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Star gazers of Madurai

T. SARAVANAN
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PEOPLE The city’s film buffs share an emotional relationship with cinema

Serpentine queues, colourful posters by fan clubs and festoons garlanding the entrances of cinema halls mark the city’s cinema culture during Deepavali.

Madurai’s association with cinema dates back to the first Tamil talkie, Kalidas . Madurakavi Baskaradoss, the lyricist for that movie, hailed from Madurai, says K. Gnansambandan, popular debater, actor and professor of Tamil. “The city has a deep-rooted culture of film viewing,” he says. “Earlier, people used to flock to drama theatres and when the film made its entry, we were here to embrace the new arrival with both hands.”

On the day of Deepavali, after the traditional oil bath, sumptuous breakfast (predominantly non-vegetarian) and bursting of crackers, the next thing many people think of is to throng cinema halls screening new films.

Most of the theatres will be bursting at the seams. “In those days, it was easy to get a ticket if you had a cycle stand token with you,” recalls Gnanasambandan. “Even those who stayed next door hired a bicycle to gain access to the cinema hall.”

Delirious

Sometimes the crowds reach delirious proportions and theatre owners hand over crowd control to policemen. For many, watching a movie on that day turns into a prestige issue and they are ready to buy the ticket at any cost. Some prefer to wait for the next show to commence.

They also vent their emotions through posters. Youths declare Deepavali day a black day if their favourite star’s movie is not released and they announce that to the world by pasting posters all over the city. Fans don’t wait for reviews before going to a movie, and once they see it they react immediately.

“Madurai crowds decide the fate of a movie,” says Gnanasambandan. “Even today, filmmakers eagerly wait for the result of the movie based on response from the Madurai fans. It is also a sentiment in the film industry that any movie that has the Madurai tag will succeed. Producers also time their new film releases for the occasion,” he says.

Madurai fans are not bothered about the language of the movie. If they find the film to their liking they support it wholeheartedly. They were the earliest to start a fan club for James Bond star Sean Connery. Films such as Bobby and Yaadon Ki Baaraat ran to packed houses for more than 100 days in the city. There were theatres exclusively to screen English and Hindi movies.

“People here are crazy about cinema,” says J. Vasanthan, retired English professor and film buff. “I still cherish the moment when I got a ticket for the first day first show at Thangam theatre on Deepavali day. The owners of the theatre, which was Asia’s biggest then, timed the inauguration with the release of Parasakthi . Seeing a long queue, I literally walked on the heads of those standing in line to advance to the ticket counter,” he reminisces.

Of late, the number of families going to theatres has come down drastically. Young people have also come to expect better maintenance in the theatres. Ticket rates have gone up and the popcorn sold inside a cinema house costs even more than the ticket. “When they charge exorbitantly for the ticket, they should also provide basic minimum facilities,” says Elango, a movie lover. “Film goers should be given the choice of picking up a ticket any time during the theatre working hours,” he suggests.

Though television and satellite channels have caused a serious dent in audience numbers, people still feel watching a movie in a theatre is different. Says Elango, “The festive mood of watching movies in cinema halls can never be substituted by any mode.”

T. SARAVANAN

ILLUSTRATION: SATHEESH VELLINEZHI

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