Watching English movies in 1970s

I had posted my experience of watching Bollywood movies in 1970s. Everyone in India did that. But they were not the only kinds of movies. There were “English” movies as well that would get released in some movie halls.

Watching English movies was an entirely different stuff from watching the desi movies like Bollywood ones. Watching these foreign(pronounced “foren”) movies, as well as observing those who had come to watch such movies made for some interesting observations.Here are my experiences of watching English movies in 1970s:

Definition of an English movie– Any foreign movie with English language dialogue, even if dubbed in English, is an English language movie for the desi audience.

Background work before watching English movie-Just like one got to know about the Bollywood movie by listening to its songs on Radio Ceylon, I tuned to BBC and Voice of America etc, hoping to listen to the Radio Ceylon equivalent of ” Aaphi ke geet” programmes, where the announcer would say,” the next song from the English movie “Gone with the Wind” is requested by Bob,Rob,Job, Tom,Dick, Harry,their girlfriends, their pets and many others from Timbuktu..”, but alas, I failed to locate a single such programme. In fact I failed to locate a single radio station playing English songs.Needless to say, I could not find the Binaca Geetmala equivalent of English movie songs either.

English movies in halls– In smaller places like where I was growing up, English movies would be shown in one show, viz the noon show.In rare cases, a cinema hall would decide to show an English movie in regular shows as well. In any case, the English movie lasted for not more than one week in a movie hall.

Crowd for English movie– For someone used to the crowd of Bollywood movie, crowd for English movie would come as a pleasant surprise, if not a culture shock. One could actually go to the counter ( which would actually be open) and buy the ticket for the current show without any problem. House Full board and black marketeers would be conspicuous by their absence.If Bollywood movie crowd was like the crowd in an unreserved compartment of an Indian Railway train, the English movie crowd was like the crowd in a first class coach of the same train.

Watching in style– Since watching English movie was “cool”, not everyone’s cup of tea, I would buy the ticket of Balcony, which would be readily available. Thus I would prove my “classy” credentials- to myself, if not to others.Of course, I dressed the same as others- viz., had long hair covering the ears and parted at the centre, wore bellbottoms, and wore a pair of hawai chappals. I was not aware that one needed to wear shoes to have “class”.

Length of movie– The first scene of the movie, viz the censor certificate, would be a big let down. We were used to Bollywood movies of 17-18 reels that lasted for nearly 3 hours, but the English movie would typically be only 7-8 reels barely lasting 2 hours. As we were used to intermission, finding a movie which ended without an intermission was difficult to get used to. To adjust to Bollywood style of movie watching, lots of trailers etc would be shown in the beginning followed by the so called interval. After the interval the English movie would begin , and that would last for under 2 hours, and that was it.

Understanding the dialogue– Understanding the dialogue of the movie was the most difficult part. There were people in the audience who had little or no knowledge of the language and who had come to the hall with some ulterior motives, but even those who had passable knowledge of English ( i.e. knowledge of English enough to pass the exams by writing an essay on the cow) were all at sea, because the pronounciations of the actors just went over everyone’s head.But no one would admit it. everyone would show, nodding his head at regular intervals,that he fully understood what the actors were saying.

Types of movies– The movie hall owners must have realised that a picture was worth a thousand words aka there is no language as body language, so their publicity poster for these movies would consist of scantily clad ladies occupying pride of place. That would bring some audience, who would look for these scenes throughout the movie, only for them to end up disappointed. Those scenes would have been deleted by the scissor happy censors, and in some cases, the pictures on the posters were not even part of the movie.

Action movies– A more effective method of attracting audience was to screen action movies viz James Bond movies or Bruce Lee movies.Even desi audience could identify with such movies because these movies depended on action rather than storylines or dialogues. This was one category of English movies which would bring the crowd and black marketeers back.

