Woh pehli baar, jab hum mile

— Nabojyoti Sarkar

Woh pehli baar, jab hum mile

I was born a ‘paka bacha’ and started to understand ‘oisob’ pretty early in my childhood, but with our middle class values I was only allowed to watch a specific genre of entertainment. Even that was also not aplenty during those days (FYI, I am a late 80s kid), which deprived me of this fine pleasure of life. I was only left to ogling those wall-embracing movie posters with rapt attention every day while coming to and going back from school. So as the wait prolonged, my intrigue for the silver screen increased. Then, one day, my prayers were answered.

My family was based out of Kolkata, however, all our relatives were from a small town in North Bengal and hence throughout the year my home would witness a heavy influx of relatives, both near and distant ones, from my paternal and maternal sides, some irritating and some nice. The reasons for visiting varied from taking examinations, getting medical check-ups done to absolute ‘pleasure’ trips which involved visiting the state capital. As a child, there was rarely a dull day for me and lull day for my mother, who had to shuttle between kitchen chores and doctors’ visits in Kolkata. However, whenever her sisters (she had three of them) used to visit us, she seemed happier (for obvious reasons) than when my dad’s sisters visited us (again, for obvious reasons).

That morning is still fresh in my mind, when my maasi was visiting our home and I sensed my mom and maasi speaking in hushed tones and thru amateurish hand signals. The devil in me knew that clandestine plans were being hatched which I wasn’t a party to. The curious kid in me tried overhearing them, but intercepting conversations between sisters, is not just difficult, but impossible. A surreptitious strategy was devised. Lunch was served earlier than usual and I was lulled into a quick afternoon nap. The result - my doubts not only refused to die, they intensified further. But I played along, lest someone find out my diabolical plot. Soon after, the conspiracy was all out in the open. I could smell the strong fragrance of Vicco turmeric cream and the mild fragrance of ponds powder (that’s what beauty treatment meant to my mother then), and I knew a secret trip was in order. I waited for a little more, and then at the very moment when the lights of the room went out, I jumped out of the bed and started wailing, kicking, crying creating a never before witnessed ruckus as my mom and maasi stood there as helpless onlookers, clueless how such a meticulously designed adult puzzle had been cracked by the tiniest of minds around. It was my first planned ruckus, not something I am proud of now, but then it worked like magic on that day. The elephant had to be tamed now and here I was – all dressed up and all set. I was now an integral part of the very plan, that at the start, I was not considered worthy participating in.

I had no idea where they were going, but as soon as we boarded an auto (no, there were no Ola/Uber in those days) and the destination was told to the driver, a deep sense of exhilaration and excitement overpowered me. Yay, we were going for a movie, my first ever movie in a theatre. It was the Ajay Devgan-Madhoo starrer, “Phool aur Kaante”, an absolute potboiler consisting of mushy romantic scenes and over-the-top action sequences. Just what the doctor doctored, said I to myself. My self-inflicted debacle at home and then the time required for buying an extra ticket, ensured that we entered the theatre after the lights were off. The torchbearer (literally) came to our rescue and finally all three of us were seated.

The initial credit rolls completed, the actors appeared onscreen, and there I was befuddled to see something so extraordinary in front of me. Till then, my life revolved around a 14 inch black & white television and there I was looking at this huge coloured portrayal of life. For the first time, I realized what larger than life meant. Unable to handle my enthusiasm, I spoke up, to my mother’s utter embarrassment, quiet loudly, because I had to be audible amidst the sound of the movie. I asked my mother, “Why are the characters so large?” She tried pacifying me, first thru rebuke and then by using some random logic but to no avail. I was relentless and kept pestering her - my questions were sacrosanct. When fellow cine goers started uttering sounds of irritation and some interjected to give us a piece of their mind for spoiling their seamless movie experience, I finally gave up and focussed on the spectacle unfolding in front of me.

I was mesmerized at the sight and the sound. The dark cinema halls create an absolute sense of anonymity, unlike watching television at home with people and lights surrounding you. Here, I couldn’t see my mother sitting beside me. I felt lonely and yet attracted to the visuals, the experience. I didn’t understand much about the movie, but the soundscape, the unleashing of emotions and the climax fight where like all Indian stories, the good triumphed over evil remained etched in my memory for long. I was in awe, my love for movies had started, and also my craving for watching them in a theatre. Even now, when I close my eyes, scintillating visuals of that movie day gush into my mind. I can recall feeling a sense of dejection that only a child can feel when his favourite toy is lost as I walked out of the theatre, clutching my mom’s hand. It was like breaking up with your first love, but somewhere I knew it was not over yet. This love was going to linger on, forever. We were just getting started, Darling!!!