May 19, 2004

my father’s old classics, and a story

there is always a front seat and a back seat, and a window in between
— the chauffeur mr fairchild, to his daughter sabrina, who thinks she is in love with the rich employer’s son(s). wise words indeed.

achchan, i finally got to see sabrina 🙂

my father loves the old (english) classics. our home, where my sister and i spent almost 14 of our growing years, was very close to the school we went to. right opposite the school was this video-shop from where we learnt a lot too. about movies. about classics. about music, and about life. the shop was called videotrack.

the shopowner knew my father’s tastes, and always reserved an english classic for him. in fact i often secretly wondered if he was getting the cassettes just for us…
in an area with a quite-conservative school, a white-marble-shiva-temple and a cinema-theatre frequented by roadside romeos, most families would prefer the latest bollywood blockbusters from videotrack. but not my father. sometimes when we insisted on getting a good hindi movie, he’d give in and still borrow two cassettes, one for him, and one for us.

we didn’t watch too many movies …i guess achchan didn’t want to spoil us either. so it would be fred astaire on a thursday night, the next-week-friday it would be frank sinatra, or doris day, or bing crosby, barbra streisand, or julie andrews, or peter o’toole, or charles bronson, elvis presley and of course cary grant…sometimes we got home kishore kumar and gurudutt too. and sometimes when there were more of us at home, the hilarious bud spencer-and-terence hill movies, by the end of which i would find just my father and me red-faced and laughing and laughing till we coughed and tears ran out of our eyes. the others, our cousins and aunts, would either be in the kitchen, playing outside or or fast asleep on the sofas.

i guess my father paid rs 5 per cassette, and rs 15 if it was a new release. i have enjoyed every one of those movies. i don’t know why i never said it earlier to my father, i guess we both knew. in any case, he enjoyed them too much to stop and re-consider, and that was the best part. because watching these movies had become our way of opening ourselves to the world. often we would imitate an actor’s accent at home, be it english, american or cockney. and sometimes we would amuse amma and deepu with our tap-dancing or opera-singing. it was so much fun.

i miss all those movies now.

i think we gradually stopped visiting videotrack due to the most common thing indian parents do when their children have reached class 10 or 12. switch off the cable television, hide the remotes and ban all other entertainment activities, lest it ‘distract’ the child’s attention from his or her studies. perhaps i might do the same when i reach that stage in parenthood, perhaps i won’t. right now though, i think of this practise as a sad mistake.

after exams there are vacations, and after the vacations, admissions in new colleges again. new friends, canteen-gupshup and new trends take priority over parents and siblings, just like pimples taking control of a girl’s *entire* meaning of life.

it happens to everyone. in our case, it affected the movies first, and videotrack was soon forgotten.

all that was left, apart from hummable musicals and memories, was a huge wave of sympathy for the shop-owner. it was that time in bombay when doctors with fake (or original) certificates were removing real kidneys off people for money. warnings issued all over the place asked us to beware of co-passengers in trains or buses who offered something nice to eat or drink. because these eatables would be drugged more often than not, and the next thing you know, your body is left with one kidney. (more)

it was around noon in august one fine day; the videotrack shopowner who rented out stories of tears and laughter to everyone, brought the shutters down on his shop all of a sudden. his teenage son had left for college two days ago, never to return again.

years went by and we shifted to another home. i was shuffling jobs between bombay and bangalore and then nerul. in those five years, the three girls in my neighbourhood got married and turned young parents themselves. cable television turned into something only ‘housewives’ watched and kids and youngsters preferred the internet and broadband instead. small shops too, were crushed under shiny glass-exterior-software-companies or mega shopping malls. shops that sold video cassettes now housed the latest mp3 music cds, popular dvds, and pirated copies of the latest hindi or english films.

even if we had wanted to, my father and i would never find the irreplaceable old classics again. because like the unfortunate teenage son, videotrack had disappeared too, without a trace.

