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ROMANCING THE MOVIES

The first time that I remember going to a cinema was when an angrezi film was running at Kathmandu's first movie theater named "Janasewa", translated as "in service of the people", alluding to the political changes brought about in 1951 by the ouster of the Rana regime. The year was 1960. Nepal's first election had been carried out and the Congress Party had won it handily. The naysayers had pronounced the new dispensation as "damn-o-cracy" but nevertheless there was a breath of fresh air with press and media freedom tingling the senses. My personal experience in the theater though was agonizing at best as the large, threatening images flickering on the screen accompanied by the deafening sound sent me into paroxysm of wailing and I had to sit out half the movie in the foyer with my minder placating me with sweets. I was five years old.

Janasewa Cinema
Janasewa opened in the early fifties to show Hindi movies for the very first time to the general public. One of the "epic" that was shown there was a Chinese made documentary on Prime Minister B. P. Koirala's state visit to China at the invitation of Premier Chou En-lai in March of 1960, a singular honor accorded to the first-ever non-communist head of state or government by the Chinese after the establishment of The People's Republic of China in 1949. The show was a great hit with the public. Cinema was here to stay and soon other new theaters would open.

Nearby Janasewa just off New Road, a new commercial district constructed by Maharajah Juddha Shumsher after the devastation wrought by the earthquake of 1934, Ranjana Cinema opened its gate in 1956 with the showing of the Hindi hit "Bhai Bhai". Reminisces the owner's son Keshav Shrestha that his father Bal Krishna Shrestha wanted to emulate the success of Janasewa and sold off two of his houses to invest 8 lakh Rupees in the construction of Kathmandu's second oldest cinema hall. He was vindicated; the business was a great success. King Mahendra occasionally came to see movies at Ranjana; the theater specially reserved for his family and enjoyed his favorite White Horse Scotch whisky while watching the films reminisces Keshav further.

I remember Ranjana Hall where I watched Raj Kapoor's "Jish Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai", now a little older and wiser, and got the gist of the story of a simple minded village bumpkin getting embroiled in the dacoits' den. There was a lot of singing and dancing. The year was 1962. Janasewa had burnt down a year earlier just when our nascent democracy had been stifled by King Mahendra's coup de main and banning of political parties; the analogy did not get lost on the learned classes.

Many cinemas opened in quick succession thereafter: Bishwo Jyoti, Jai Nepal Chitra Ghar and Ashok Cinema in our own neighbourhood of Patan. Hindi movies conquered the hearts and minds of Nepalese who understood the language and the cultural nuances and did not mind sitting through 3 hours of melodrama. "House Full" was the dreaded signage we feared to behold whenever we went to the movies as it meant looking for ticket touts who would extract our blood.

I remember two sounds reverberating around our estate at Kiran Bhawan when I was young: firstly the roar of the male lion from the Jawalakhel Zoo and secondly the lilting Hindi songs played full blast from Ashok Cinema's loudspeakers. I can still hear the song, "Bol Radha bol, sangam hoga ki nahin" from the film "Sangam" loud and clear as if it were yesterday. There was only farming land with isolated adobe brick houses littering the landscape all the way to Pulchowk and Jawalakhel. There were no sound barriers then. Except for the reluctant, sputtering generators of Summit Hotel and Greenwich Village Hotel nearby protesting the long power cuts, I do not hear any sound of music from afar nowadays.

Kathmandu today is full of multiplexes with state-of-the-art imaging and sound techniques. However, when films are cheaply accessible on the internet, on satellite TV and DVDs, going to a theater is only one option among many. The romance of preparing for a night out at the movies like in those golden era of cinema is dead and gone. Even the movie stars have somehow diminished in stature these days, perhaps because we see them in miniature screens. Ranjana used to display pictures of the famous Bollywood stars of yesteryear before the term was invented. The faces of Dilip Kumar, Nargis, Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman got etched into our collective memories larger than life. Oh, how I miss all those moving picture sunsets! 





Comments

  1. So true Subodh! Although I hardly remember this having not grown up in India...I can still FEEL it!!
    P.S. Love the photos on your blog...So nice to see Monica and Pierre!!

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  2. Beautifully written. Keep writing, dear Subodh! I had asked an elderly friend of mine who currently lives overseas if he would like to visit Jawalakhel or Sanepa or Pulchowk these days. He refused. When asked why, he stated,"The picture of Jawalakhel or Sanepa or Pulchowk has changed these days. If I visit, the picture which is on my mind will be replaced and I do not wish to be replaced. Let it be there till I breathe and this will help me cherish the old memories that I had that/those area/s." Best Regards, Nirmal

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  3. You have an extra ordinary memory Mr. Rana. Jis desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai was shown in Ranjana indeed - Gautam

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  4. Enjoyed reading this piece on Hindi movies.Going to the movies was indeed a exciting and memorable event.Even if we did not understand much of what was said the visuals kept us glued to our seats for 3 hours.
    The first movie I remember seeing was a black and white Ramayan at Ranjana hall.The scene of Hanuman`s tail on fire is still indelibly etched on my mind!
    Thanks for evoking the pleasant old memories back to life.
    Govind

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