Nizhal Muttrathu Ninaivugal: Perumalmurugan; Published by Kayal Kavin Books, 16/25, Second Seaward Road, Valmiki Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai – 600041. Price Rs. 130.
The author wrote these essays for a magazine Kaatchi Pizhai Thirai, which have now been published in book form. The book will interest any city reader and take rural readers down memory lane to the time they spent in tin or cadjan sheds watching movies.
The author is a well-known writer of novels, short stories, verses and essays, and the book under review is a collection of essays on the subject of touring talkies, also called ‘tent kottai’ or talkies, in the rural districts of Tamil Nadu. The author is from Tiruchenkodu and has narrated his childhood experiences and even the management of his father’s soft drink business, which was sold mostly to those who visited the touring talkies.
The city-bred will find it hard to believe that in the touring talkies people sat on the floor. There were only a few seats or benches at the back for dignitaries who could pay more. Each show had three or four intervals, necessitated by each change of reel of the film because there was only one projector. During the intervals they show ‘samy’ strips when the women viewers go out.
Watching film in ‘Kottai’
The author narrates in detail the experience of watching a film in a kottai; how women reject films with intimate scenes and how films with stories were popular. He also gives the titles of films that ran to full houses, favoured by women.
‘Soda’ or ‘colour,’ and other eatables were rushed into the ‘kottai’ by boys during the intervals because people stayed put for fear of losing their place if they took a break and went out.
New films are well received and they have up to four shows and tickets are even sold in ‘black.’ Even everybody from a family would come from far away villages to watch the film and they occupy large areas inside the theatre; even betel-leaf chewers do not have to worry – they have sand pots thoughtfully placed near by.
The ‘kottai’ management selects films and brings them from area distributors, sometimes in bulk. Films starring MGR and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan are well received by the audience and certain noted titles have had long runs of several weeks. The theatre employs about 30 boys of various ages to manage the interior and the crowds outside and for the sale of tickets, pasting posters, keeping the toilets clean, providing drinking water and taking care of cabin members.
Details of payments to workers, the rents for films, ticket prices and estimates of profit and loss are not given in the essays. (When MGR came to power in 1977, he reduced the ticket price for touring talkies from 35 to 30 paise). But, overall, several interesting details are narrated well in the book.
The author is a seasoned writer and has narrated all aspects on the subject in a lucid manner. But his associate who had introduced the book says that the author has written a portion of history of touring cinema rather than his autobiography.