July 22, 2004

the projector-room incident

on our way out from one of the screens in a multiplex last week (we had just watched shrek2, or was it around the world in 80 days?), i saw a door left ajar. we have been going to this multiplex almost every tuesday, and i never noticed it before. possibly because it has a shiny metallic plate that reads ‘authorised personnel only’ drilled on to it.

when i saw the door half-open, or half-closed if you may like, my subconscious mind remembered having seen a ‘staff only’ label somewhere, and quickly registered this as the same door we passed each week. i slowed my steps as i neared the room and shamelessly, peeped inside. it was a small room, rather squarish. two racks towards the end of the room contained several huge boxes or box-like objects. in front of the racks (that lined the entire length of the wall), were two chairs and a table; a packet of crisps lay open and two cups of black coffee, or maybe cola. a tall young man sat on one of the chairs, his back to me and staring at a small window right ahead. i instantly realised what i was looking into, and almost blurted to the guy: “excuse me, can i come in for a look?”

but then i stepped back. it was past midnight and we hadn’t had dinner yet, which i still had to make. chances were, in nine out of ten, that roadwork on the motorway would delay us further. my in-laws were with me, along with praveen, and the three of them were still making their way out of the screen. what if they began to look for me elsewhere? no, i thought, stepping out soundlessly again into the corridors now flooding with other moviegoers. killing my desire to get into my favourite room in the theatre — the projection room — i walked away and waited where i would be able to see praveen and my parents-in-law. all the way back, and even while i am writing this, i wonder what happened. why did i not satisfy my impulse to learn? after all, i had done it in the past.

we were about 11 of us and i was working with express computer then, my first job. since technically, we belonged to the ‘press’, we had all been invited to a special screening of ‘the making of the mahatma‘.

movies were something i did not totally enjoy then, but if it was anything that i wanted to watch, i would prefer a theatre to the small screen. always. half-an-hour into the movie, i would soon lose interest in the plot itself and look up behind me. in the dark of the theatre, the two square thick rays of light coming through the wall always seemed more magical…with millions and millions of tiny dust particles dancing their way to the big screen where they disappeared. if there was going to be a song sequence, a night-time shot or a particularly flashy scene, i would look behind again. but the two lights coming through the wall always remained colourless, and the dust always danced. it fascinated me.

our trip to the ‘special press’ theatre is something i cannot recollect at all. perhaps because as a child my parents accompanied me everywhere; i was not allowed on treks and long picnics and had to attend a college just one train-stop away from home. i even had given the job interview without the knowledge of my parents who were away in lonavla then. and i was glad to have got the job because then i could show them that i too needed a space of my own. i think i used to rebel a lot as is with most ‘protected’ girls of that age, and once i was in the world i just let things happen.

i had hardly travelled in the suburbs in mumbai. my daily commute was from thane to currey road, from where i would walk to our office in lower parel, and then the same route on my way back. the ten or 11 of us colleagues had travelled together in two or three batches by taxi, and i didn’t bother to ask about the destination. once we were inside the theatre, i noticed that the crowd consisted almost entirely of people from the press. they smoked like chimneys and sipped beer from the glass they held in their other hand. we were ushered in right away by venkatesh, our boss, to secure our seats well in time before the show begun. ten minutes into the screening and i winced. i could see that it was going to be a really boring movie, and i was already feeling tired and terrible that i was there. i shifted in my seat uncomfortably and tried to look at how the others were enjoying the film. they were.

fifteen minutes later, a bell rang weakly, announcing the first break. venky explained that since this was a press screening, there would be a few breaks and we were free to buy some snacks or visit the bathroom.

grabbing the chance, i escaped out of the doors but gasped for breath when i came out. it felt like every smoker had decided to smoke all of the 20 cigarettes in his pack and one would require fog-lights to see through the lounge. the smell of tobacco and beer hung heavily in the air and i desperately wanted to cry and just get away from it all. just then i noticed a narrow flight of stairs to my right and rushed up the stairs. it was a spiral staircase and stopped only in front of a small room on the left. i peeped in to find boxes and huge reels and reel-cases of all sizes. suddenly a man appeared from nowhere and asked: “kya chahiye?” (what do you want?)

arre bhai, usse kaho toilets neeche hai,” (tell the person the bathroom is downstairs), a kinder voice suggested, though i could not see the man. still very much startled by the first voice, i turned to go down but i remembered the smoke and looked back again. “bhaisaab, kya yeh projection room hai?” i asked, mustering all my courage. (is this a projection room?)

the man with the kind voice then walked over to me and replied in the affirmative. i then requested if i could stay in the room with them, and that i would like to see how they worked. ahmedbhai was more than pleased. “you won’t write a story on me na?” he joked in his broken english and i said no. i am still training to be a journalist like them, i said truthfully.

