GAIETY-GALAXY: & THE BLACK MARKETby Sharad Raj November 29 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 33 secs
Sharad Raj elaborates on the calculations his wife and he made at the beginning of their life together in Mumbai, which led to them breaking into buying movie tickets in black.
The maternal side of my family was obsessed with movie watching, entertainment news and gossip columns of the erstwhile Stardust and Star & Style. And they were well placed professionals, yet. Going for a movie was a Saturday ritual in our family, either as an independent unit or with friends and extended family members, whatever the case maybe. It was sacrosanct. Bollywood entertainers were an integral part of my life long before Ray and Ghatak entered. Godard and Fellini were runheard of, Hollywood was the epitome of good cinema, with Jaws, The Great Escape and Towering Inferno being benchmarks of what a good movie should ideally be. Of course, certain Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock were considered a class apart, far away from weekend entertainers, one was used to. Hence my entrée into moviedom can be considered a genetically loaded trait that I inherited from my nansaal (maternal side).
My poor father soaking in Keats and Ghalib had to make peace with this movie mania of his in-laws for the love for his wife, my mother. Dad was at the helm of a successful medical practice, hence well connected and influential. So, booking tickets for a movie was never an insurmountable chore for us. He would pick up the phone, call the movie hall, speak with the manager and our tickets were kept at his office for us to pay and pick. Always pay for the tickets and NEVER buy one in black, were his commands that we would dare not challenge. So up until 1995, I had never bought a movie ticket in black!
Then Mumbai (Bombay, back then) happened, and I got married soon after. My wife and I started our lives on frugal means. Movie-going was not so frequent because affording a ticket every weekend was difficult. To add to that, it was impossible to get movie tickets in Mumbai in current booking unless the film was a big flop. Both she and I had never bought tickets in black. It was highly impractical to go to a theatre, to stand in a que and buy tickets, and then go to see a film again. Cost apart our work schedule did not permit us that luxury. Mind you, those were pre-internet, pre-cell phones and pre-multiplex days.
Then in 1995 came the Aamir Khan, Manisha Koirala starrer, Akele Hum Akele Tum, directed by Mansoor Khan. The unofficial remake of Kramer vs Kramer, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. This was a huge reference point and one was keen to see what Mansoor Khan, after two immensely successful films, Qayamat se Qayamat Tak and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, had done to this popular Hollywood film.
My wife and I made the Akele Hum Akele Tum plan for a Saturday evening at the suburban Mecca of movies - the Gaiety-Galaxy-Gemini complex, off S.V. Road, in Bandra, a posh Mumbai suburb. The dinner at a humble restaurant was factored in and we decided to take an auto rickshaw that evening to the movie instead of BEST bus, to add to luxury. We had no advance booking but took a chance. Lo and behold we were disappointed. Tickets were sold out! We were put off, as we were keen to see the film. It was then that I mooted the idea of buying tickets in black! What followed was a long silence, contemplation and the dilemma of choice. My wife too had never had to buy tickets in black and was brought up by similar principles. However, more practical of the two, my wife started to calculate the cost of coming to see the film on another day.
The cost of travelling by an auto rickshaw and a meal in a restaurant second time in a month were costlier than buying two tickets in black for Rs. 220!!! Returning home without seeing the film meant it would ruin my Sunday. My wife knew that. She was not much of a movie buff so it did not matter to her as much. I pressed the cost angle to her. Coming again to see the film in fair price was a luxury she agreed, so what did we do? We decided to buy the tickets in black!!! Practical economics had shattered the combined upbringing of both of us.
As luck would have it, it turned out to be a bad film and we rued the fact that we had compromised for such a forgettable film. We returned home well past midnight, disappointed and disturbed, in silence. We both had allowed the high cost of living in Mumbai to overpower and influence our decision. And took us awhile to tell our folks that we had watched a film after buying tickets in black!
The shackles of bourgeois morality were broken, and that evening started my long-lasting friendship with the gate keeper (as the men guarding the doors of the theatre were then called) of Gaiety-Galaxy. I never even tried to book a ticket thereafter and with great confidence started to go to Gaiety-Galaxy, say hi to him and he would take me in to the manager’s cabin and give me the tickets!
The films to follow Akele Hum Akele Tum were Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Mission Kashmir and Pyaar Toh Hona Hi Tha!