Watching Bollywood movies in 1970s and earlier was an altogether different experience from what it is now a days. These movies were virtually the only affordable means of entertainment for Indian public.And it was a suppliers’ market those days as far as watching these movies was concerned, in that the demand for movies outstripped supply those days.
Here is how a typical bollywood movie goer watched a typical bollywood movie in 1970s ( and earlier):
Release of movie-A movie is released, a movie goer looks at the posters, listens to the songs of the movie, reads reviews, hears word of mouth opinions ( jhakkas hai/ bakwas hai) and then decides to watch it. when he goes to the movie hall and decides to buy a ticket, he has to stand in a long queue. He is used to it, because he has the experience of queing up for everything-train reservation, ration shop,kerosene shop,admission to schools/ colleges, etc etc.
Ticket booking -In case of especially popular movies, the booking counter would not even open, and the movie tickets would be sold in black. If it is an Amitabh bachchan movie in its first week, black marketers make a killing (3 ka bees, 3 ka bees- meaning thereby that the ticket of rear stall costing Rs 2.95 =3 is being sold for rs 20). It was totally sellers market. Law abiding queque making public would be left in the lurch,People who did not have much care for such civilised ways as standing in queue would try different ways:
(a) Jumping the queue– strongly built law breaking types would just go to the top of the queue and shove his hand inside the 2″X 2″ size hole in the wall that was the ticket counter, pushing the bonafide people standing in the queue.A person more modestly built than the above mentioned one would try to enter the queue near the front of the queue, claiming that he was very much there from the beginning, and he had just gone to the loo, duly informing the people behind and ahead of him. The people supposedly standing behind and ahead would confirm/ deny his claim depending on the claimaint’s physique vis a vis their own physique. Then there would be some who would claim that they had just come to meet the counter clerk who was their old acquaintance, and would try to get some tickets out of turn, on the basis of their acquaintance. Then there would be some, who would try their luck with the gateman, in the hope that he could help them get tickets without going to the queue. And the manager of the movie hall would be a very well sought after person.
(b) people in queue– Then there would be people in queue who would boast that they were standing in the queue for three hours or more- as if they were likely to get some medal for that. In case of very popular movies, barely 5-6 people would get tickets before the counter would be closed- and a board wiould be hung reading “House Full”. And public standing in queue would lament the increase in corruption in society ( Sab chor hain/ sab mile huye hain).
(c) Buying through black– Those who could not succeed through the above methods, but had money, would buy the ticket in black. In case the movie was an Amitabh movie, the amount asked for would be six to seven times the face value of the ticket. It would all be decided by the black marketer. If you wanted to locate the black marketer, you needed to see where many people had gathered around a character of dubious looking integrity.He made you feel that he was doing you a favour by agreeing to sell you a ticket and you needed to be thankful for that. He would pocket your money, and give a stern look ( take it or leave it kind of look) if you asked for change, which he would try to pocket. And often, the rear stall ticket that you would buy from him would turn out to be as close to the front stall as possible. But you would be thankful that at least the ticket was for the present show. If you were not careful, some black marketers could even palm off the ticket of previous show.
Watching the movie
(d)Entering the movie hall:- There would be a big crowd waiting for the previous show to end so that they could get in. And as soon as the previous show is over, this crowd would fight its way towards the hall, through the narrow entrance. Those who were late in entering, would struggle to locate the usher, and then struggle to reach their seat, and sit down,only to find it occupied by someone else ( a lady typically- who would be certain that you did it on purpose). Neither the usher, nor the other in the audience would buy your explanation that you had yet to get your eye in.
(e) Enjoying the movie– The people who paid the least tended to enjoy the movie the most, sitting closest to the screen. And they would express themselves uninhibitedly- in the forms of catcalls, whistles, and shoutings. And they did not worry themselves about such nuances as story line etc.
(f) Songs– Songs were the selling point of movies. If you watched trailers of forthcoming movies, it would contain nothing but songs, and some arbitrary fighting. The songs of the current movie would evoke different reactions from different people. Some people would break into a dance, some will go wah wah, and some would throw 4 annas and 8 anna coins- as appreciation. And then there were some who went out of the hall as soon as the actors broke into a song. They used this period to have a smoke outside the hall. If it was a musical movie, full of something like 15 songs, then some disgruntled man in the audience would express his frustration ( what the hell? There is a song every five minutes.Why can’t they have a proper storyline instead)
(g) Storyline– Story needed to be understandable to even the lowest IQ audience sitting in the hall. Thus we would have the hero entering villain’s high security den in disguise, ( a thin mustache, or a white wig- everything else, including hairstyle,mannerisms etc remaining same) and the audience sitting in the front stall would identify him immediately, even though the villain would not, and the lyrics of the songs would make it clear to all what the mission of the disguised hero was, but the villain would be in the dark as long as the song was on.
(h) Moral of the story-Working hard and long- which is the secret of success in real life, would be replaced by singing hard and long as the mantra for success. To succeed in their ventures- all that the characters needed to do was to break into a song, and they would win their love, come first in their exam, get their eyesight back, reform those needing reforming etc.Now you know why the villains failed in the last reel- that is because they did not get to sing in the movie.
(i) Police and judiciary:- All police officials, be they inspector or SP or IG, would have their offices in a police station, with a lockup visible beside their desk. In case of court scene, a long lost character artist would appear unsummoned, and would harangue the judge, and the judge, otherwise ready to pass his death sentence, would change his decision, without needing any evidence to the contrary.Can this be tried with ICC match referees too ?
How movies were made
(j)Assembly line production :The movies needed to come out of the same assembly line, with similar stories, songs, actors etc,to have any hopes of success, but the movie makers would invariably state that their particular movie was “different”. Movies which were actually different tended to have few takers among the mainstream audience. This double talk of their movies being different was accepted by all without a murmer.
(k)Relation between reviews and success-Movies which were appreciated by critics would fail to find favour with the audience. Movies heavily criticised by the critics would be big hits. So one could judge the likely fate of a movie by reading the review of the movie in the press and believing just the opposite.
Public reaction having watched the movie
(l) Leaving the hall:- Had there been exit polls in those days, then the typical views heard from the audience about th movies would have ranged from- ” bakwaas hai”, “Time pass hai”, to “paisa wasool ho gaya, bhidu” and “ekdum jhakkas hai”.
(m)Government reaction:- If the producer made an especially rubbish movie, he would call it an educational movie/ inspirational movie etc and appeal to the government to waive off the entertainment tax, which would then have the effect of the ticket price getting reduced to half the usual price. Cynics commented, with justification, that movies that were given entertainment tax free concession had no entertainment in them in any case. And most of such tax free movies fell flat at the box office, despite the waiver of the tax.
The above summarises a day in the life of a bollywood movie goer in 1970s.