“okay, koi baat nahi, come and sit here,” said ahmedbhai again and pulled a chair for me. big and greying, there was something very noble about this ahmedbhai, who was proud of what he was doing even if it didn’t buy him good kurtas for himself. i think he said he was ‘behind the reels’ for over 20 years, and now he had a helping hand. in fact he had begun to save so an early retirement wouldn’t worry him, in case they did not need him anymore. “anything can happen these days, and no one will remember us,” he sighed. he was correct indeed.

the break was over in another two minutes and he said they were ready to roll again. he showed how films are packed into reels and how they fit it into the box in the wall. then all he had to do was start a switch and whirrrrrrrrrrrr…the movie continued. ahmedbhai’s colleague handed me a cup of canteen-chai…too sweet and bursting with the flavour of cardamom. forty-five minutes and one more break later, the movie was nearing the end and i decided to go back to my colleagues. i thanked ahmedbhai a lot and told him that for the first time i felt i had learnt something different, different from that the books were supposed to teach and different from what anyone had asked me to learn. i even noted down his number and he said i could come and visit him again. “people just come to this building to watch movies,” he said. “today you made us happy by giving us company, so thank you to you,” he laughed, and shook my hand with both of his.

excited and full of the freedom i had just experienced, i ran down the stairs to the lounge, where even the cigarette-smoke didn’t bother me now. venky was talking to someone and as soon as he saw me he motioned me to come inside. understandably, all my colleagues were worried as to where i had disappeared without a word, and despite the fact that i was the youngest among them, they said that i should have behaved like a grown-up. the next day at office, the tale of my disappearance was narrated to two or three others who had missed the screening, and all day they too teased affectionately: “when will you grow up rads?”

today as i write this i wonder when that happened.

i wish i was the same curious little girl who convinced her father’s car mechanic to teach her driving, and then hid behind him when she drove into four plants and a brick wall, or the girl who set fire to her newly painted kitchen when she wanted to see what would happen if she heated a few candles. i wish i was the girl who once climbed a dilapidated building in orissa, just to get a good picture of a state that was mourning the death of its chief minister; and once again, the asbestos roof of a hotel to help a friend get a good picture of the charminar. i wish i was the same girl who playfully yelled “thiruda thiruda” while on a terrace with close cousins in bangalore at three in the morning, and discovered the next day that i had accidentally helped to catch a real thief! i wish i could be awed by magic once more and i wish silly jokes could make me laugh. i wish i hadn’t stepped back from the projector room that day, or thought about dinner and my in-laws and praveen (who, i’m sure would have wanted to see it himself had i told him). i wish my journal was more about new beginnings, rather than old chapters in my life that i leaf through again and again.

i wish i didn’t have to grow up. i just wish i was selfish again ๐Ÿ˜


  • Happy Hacker said:

    Vande Matram ๐Ÿ™‚

    Just wanted to put my footprints in the sand before my journey of a 1000 miles.

  • devesh said:

    oh god how very similar!!! being in a cinema hall, i’ve never ever fancied the movie as much as i’ve fancied looking behind me at the projector beam.

    so much as to when i was young, my nana got me this small tiny projector where you can attach proper 35mm reels and manually wind the mechanism to enjoy my childish reality cinema hall in my own tiny bedroom ๐Ÿ™‚

    i still have it back home, with loads of old hindi movies cut off-extra reels ๐Ÿ˜›

  • The Mottai Boss aka Kaatss said:

    update your blogroll please


    old url http://karthiknvenkat.blogspot.com

    Karthik Narayanan Venkatesh

  • reshma said:

    beautiful entry!

  • Happy Hacker said:

    Why have you stopped writing ?

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