Science Fiction– People had heard of James Bond and Bruce Lee, but Arthur C Clarke was unknown as was his 2001:A space Odyssy. When this movie was screened in noon show, and I occupied my seat in Balcony, I found that I was the sole occupant in Balcony. When I looked down at the front stall, there were 4 more spectators there. So this movie was screened for 5 spectators in a 700 seater movie hall. And incidentally, none of the 5 spectators could understand head or tail of the movie. Movies like ” Close Encounters of the third kind” and “Starwars” attracted better crowd, but that was because watching such movies was onsidered”cool”, just as keeping thick books in your bookshelf is considered cool by some people.

Hypothesis about the storyline– Despite my determination that I would listen to the dialogue attentively, I failed to catch more than a few words, and as a result, I had to guess what was going on. Others in the audience too, in the absence of comprehension, put up their own hypothesis of what was going on.And there used to be some fantastic hypothsis, which the originator was so certain and vehement about.Once, I told my fellow spectator triumphantly that I knew the name of the 7 foot tall villain in “Moonraker”. His name is Richard Kiel, I stated. My fellow spectator cut me down, saying that the big fellow was a female in reality. My protests fell on deaf ears.

Movies that I could understand– Finally there were some movies which I could understand to a good extent, viz movies like “The gods must be crazy”,”love bug” etc, and I felt like I had arrived as an English movie watcher, only to be stumped again, when I watched ” Short circuit” and other such stuff.

How things have changed– In late 1970s, I dreamed of a day when we would not need to go to movie halls and would be able to watch movies of our choice sitting at home. My dream was total science fiction at that time. But now, it is a reality which many people can readily afford.Many of the English movies which I then watched and did not understand much, are now within reach. I can search for such movies and download them. That way, I have watched even those movies, which may never have been screened in the movie halls that I had access too. I have watched the movies again, that I had then watched and only partially understood. How things have changed for the better! It is wonderful, almost like Alladin’s magic lamp,is it not ?


About Atul

Making small talk is not for me, and so I like to make bigger talk. And that is why I have decided to blog.
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4 Responses to Watching English movies in 1970s

  1. rajaswaminathan says:

    Atul, you know what I am going to say – but I am going to say it. 🙂
    This is so funny – and so real.
    I had exactly the same type of experiences.
    We discussed this once in CF – the “room talking” scenes in English movies that would go on and on (even in war movies when they would be “strategising” with maps and all that) and I would be like…”can you please get out of that room ?”

    “The gods must be crazy” was a great movie to feel that you could understand English movies. It was very understandable for an Indian movie-goer. I loved that movie.

    Another pain with English movies was that the end was very unpredictable. In Hindi movies, you know when the movie is going to end, often there would be a song from the movied played out.

    But English movies ? A guy would be walking on the road and you would see the sign “THE END”. Come on ! Paisa vasool hi nahin hota tha !!! 🙂

  2. squarecutatul says:

    Indeed Raja, you are right.

    I felt like an accomplished English movies type only in action movies that took place on the outdoors, like the Westerns, for example, as long as the actors did their actions did the talking.

    That must be why Clint Eastwood must have become popular with me. He was a man with no name, and no dialogues, and that suited me just fine.

    And in case you managed to successfully guess the key dialogues, viz. “If you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk”, you felt like you had finally arrived in life as an English movie watcher.

    Of course, you felt badly let down the next time, when you were once again forced to watch a movie with “room talk”, viz “2001: a space odyssey”. I am telling you, there were only about 5 audience in the movie hall, 4 in the front stall, and I ( in the balconi) watching this movie and understanding nothing. And there was no action. How could there be any action in space ?

  3. rajaswaminathan says:

    Soch raha hoon, bachpan mein angrezi samajhna itna mushkil kyon tha ?
    After all, later on in life, we are able to understand it, right ?
    Is it because of more exposure or that our brains developed more (I seriously doubt mine has developed 🙂 ) or what ?

    Or maybe it is the acoustics of the theaters also ? You need to really concentrate on the dialogues in English movies, also you need to get the context, a sense of the “culture” – I had none of these, growing up in Orissa.

    Maybe all that made a difference. 🙂

  4. squarecutatul says:

    I think it all has to do with exposure. If you are forced into water, you have no option other than to swim. In places like Orissa or Bihar, the exposure is totally limited.

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