Siddalingeshwara, Renuka Prasanna, Raghavendra, Shiva, Kamakya, Mahadeshwara, Maheshwari. These Gods have something else in common….they also lend their names to some popular ‘touring talkies” of Bangalore. Also colloquially known as ‘tent‘ or ‘tent cinema‘.
If you ever looked beyond your nose, you might have noticed posters in two-tone, plastered on walls that also serve as free urinals. These posters, usually in combinations of bright red, green, yellow, blue and pink are like front page solus for the pissers-by. In one leak, they give you a glimpse of all the movies running in the nearby locality. So as you release yourself, you also get an idea of the latest releases, right before you.
The posters follow the rule of territorial pissings. Never does a poster stray into a wall from where the tent is not reachable by cycle or foot. So if you are seeing the poster, sniff harder, and you can smell the tent somewhere nearby.
These posters artistically reduce the entire story line to a single picture, maintaining absolute transparency on what to expect. Designed for people who have no time to waste. They only part with vital information, cutting out all the crap. And mostly supported with line drawings of the hero and heroines in relevant poses for the benefit of ones who don’t enjoy reading. If it’s action, it’s only the hero with a gun or a machchu (big sickle). If it’s romance, the heroine is also added, in the arms of the hero. If it’s an adult movie, the lips of the shapeless heroine are given an extra bleed effect, and the ‘A’ certificate is flashed like a headline.
What matters is what’s mentioned. Like a poster for Tarzan that says ‘Starring Kimi Katkar’. Why even mention ‘Hemant Birje’ when it is of no consequence? The poster for the kannada movie ‘Jogi’ reads ‘Shivarajkumar and Yana Gupta’. Even if Yana Gupta is only there in one song, she surely has been put to better use than the main heroine of the film. So ‘Jennifer Kotwal’ has been mercilessly knocked off from the credits.
If your nose doesn’t lead you to the location, look out for carts selling ‘Mewad‘ cone ice cream, vendors carrying huge placards displaying screen printed photographs of heroes and heroines or mithaiwalas who pull gummy tapes from under the skirt of a doll and shape it up like a ring or a watch on your hand for you to lick on.
Look further and you’ll see a thatched roof cinema house…..The tent.
As you approach the tent, a rare scent of arrack mixed with urine invites you to join a queue of assorted characters. This is probably the most open-minded audience you can ever come across. The language is of nobody’s concern, as everyone is clear as to what to expect. They blindly believe that the poster will live up to its promise.
(All kinds of films including Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and English, yes even English movies are screened here. Currently, one of them is playing ‘Quantum of Solace’. They have all their love to give, be it for Akshay Kumar, Annavaru, Rajni, James Bond, Jackie Chan or Shakila. Oh no! How did I forget?…they also screen Malayalam movies. In fact they even have a fixed slot – The morning show.)
As the queue gathers length, the scent of sweat proportionally intensifies. Once the counter opens, the queue changes its shape to a circle. But there is no reason to panic, as the concept of ‘HOUSE FULL’ doesn’t exist here.
There are no seat numbers, infact a part of the tent has no seats. Every tent has two basic classifications. ‘Nela’ (means ground), where it’s an open cemented floor right below the screen, where you can squat or lie down or do what you please. And seat, which are rows of steel or plastic chairs welded to each other to avoid any chair being hurled at the screen out of excitement or disgust.
There is also a separate queue dedicated to brave women and family folk. Somehow, people who do not belong to this esteemed crowd, know without being told, and just leave them alone.
Nela sells for Rs. 5 a ticket and seat for Rs. 20. The two are separated by a long horizontal bamboo pole and a mutual understanding to stay away from each other’s spaces. If the seats are filled up, simply find your own corner to stand.
The cleaners are grounded, the drivers are seated and the show begins, if it already hasn’t. Usually, there’s a small chamak (a little stunt to give a sudden dose of excitement) before the film begins. A random glimpse of the movie on hold, is played for a few seconds to check picture and sound quality. Enough to send the audience into a frenzy, and make them express ‘impatience’ in as many variations as possible. The madness continues till the projector gets its tuning right, and reaches a crescendo when it finally manages to.
Two naked kids blow their trumpets from either side of the canvas. A tuneless tune blares out from the ‘Ahuja‘ speakers, prompting the spectators to outdo their previous performance. The screen is now filled with silhouettes of ecstatic drunkards blocking the projector.
Once the credits begin to announce names that don’t matter, the audience settle down, leaving behind a trail of beedi smoke to follow the rays that’ll soon unveil their God on screen.