Synopsis: Eventually everything fades into oblivion because nothing is permanent except the pyramids. The glory, the accolades, the publicity and the fans that follow the celebrities fade away and the new generation remains ignorant of the past celebrities. This story is about my uncle.
I saw him for the first time when I was a just a child but the memory is still vivid. He came to our house with his beautiful wife and a baby to visit. We were told that he was a movie star and had appeared in many movies already and may be working on new ones.
People did not believe us when we told our friends that a movie star had come to visit us but it was true. I will reveal at the very end of this blog who he really was but not yet so hold on.
In those days in the 1940s the movies were all black and white and made in only 16 mm format. The cameras were primitive when compared to now and the sets and settings were simple. Often the movies were shot in villages or gardens or cities as the story demanded so no elaborate studio settings were needed.
We used to make fun of such movies because they never showed the hands of the hero if he was playing piano or other instruments like violin because they did not know how to play piano or violin so someone played and the hero just pretended to play.
It was also true when the heroine started to sing because we knew that she did not know how to sing. She just lip synched the songs someone else sang. This is still true. When the scene was shot in the studio, it was quite evident when the moon painted on a screen wavered because of electric fan but it was all fun just the same.
The movie star explained to us that they had to ride a mock up horse to show they were riding a real horse but it was all fake and legs of the horse were never shown because it was made of spring that someone had to shake out of the range of the camera to make the horse seem galloping. But it was all fun just the same.
The movies in those days were also called bioscope although those words have faded altogether from the collective memories of people.
The movie industry has come a long way since then with ultra modern Dolby sound , 72 mm wide angle screen, modern cameras and very elaborate sets and settings not to mention huge budget. No one will watch a black and white movie anymore in 16 mm. Those days are over.
The movie goers are now used to tremendous computer generated scenes, actions that are breathtakingly difficult and often dangerous, 3D movies, scenes shot with multiple cameras in dazzling colors projected on a screen 4 stories high and 75 feet wide. We watch movies like The great wall in aircon comfort munching on pop corn and just plain stupefied by the cinematography and acting of Matt Damon.
But in those days of 1940s, everything was primitive. The movie houses were full of bed bugs, dirt and torn seats. The most expensive seats were at the back that costs 75 US cents but the front seats went for as low as 20 cents. After running for several weeks, they sold the tickets at reduced rates so we often waited until it went down to reduced rates.
At the back of the movie house worked the artists who painted the posters in bright and gaudy colors that were then paraded downtown on the heads of coolies to advertise the showing. These posters mounted in frames and decorated with lights were all joined with long cables attached to a generator that people pulled so the parade of posters was a spectacle by itself with the all the colored and dancing lights and a band in front to make tremendous racket.
There was no advance booking so we had to fall in line to buy our 12 cent worth of reduced rate ticket but getting to the window was a struggle because there was no discipline. People shoved and pushed while the touts and scalpers offered the tickets at a higher price to those who did not like shoving and pushing.
There were no double features either. You had to show up on time and not in the middle of the show and had to leave when the show was over so the janitors could get to work and clean all the peanut shells people scattered.
We kids were very naughty so we rolled the coke bottles down the slope from behind which made a lot of noise especially when people were very engrossed in a romantic scene or tragic something. We also brought the tin frog to make more racket while people tried to hush us furiously while pinching the butts due to bed bugs but it was all for fun just the same.
At half time the lights came on and people rushed out to pee in the alleys because there was no toilet anywhere but first had to get a token from the gate keeper who checked it when you returned to your seat to make sure that you were not sneaking in without paying. At this time the chai wala kids took over the place and rattled the tea cups under your nose to take the order and annoyed people to no end. The peanut sellers were not to be outdone either.
Then the movie started after some endless commercials of soap, digestic tablets or vitamin pills and some trailers of the movies to come but finally the title of the movie and the names of actors etc. started to show up. It was hand written and filmed such was the technology. We had to endure such movies for at least two to three hours because people wanted their 12 cents worth and not less.
In religious movies, the pious audience even threw some coins onto the stage where the urchins fought for them in plain view creating more ruckus. Those were the days.
With this background let us return to our movie actor hero visiting us who told us many stories and how movies were made in the studios in sweltering heat with strong make up and people crowding behind the camera.
The heroines wore make up for sure but their lips looked black in the black and white movie. The color was not invented yet or the producer could not afford it but no one complained.
Our movie hero lived in style and was mobbed by young female and male admirers but mostly females that have not changed a bit after all these years so I feel pity for Matt Damon and Brad Pitts because they are always hiding or running away from the fans and the paparazzi.
His wife was so pretty but she was a housewife and did not like the movie world so all of a sudden at a young age when he was making a lot of money and was popular, he quit the movies and retired. The movie people were in shock and could not understand why and where he went.
He came to our home town, built a nice house and planted roses in his garden. His once handsome face now burnt black in the hot sun was unrecognizable except to his friends and relatives and he grew old. He had a golden voice and was a recording artist in his heydays. He made many records at the HMV studio in those days before the age of LPs but he sang no more now and played no more violin and piano.
He said that he was old and had lost many teeth so he was a shell of his former self so was very self-conscious about it. He preferred directing dramas where he taught young boys and girls how to act and sing during the pooja festival.
Twice we saw his drama played in the rented movie houses where the tickets were all sold out but that too was now in the past. He was a great artist in a true sense because he could act, play violin, sing and was very good in painting water or oil color masterpieces. This much talent in one person was hard to find in those days but I saw him wither before my eyes.
One day I approached him in his house when I showed up with a small tape recorder and requested him to sing but he at first hesitated saying his voice was no longer the same as before etc. but I was persistent so finally he pulled out his harmonium and sang no less than ten songs that I recorded.
The small Sony tape recorder recorded all the songs faithfully but was unable to play in their full grandeur because it had very small speakers but that changed when I was able to record the songs in my computer many years later and transferred them all to a CD that I played in my stereo. Only then his beautiful voice reemerged as if time had cast no shadow on it. I was thrilled to have made this recording of this great man and preserved what I could in a CD.
I then visited him at his new home where he usually stayed indoor and rarely went out because he had aged and had many illnesses.
His once beautiful wife too had aged and was only a shadow of her former self reminding us all that beauty is so fleeting but they welcomed me warmly. I saw some of his paintings on the wall that I photographed, printed and gave him copies and I sent the CD full of his songs to his son who is also a good singer and is making a name for himself.
He waved from his balcony sadly as we pulled out of the drive way on our way to the airport because I had a feeling that I was never to see him again. The sad news came only after a few months that he had passed away.
So this is how it all ends. Where is Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? Where is Hepburn and Bogart? They just remain a distant memory for some as they continue to fade away until the next generation says who was he? Does the cruel passage of time make us all irrelevant someday? He was my uncle.