It’s been a year since most of our eyes adjusted to the dimming lights of a cinema hall. Despite mild signs of a return, movie theatres still feel like nostalgic memories from another lifetime. Some of us are even starting to miss those obscene multiplex popcorn-combo rates. Or maybe not.
But thanks to the OTT ecosystem, we haven’t exactly been away from the movies. The isolated finger-tip convenience, however, is not half as romantic as the communality of the real deal. Given the constant access to films, then, it’s only natural to do the next best thing. Earlier, we accessed movies through movie theatres. With this list, we hope to access the movie theatre through the movies.
On that note, Rahul Desai and Mohini Chaudhuri write about 10 great Hindi film scenes that feature – and celebrate – the sacred space shared by wide-eyed strangers:
Chhoti Si Baat
Bollywood and Bombay are two distinct entities in Basu Chatterjee films. Bollywood plays itself – an extraordinary, colourful, hyper-masculine world that the ordinary humans of Chatterjee’s Bombay aspire to inhabit. The faces of famous superstars peer back at the bustling city from the top of bus stops, street corners and taxi windows. In Chhoti Si Baat, the posters of Parinay and Zameer almost taunt Amol Palekar’s bashful Arun at the bus stop every morning. He dreams of approaching Vidya Sinha’s Prabha, but fails repeatedly, instead drifting away into a make-believe universe where he is a confident, sweet-talking ‘hero’ with zero social anxiety. When he is finally introduced to her in person, he sees himself crooning on the big screen of Churchgate’s famous Eros theatre. Hema Malini and Dharmendra coy-singing Jaaneman Jaaneman Tere Do Nayan to each other soon make way for Prabha and Arun and blooming sunflowers. The inimitable Palekar gazes at the screen, torn between hope and delusion, before embarking on an introvert-redeeming journey to win his lady love. RD
Single-screen theatres were such a great leveller. Before multiplexes sprung up, every kind of movie lover congregated at the same neighbourhood theatre to watch films. There are some theatre experiences I distinctly remember not for the film but more for people I encountered while watching them – the guy who flung his shirt at the screen, the family that slathered themselves with Odomos and stank up the entire theatre, or the bunch of boys who got up to dance at every song and blocked your vision. This scene in Rangeela takes me back to those experiences. Munna, played by Aamir Khan, struts in like he owns the theatre because ‘apun public hai’. He has the power to make or break a star, so movie etiquette be damned. He’s entitled to speak at the top of his voice and put his feet up on the seat in front and kick the poor man seated there. ‘Abey tu per dekh raha hai ya picture?’ he screams. Hard to argue with that logic. MC
‘Woh ladki hai kahaan’ set impossible standards for movie dates. A young couple goes on their first-ever casual date to a theatre. At this point, their relationship status is “it’s complicated”. The guy doesn’t have the best track record with women and the girl is coming off another relationship. The awkwardness is palpable. But Bollywood can fix everything. The film begins, and the posh South Mumbai couple start imagining themselves serenading each other in cheesy Bollywood song scenarios. The signature dance move? A pigeon hook step. Suddenly, the fog lifts. The black-and-white madness can only mean one thing: this is true love. MC
It’s movie night in Charanpur. A big projector is fitted in the village and the movie playing is Yaadon Ki Baarat. The privileged upper-caste men are seated in front of the screen while those from a lower caste are on the other side, making do with an inverted Zeenat Aman. When she strums her guitar to ‘Chura Liya,’ there are no distinctions – everyone is equally seduced. The movie is interrupted by a technical glitch and Shah Rukh Khan’s Mohan Bhargava swoops in to save the day by dancing to AR Rahman’s ‘Yeh Taara’. The screen is untied, kids on either side unite, and the caste system, for that one night at least, is abolished. The scene is a great advertisement for the power of movie superstars and movies, both of which can best be enjoyed in a theatre. MC
Om Shanti Om
1970s Colaba. The era’s leading heroine, Shantipriya, steps out of a yellow Cadillac onto the red carpet. Om, an extra, is dazzled by her shocking pink salwar. The flashy ‘Dreamy Girl’ premiere in Om Shanti Om celebrates the cultural significance of single-screen Bollywood. Two hustlers use Manoj Kumar’s pass to crash the event. The camera swoops across the pre-film excitement of the vast hall, the projector glow puncturing the darkness before lighting up the big screen. An adoring Om then imagines himself replacing the digitally fused figures of lead heroes Sunil Dutt, Rajesh Khanna and Jeetendra, canoodling with a glamorous Shantipriya in the retro-wicked song, ‘Dhoom Taana’. The scene ends in chaos with an aisle-dancing Om ejected from the premises, but not before being “seen” by the amused superstar from her opera box. The story, as always, begins in a cinema hall. RD
Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi
