminations this time, especially the last para and the last sentence; what a sentence that hits home. I now see what Fr Watrin meant when he said "get the examiner who is correcting your essay carried away by your writing and you will receive an A". You have transported us back to Godavri. And in first class seats I might add! Please keep this up so that all of this will be archived forever together with our impressions of Paul Newman, Alan Arkin, Dr Zhivago, Humphrey Bogart, and Gregory Peck. Thank you so much and Jai Ho!!!!!

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  2. Great writing.
    I have forgotten many movies I have seen but I can never forget the movie I missed to see as a punishment-Marlon Brando`s `Watersahade`!
    And like you I too am a film buff. Clint Eastwood was a very popular hero and so was Sydney Poitier I remember in To Sir with Love.
    I remember seeing a movie Catherine the Great at St Marys school during the holidays.Apparently the priests and nuns had not previewed the movie for its adult content-the bedroom antics of the Queen!
    Govind

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  3. I did not realize that you had actually been made to miss a movie in Godavari. Thank God I was spared that.
    I remember vividly the "palm in front of the projector lens" censorship carried out when Peter Ustinov "took" Julie Christie in "Dr. Zhivago". Funny thing is, at that age, even had I seen the scene I would have taken it for a particularly enthusiastic bear hug!

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  4. The western movie with Santee was " Black Spurs "

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    Replies
    1. Beautifully written. I am not a member of your Godavarian society but I have seen most of these films in England. I am surprised to learn specially to show film like to kill a mocking bird, a very emotional film which analysed very clearly how black Americans were treated in deep south, may be it needed a higher level of understanding than a small boys at Godavari to understand what the writer wanted to illustrate about the environment faced by Black Americans during that period.
      However your writing is always pleasure to read.

      Delete

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