Of the many ‘firsts’ that leave an imprint on our lives, the ‘First movie viewed in a theatre’ may not make it to most people’s lists; which would include other honorable firsts, say for example, the first love, first car, first job and a host of other firsts.
But for me it was very different.
The first movie I viewed in theatre was a film called Nasbandi.
I was 6-years old.
This is my story.
THE SETTING: SIKKIM
The year was 1978 and we were spending our summer break in Sikkim, visiting my uncle (now Late) working with the Border Roads Organization (BRO). For those who care to know, BRO is a quasi military service that, in difficult terrains, could hold more clout than, say, the Head Office (HO). So yeah, in the frontier areas too it’s possibly BROs before HOs!
Sikkim was fresh off the oven, having become a part of the Indian Union only a few years back. It had an ethnic mix of Nepalese, Sikkimese, Biharis, Marwaris etc. One would hear that till a few years back, people in Sikkim did not know about the existence of locks, as they didn’t have any need for them. Concepts of pelf and theft were alien to them. (Incidentally, all this is immaterial to the rest of the story.)
The people of the state were in thrall of a most majestic natural icon looming over the horizon, but visible only when the clouds or fog would clear up — the Kanchenjunga.
One of the daily morning activities that we kids gave ourselves was checking if Kanchenjunga was visible that day. Like little teachers we would seek to take attendance, and the indulgent peak would play hide ‘n seek to mark its presence. (Still immaterial to the story, but sounded cute, no?)
In pre-TV days, this was one way we made up our entertainment mix. Another part of the mix would come from a familiar source — cinema.
THE FIRST MOVIE IN A THEATRE
Over the years, whenever a discussion with friends veered towards ‘your first movie’, the answers would range from the iconic to the inspiring.
My wife, for example, watched Jai Santoshi Ma along with her family*, as her first movie. Now, this is how sanskari kids are brought up.
Some friends had started their cinematic tryst with Sholay. Some started off with Ben Hur or Star Wars. Some younger friends cite Hum Aapke Hain Koun or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Even younger ones say Lagaan.
You get the point, right?
On the other hand, there’s something fundamentally awkward about Nasbandi being your first movie.
It’s like a permanent tattoo that still hurts. An invisible yet glaring tattoo in block letters, that says: ‘Meri pehli film Nasbandi thhi’ (My first film was Nasbandi)! And its impact — in the same league as that of Vijay’s tattoo in Deewar.
*Glad that my father-in-law asked me an easy set of questions from theology, human psychology, anthropology and mythology, before he agreed to let his daughter marry me!
THE MID-1970s & I.S. JOHAR
Many of you would be aware of the socio-political environment in India in the mid-1970s. Emergency had been declared. The government of the day and it’s agencies went about enforcing their version of what makes for good governance with unrestrained fervour.
Population control was one such mission that the government launched with the harmless sounding family planning (parivar niyojan) programme. Except that, the onus of planning wasn’t left to the family, but enforced by the strong arms of the government and the deft fingers of it’s healthcare workers!
Forced sterilization is said to have been the demonitization equivalent of the day, and therefore the resonance of nasbandi in note-bandi for some critics.
The 70s were also the time for humourist and film-maker I.S. Johar to carve a niche for himself in satire, and Nasbandi was his tongue-in-cheek satirical counterattack** to the forced sterilization programme.
**(Note: Today, I see a parallel of that in the way a section of the contemporary crop of stand-up comedians responded to demonetization.)
Much before Mithun Chakraborty and TLV Prasad institutionalized the Ooty-mein-shooty business template of churning out low-cost films shot in a single schedule in Mithun’s resorts in Ooty — I.S. Johar too had worked out his own cost-effective business model for making films.
He would hire ‘duplicates’ of top stars, give them names which sounded similar to the A-listers and make full length feature films with them. What the global millennials today call doppelgangers; is the cadre of professionals customarily called ‘duplicates’ in Indian cinema.
So, Nasbandi had Amitabh Bachchan’s duplicate — Anitabh Bachchan!
Close your eyes.
Time to unpeel another layer from the onion bulb of my childhood psyche.
As if Nasbandi itself wasn’t bad enough, my first film also starred a counterfeit Amitabh Bachchan!
And a counterfeit Shashi Kapoor, and a counterfeit Shatrughan Sinha…
It was like, my cinema baptism was being done with gol gappe ka paani made with spurious ingredients from dubious sources.
[Digression: Okay, so my parents did make up for the spurious Amitabh experience with a follow up film a few weeks later with the real Amitabh Bachchan. However, that too was a film that I trust many die-hard Amitabh fans might not have seen — a film called Aalaap.]
I have no memories of the actual film Nasbandi. The only scene I remember well had the genius of the late Rajendranath, and it went something like this…
Rajendranath had been cornered by some policemen and taken to a ‘nasbandi kendra‘ (sterlization center). There he was required to drop his pants. And then his underpants.
In a madcap scene, (which in distant hindsight, combined Chaplin and cheer-haran) every time Rajendranath would drop his underpants, there was another layer of underpants beneath it. In a fast-forward sequence the above steps were repeated on loop, till the hospital staff finally gave up in the face of a mountain of underpants!
For a 5-6 year old THIS WAS IT! I’d been voluntarily enrolled to the Rajendranath Fan Club as a life-member on the spot.
Of course, when we went to watch the movie, I had NO IDEA, what nasbandi meant or the socio-political trends of the day, or the concept of satire.
It was Rajendranath’s underpants epic scene that made for some happy childhood memories!
People say that Freud said that the roots of an adult person’s psychological issues can directly be traced back to childhood events.
Maybe that’s why, when I was coming of age, and went to a see a movie independently for the first time with friends (and not with family) I went for Dada Kondke’s ‘Andheri Raat Mein Diya Tere Haath Mein‘.
And till today, I can reel off Dada Kondke’s dialogues from the film, even though with the passing of years, the cringe-meter started registering higher & higher readings.
My love for cinema has acquired many hues over the years, but remained forever singed by the pre-Instagram filter: The 1978 Summer in Sikkim.