Cinema is art, they say. An expression of the highest order. Mirth and melancholy in motion. State whatever you may, for me, cinema has always been that third-row seat at ‘Jagan Talkies’. Beside a soundly snoring grandma. Sucking slowly at a taffy, subconsciously swinging my legs to keep the mosquitoes away.
Going to the theater was a fanfare. For mainly two reasons.
One, such an occurrence did not transpire often. A film had to pass a few screening tests to acquire eligibility for the family viewing. No explicit, romantic ‘scenes’ as my posh grandmother liked to put it, her fingers making stern quotes on thin air. No gore or too much violence. It should be a product of someone from the well-revised ‘Trusted Heroes and Directors’ list. And most importantly, a show that ended before 8:30 pm, so the womenfolk could make their way home safely (in the secured ambassador with its trusted driver). A solemn request shall then be posted to grandpa who would grunt and painstakingly dial the theatre owner. Thus, the entire third row would be labeled ‘Doctor family seats’ and was rightfully ours to claim.
Two, the preparations we made on that day. The instant the tickets arrived, each of us would run one way. Grandma hurriedly stumbling to the kitchen, slamming the widest pans onto her stove, cutting open packets of golden groundnut oil. There were strips of potatoes to be fried, cashew nuts to be roasted, fresh fruits to be sliced and silverware to be washed and dried. By evening, these would be neatly placed in the yellow-violet wicker basket brought home as dowry. My mother would rush to the telephone, calling up the aunts, telling them the plan between bites of the latest street gossip. Me, dreaming of playing silly games with the cousins as I stood stead-fast besides grandma ready to do anything that she bid in the hopes of availing samples of the delicacies.
As the Saturday sun turned mellow, it would reflect off the well-washed ambassador waiting faithfully at the door. The house would smell deliciously of turmeric and coconut from the ladies. And yes, of Gokul Sandal from Grandma and Grandpa. With all aunts and cousins in attendance, it was a gilded procession. Literally gilded. Pristine maroon salwars, prim pink frocks, and proper peacock-green sarees. Silverware glinting in its basket, clinking along with the aunts.
Comprehensible as the 7-year old me found the films and its plot points, there was happiness. There was warmth somewhere within. I was content sitting there, kicking a cousin under the seat, our lips slick from cotton candy we bickered over. Cinema was more than just what was on-screen. It brought in people and built families.
I can still taste the cotton candy. And feel the sting where the mosquito bit. My grandma’s soft snore seems to drift in from my side. I sigh as I type, glancing now at the Netflix icon that looks quietly from a nearby tab. Jagan Talkies seems miles away. Aeons in fact. A swipe and a click. Netflix looms on screen. A phantom warmth blooms from somewhere within.