The cinema hall is a recurring theme in Aditya Chopra’s Basu-Chatterjee-esque ode to male duality – and the screen drives the film’s arranged-love premise. Middle-aged Surinder Sahni notices that the only time his sullen young wife Tani enjoys herself – and laughs – is at the movies. The three theatre moments become the crux of the film’s three acts. In the first, Suri blushes at her joyous reaction to a corny action sequence. This inspires him to create an alter-ego, the Bollywood-style hero Raj, a self-reverential ode to actor Shah Rukh Khan’s own YRF legacy. In the second, Tani, who begins to fall for the raucous Raj, imagines him on screen – the colourful homage anthem, ‘Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte,’ features Raj mimicking everyone from Dev Anand to Shammi Kapoor. And in the third, a dramatic love-triangle scene forces a conflicted Tani to leave the hall even as Suri roots for the ‘third wheel’. The composition is basic, but the theater is more of a character than a space in this film. A bonus is the irony of the actual location: Chandan, one of Mumbai’s iconic single-screen theatres that recently went out of business, is immortalized in a classic multiplex-era romantic comedy. RD
It’s only fitting that a story about a “moving cinema” – centered on a motley gang of drifters transporting two 40-year-old film projectors across the Indian desert – celebrates the medium of moving pictures. Dev Benegal’s melancholic tribute to the power of film is defined by one of the more under-appreciated scenes in distant memory. The gang – a frustrated young man (Abhay Deol), a kid (Mohammed Faisal), a rotund entertainer (Satish Kaushik) and a gypsy woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee) – is forced to rely on the ancient dream-making machines to escape the clutches of a corrupt cop. They set up a makeshift ‘viewing room’ under the starry skies of a village, desperately willing the reels to life. The result is an endearing montage – a personal favourite of mine – that uses the cutaways of spellbound rural faces to profound effect. A melange of 70s classics dot the night, even as the cop drinks himself into escapist glee. That he’s played by Virendra Saxena is a sweet twist: Saxena’s Vasco was the comical right-hand man of Goga Kapoor’s Don Anthony in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, introduced in a scene where a band’s survival depends on their stage performance in front of Goa’s elite criminals. RD
The hormones are raging. The dark is an ally. The hall is smoky, remote and – you can’t smell an image but – visibly stinking of urine. One of the first scenes of Vikramaditya Motwane’s adolescence poem features a group of boarding school teenagers sneaking out of campus to watch an adult movie in the dead of Himalayan night. Naturally, it’s Kanti Shah ke Angoor. The kids find seats upfront, light a cigarette, cross their legs and bathe in the flickering luminosity thrown onto their faces by a bikini-clad lady. Their experience is cut short by a notorious teacher living his own double life, but the beautifully designed moment almost rings with the sound of nostalgic boyhood goals. The build-up on the streets as well as the theatre itself are tinged in cold blue hues, a visual ode to the ‘blue movie’ in question. There’s also a lovely circularity to the fact that the film’s protagonist, Rohan, is revealed to be nursing storytelling aspirations after his misadventures at – where else but – a movie theatre gets him expelled. RD
The most charming entry in this line-up features a Muslim village on the India-Pakistan border, a wonky television set leaning against a tree, Salman Khan and Bhagyashree on its screen, and a cinephile to end all cinephiles. The setting is irresistible. An assistant director, Sunny, finds himself captured by a jihadi group after a film shoot goes awry. He is imprisoned in the house of a Pakistani pirated-DVD seller, a fellow film buff who regularly screens Bollywood hits for the villagers. When Sunny discovers that it’s Maine Pyaar Kiya night, he begs his captors to let him watch his favourite movie. At first, he loses himself in the world of fiction, loudly mimicking every scene in the room perfectly in sync with the film. Once they relent, Sunny eagerly joins the “theatre”. And then comes the magic. When the volume conks, Sunny steps in to enact the muted dialogue, ‘performing’ for the hero, the heroine and her father. The crowd erupts. As in Swades, for a few hours every other night, all of them are neither Indian nor Pakistani, neither terrorists nor prisoners. They’re just humans, sitting in front of a film, asking it to entertain them. RD
Spiritually at least, the whole of Vasan Bala’s movie-mad martial arts comedy seems to happen in a cinema hall. But the only time a theatre actually appears is when unique action-hero protagonist Surya recalls his birth. The flashback shows his parents and grandfather watching the Chiranjeevi starrer Aaj Ka Goonda Raj in rapt attention. Once the Amit Kumar-sung retro-cringe hit It’s A Challenge begins, Chiranjeevi’s “dance” moves are cross-cut with the commotion unfurling in the packed hall. The unborn Surya’s mom picks up a fight with a hooligan. We first see the fictional version, where she mortal-combats the man into oblivion, draped in the blood-reds of the screen. And then the real version, where she goes into labour mid-fight, while Amit Kumar’s impish voice is still echoing in the air. The scene is a wickedly kitschy tribute to the middle-class movie experience of the 90s, and better yet, it lays the ground for an eccentric film to remind its viewers that the quintessential Indian persona is derived – figuratively, but sometimes literally – from formative big-screen experiences. RD
A college gang in a movie theatre features two best friends who don’t know they’re in love with each other yet. The boy is there with his girlfriend, and the girl is unnerved by the fact that they’ve chosen to sit separately.
Amol Palekar is a serious moviegoers’ nightmare. He openly chats with a wary Vidya Sinha as though nobody is seated between them. As it turns out, there is someone – an unamused man, straining to enjoy Kahin Din Kahin Raat in peace.