Fridays were always special and they always will be. In my books Friday was the beginning of the end of the week. No wonder I always looked forward to Fridays. One of the main things that made Friday special for me was that it was movie day. Since year nine there have been countless number of times that I have wagged school to go to the movies. And the majority of them would have been on a Friday. It also happened to be the day they changed movies at the theatres around Colombo. By choice Friday was movie day for me just as it was pension day for the pensioners.
Each Friday we would pore over the daily new papers in search of the movie guide section. Unlike today’s hight speed Internet and instant access this was our only source of movie information. Offcourse we did not purchase the papers !! . As far as we were concerned it was a waste of money. So we always stopped off early morning at a friend’s house in Puncchi Boralle, whose parents happened to buy the Friday papers. Who cared about news of the great wide world, when we had Rs. 3.50 in our pocket and a few hours left to eagerly attempt to source up the balance Rs. 1.50. This came in the form of a loan from non-movie going friends. First class tickets were then priced at a schoolboy’s premium 5 Rupees, which meant there wasn’t much to spare around.
Unlike the single price tickets found in theatres here, they were divided into separate sections called gallery, first class, ODC, balcony and boxes. Each section had its own price tag which varied according to the viewing choices.
The front rows in the theatre were called the gallery. In keeping with the name the tickets were also the cheapest. Of course after watching a movie in the gallery you were far better off heading right away to the chiropractors, rather than wait for the next morning to wake with a stiff neck. As for the patrons it normally used to attract the most loud mouthed, unsavoury characters I’ve still come across. I wouldn’t dream of bumping into some of them in a dark ally !.
Then followed the first class rows and the ODC. One would think first class offered more luxurious seats, the best that was on offer. However in this case it was wedged in between the Gallery rows and the Ordinary dress circle (ODC). I for the life of me cannot figure out how or why they choose such a name. Neither do I know what dress code was so ordinary that they needed to be separated from the rest !!!!. On most days we tried hard to get first class tickets, not so much for its prestige, but since it offered better value for our budget as well as our health. !!
ODC, as the name suggest was quite ordinary. Occasionally we would splash out and get ODC tickets, which were almost double the price of gallery tickets. I guess being in an “ordinary” area automatically subdued its partons, because I can rarely remember any hyped up activity or fights
Happening In here.
The most prestigious seats used to be upstairs which were the balcony and boxes. They seemed to offer a lot more creature comfort with greater viewing angle and comfort. The boxes used to be called “love nest”, which were mainly visited by couples. As hard as I tried I am still to visit one !!!, not for the lack of availability of the boxes, but for the lack of girls willing to accompany me into one !!!
On Fridays having a boring double English was a heaven sent, making it more worthwhile wagging school for the movies. Our favourite “jump spot” was the old, high wall in the school grounds bordering Mackwoods. We would hang around the grounds, bags ready like vultures waiting for the spoils, eyeing the movement of the prefects before making a dash. Since the “spot” was at the end of the grounds we had to move from the populated area of the pavilion to the desolate end of the wall, which in turn made us stand out like prairie dogs. Therefore it was impossible to make any excuses presentable when caught in this “jump” area, since any presence there would only have been motivation for wagging school.
The wall had a few foot holes, in the form of missing bricks. Perhaps only time can tell how many came before us and how many would have followed. Judging by the quite clearly stained wall I’d say there were heaps who’d taken that route. Jumping the wall lead us onto the main road, which some times were peppered with prefects awaiting prey like a stalking lioness. Many times we’ve pitted our survival dash skill against some of the best athletic prefects, luckily for me I’ve survived those few incidents.
The 10.30 shows were always packed with students. It was a sea of white shirts as I remember. Having many cinemas so closely located was to our advantage, since we could walk to them. Each cinema would have huge crowds of “schoolies” in white uniforms queuing up. It is enlightening to know that the trouble we went through, at the sheer risk of being disciplined by our schools, lead them to be the most lucrative sessions for the cinema owners.
After a good half hour to forty five minutes of queuing, the doors would open and start processing the queue. People heading for the balcony seats would rock up 10 minutes earlier in some cases and be let in through the main entrance. Any couples walking in were pretty much automatically accepted
From the main entrance, but at this time they were far and few. Perhaps immediate entry was to spare them the hungry gaze of a thousand schoolboys eyes upon them. The rest of the queues were processed from secondary entrances which in some cases resembled prison passages. Each theatre was unique in its own way. Some leaked during rain, some had wet floors after the rain, some had holes in the seats large enough to put your feet through, some cushions were as hard as rock, sitting on them for too long would give you a hernia !. Some seats had double the capacity of ticks found on a mangy old dog.
At the beginning of the morning show, the hall would fill with cat calls and shrill whistles from the excited crowd. I swear that some times you had to gaze through a haze of cigarette smoke thick enough to be cut by a knife. Some times a broken AC would leave the crowd in a sweltering heat, but still puffing on their cigarettes. I do not know what made the guys smoke so much, perhaps it was the excitement, but they did light up as if there was no tomorrow.
Offcourse a lot depended on the movie. The more scantly clad, the more revealing girls were in it, the longer the queue. In fact you wouldn’t need to be a high-class movie critic, a great deal could be said about the movie by studying the crowds in the queue. One such movie I remember was “village in the jungle” which was similar to the Indiana Jones adventures chronicles. Come to think of it I am still “tormented” by some scenes, where a captured foreigner is being converted into a goddess by some natives. Now as we all know since junior school, in order to be a goddess you first have to be given a really good oily rub down, buck naked !!. This also happened to be performed by a bevy of gorgeous looking native girls who also happened to be semi-starkers !.
I am still to witness such long movie queues, full of hormone pumped school boys salivating at the thought of such scenes. This went on day after day until the movie ended. Come to think of it I still have not been in any other queue like that one either, except when I went to watch it for the second time !!!
These days each time I am at the movies my thoughts cross over to a nostalgic period in school. Perhaps the thrill of watching some of these movies was magnified by the challenges and obstacles which therefore made them more special and exciting. The eternal shortage of cash, the dangers of wagging school, escaping over walls, chases by prefects made the whole movie going experience a far more thrilling entertainment package. Of the many memories that are etched in my mind at Ananda, this experience has its own bittersweet Longing.
By the way if you happen to come across a good movie like that showing in a theatre nearby you, please let me know !!!
Source - Sunday Times ( November 24, 2002)
The writer is National President/General Secretary of The Sri Lanka section of the International Theosophical Society.
Copyright © 2001 OAAV. All rights reserved.