when i came to the uk with praveen, i thought it would be easier to find my favourite movies here. but i couldn’t even locate my favourite audio cassettes. every time praveen and i visited london, i would remember to look out for some of the musicals my father or friends had talked about. sure enough, we enjoyed all of them so far — cats, beauty and the beast, the lion king, and les miserables.

some months ago, rashmi told me about an audrey-hepburn collection of (five) movies that had recently entered the market. naturally, i nagged and pestered praveen until he bought me the entire set, as a belated birthday gift. the collection had sabrina fair, the one movie that my father told me much about, that we both missed seeing while in india. he said the movie has a lesson we should all understand, and that i would know what that lesson was when i see the film. i did, yesterday.

there is always a front seat and a back seat, and a window in between

the subtle message that the chauffeur passed on to his daughter was about life, and how easy it is to forget the paths we have taken, the people who helped us get to where we are, the places we once occupied. i can think of no one but my father, who would pick this line from the otherwise gentle-humour-flitty-romance movie. like audrey hepburn would have replied: “thanks p’hppa” 😉

my turn now to pay it forward i guess (and to stop NOW since i’ve been rambling for too long, again!). i have now made a resolution to visit all the websites available, and shops that i find through the local-markets here, anyone who hires or sells good old movies. so that when it’s time, my children will enjoy (maybe blog about!), along with their father’s gift of carnatic music, their mother’s collection of english classics.


  • devesh said:

    i know the feeling… i was under the same impression that i’d get a wider range of these classics here in Aus, but not really hehe…
    the other day i found what i was looking for… a 3 pack dvd of cliff richard movies, summer holiday, young ones and wonderful life 🙂 and oh boy was i thrilled or what! heheh…

    i still watch them so often.

    again, on quite weekend i stumbled across this really small, old bookshop, found the complete works of charles dickens and mark twain and then as i trotted further along in the shop, i saw LPs hehehe. picked up the whole nashville LP collection, simon n garfunkel, vivaldi and likes 🙂

    bought an LP player, and hooked it up to my computer hehehe… what a feeling.

    they still never fail to deliver pleasant dreams 🙂

  • devesh said:

    god! there’s this terrence hill movie…. which is my all time childhood fav… “super-snooper”

    i’ve always feared the colour red since hehehe…

    and i have spent soooo many months looking for it… even on VHS… 🙁

  • virgo said:

    it is gratifying that the new generation is not averse to the sentiments and advice of the old one. but sometimes things get mixed up and the focus is lost. there are 3 lessons to be learnt from sabrina.
    1. born poor does not mean one cannot become rich or cultivate the habits of the rich.
    2. her father was a driver and used to listen to all the conversations in the car between the millionaire and his consultants about how and where to invest. he picked up small bits and pieces of informtion and started investing himself to become a millionaire many years later himself. the morale is you will do what others do in your company, or spend time with the successful and rich and you will know the little secrets of becoming rich. if you are always with the poor, not only in money but in thinking, you will also remain in that company.
    3. how to break eggs quickly and without making a mess of it.
    now go and watch the movie once again and it will make a totally different impact on you.

  • Alien said:

    Well, I still take that old LP player and try to run those oldies… nat king cole, jim reeves… the sound sends me back and it is wonderful to be able to revel in nostalgia

  • jay menon said:

    hey good blogs yaar, am here for the first time, go watch the movie BIG FISH, its damn good

  • Steely Dan said:

    That post sure struck a cord… i am a major fan of the B/W era ..and for some reason tend to place them higher than the ‘colour’ movies.

    I have been picking up and treasuring my of the list being the early Hitchcock movies..and the Ealing comedies.

    Matter of fact, spent a whole weekend going through the entire collection .. one after the other.. the above mentioned ones and classics like A Roman Holiday etc.

    Am wating to see Tom Hanks in the ‘Lady Killers’.. I have a feeling that there is no way he is going to be able to match Alec ‘Genius’, Peter Sellers and party !

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