Five rupees worth thin square sized pink paper sheets fed a lifetime of pupil-dilating love that was devoted, unflinching and powered with a passion of age. It was the beaming eighties.
A group of four young boys residing in the school hostel located at the center of the city left straight to the theatres post-school, jumping over its boundary walls, brushing off the dirt from the jump. They arrived at the crowded theatres in uniforms and bags over their back. They watched two shows straight-the evening show and night show, sometimes of the same film that awed them. Repeated viewing became a ritual and in the process, the boys emerged as ardent admirers of the art and its henchmen.
Alaigal Oivathillai defined and redefined their love. Nizhalgal and Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu brought to them insights on what the materialistic world out there is made of and inspired them to stay steadfast to their morals. These films were set rarely in line with reality that resonated with these boys. There were Moondraam Pirai, Nayagan, Thalapathi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Thillu Mullu, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi - all fundamentally different but fascinating.
Meanwhile, the boys had moved to college but cinema had remained the school of life, reminding them of moments to be relished forever and ever.
This love grew, evidently glorious in the four young hearts. They were these four crazy college boys, heads over heels in love with that one girl - the girl here being Cinema. She occupied their tea - time, night outs and booze time conversations. Every talk spiraled in and out of her.
Fate and life, however, weren't generous enough to favor this affinity. It brought with it a reality check. The four boys became four men - each in different corners and varied spheres of life forced into society's conventions of marriage and other commitments. Years rolled by as time fueled the most irreversible of all changes.
Lucky and fortunate film theatres were groomed to become multiplexes while the unlucky and unfortunate ones were doomed to be marriage halls. Ticket prices soared higher as these men were busy in their hectic offices performing the mundane and the mandatory tasks of the day.
They managed a momentary glimpse of their love in a medium, compact and condensed within the living room walls - television which became their then Netflix and Prime. They watched Sindhu Bhairavi at least a 100 times on Raj TV and Nayagan a two hundred times. These men stayed up late to watch the old films unfold in the little screen and made calls at 1 am to discuss the temerity of a scene in Anjali where Prabhu rebukes the course of the Apartment welfare association meet thereby favoring the guileless kid.
Occasional theater visits became a familial affair. Yet, the men were in no heart to part with their love. They kept track of films and its life with the review columns in Ananda Vikatan that continues to have a strangely stringent and standard policy for validating movies. The men attempted to watch a few films that the magazine held in high esteem. Amid this, arrived a three-page review in the weekly (one of the longest)in 2013 lauding every bit of that specific movie which was surprising, suspenseful and what not - Soodhu Kavvum! The four men rushed to the theatres in their respective cities with an urge irresistible. They returned cock -a - hoop like a child with a new toy singing praises for the new -age comedy which their kids thought they might not even care about. The recession cycle of these men reversed.
In the Endhiran lives, their ardor was sheltered in Moodarkoodam while the haunting in their hearts was hunted out by Sathuranga Vettai. A late glimpse of the Mysskin film on the TV channels assured their tickers 'Anjaathey!'
The quartet was left fascinated with the stabs of Attakathi which drifted them back to the days of their Varuthapadaatha Vaalibar Sangam zone.
The four empathized with VIP and were plaintively provoked by Paradesi. These films left them amazed while their hearts whispered, "Itharkuthaane Aasai pattai Balakumara?"
The reality driven wonders they witnessed growing up seemed to return - enamored and enhanced. Their isolation faded into bits. Scholars referred to this era as the new wave in Tamil Cinema and the wave cleansed the four hearts of the debris of unrequited love. This wave proved enormously interesting and inclusive for the Thani Oruvan left latent in their hearts.
The old four never stepped closer to Pizza Huts but their taste buds savored the delight in a young debutante’s Pizza. Their fondness towards this man grew with every serving and touched heights of infinity when he presented them their superstar in an intriguing package wrapped with gripping nostalgia. While the other films made them feel at home, with Petta, the four men felt being back at a boisterous school reunion.
Towards the end, in Petta, Rajini looks right at the audience through the magnanimous screen and asks, "Indha Aatam Pothuma Kuzhanthai?", a question directed sharply at the yearning kids within the four old men, now relieved, re-energized and Rajinified. The kids within were left with no answer. It took them a few moments to gather themselves together.
As the four men left the hall absolutely amazed, they stopped in the pathway, catching a glimpse of the digitized poster. They smiled to themselves and walked away. Outside the theatre were huge posters glued to the walls. Now, the four stood a moment longer gazing at the posters and at each other's faces. As Jean Paul had remarked there were times when the four had chosen to see films just by their posters. They had spent significant time staring at them, its people, its letters and slowly letting the life it held soak up in them.
The men parted waving each other good-bye, hoping to meet soon in a film that is fun and fascinating.
As they drove home, their hearts were transported to the golden old days when they used to sneak-in magazines and newspapers to cut out posters of their favorite films. The cut pieces of posters were then carefully held in places in closest proximity to their hearts. They were the divine messengers of their love for Cinema – it was their envoy of love. Those were days when posters preserved the post-movie elation and experience.
A deep breath followed the recall.
“The town was paper - but the memories were not!"
- John Green