The Lower Stalls

By Madhav Chavan

There is a big part of India where the Lower Stall, the Upper Stall, Balcony, and Dress Circle still survive although they are under threat from the upstart multiplexes. The Family Boxes were around in smaller towns well into the sixties but they suffered the same fate as the family rooms in the Irani restaurants near colleges. They disappeared because they were serving unintended purposes. Can you remember whether Dress Circle was the more expensive or the Balcony? For some years I thought it was the Balcony and then someone told me that the Dress Circle was more expensive.  In some cinemas it was the other way round. It did not make a difference. I could only afford the Stalls, mostly the lower kind.  The idea was to get a seat in the last row of  the Lower Stalls and then smirk at the bloke who had the first row in Upper Stalls sitting behind you.

I ran into an old school friend recently who said he can’t afford the multiplexes and did not see why he should bother. After all, he said, at least in the old cinemas people pay less if their noses are going to stick to the screen. In the multiplexes you pay the same high price whether you are looking up the screen or down. Besides, it is more fun in the Lower Stalls where people are honest enough to get up and leave if they get bored, or lustily whistle if they find something exciting for whatever reason. Remember My Fair Lady? What is the point in going to the races if you cannot shout profanities?

Unfortunately, I have joined the multiplex class now and I had completely forgotten how it was to watch movies with the “masses”. But, thanks to Shanti, who works for Pratham (http://www.pratham.org), I went to watch “Chak de India” at either Gaiety or Galaxy at Bandra in Mumbai. Once upon a time you could smell perfume as you entered the cinema hall here. But, now it is a cinema of the masses. Anyhow, Shanti’s husband, who was one of the production managers of the movie had give her forty odd passes for the NGO group to have a good time. I was invited too.

I went back thirty years as I saw the crowd erupt with energy every now and then. They identified with the underdog team, that was clear. I was watching their faces when the girls beat up the boys in the fast food place. In all probability more than half had been guilty of eve-teasing. But, they were all behind the girls as they smashed the boys. The cheer that went up when Shah Rukh says, “Yeh hockey hai.. yahaan chhakkon ka kam nahin hai (in hockey..there are no cowards)”, was just mind blowing. They should have stopped the film till it died down.

(Why is SRK promoting cricket now??). Every patriotic dialog was greeted with loud cheering, and whistling. Jingoism? Did not seem like it. They were all with the Manipur girl who wonders why she is being welcomed in her own country. The Punjabi kuddi was appreciated for her spirit. They sympathized with the Jharkhand tribal girls. I enjoyed the side show more than the movie that day. There is no doubt that Chak de was a hit in the multiplexes too but what a pity that the multiplex crowd cannot see and sense what I felt that day.

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