By Nishi Pulugurtha
Every Sunday (or was it every second Sunday?), Minerva theatre in central Kolkata, near New Market, had a morning show. The films screened at the morning show were Telugu films meant to cater to Telugus living in Calcutta. I am not sure as to how Telugus got to know of the films; my parents surely did because we did watch quite a number of them. I do not recollect most of their names, but I do remember one that had the hero Krishna, dressed all in white, play a game of tennis with the heroine Jayaprada who was also dressed in white. I remember that sequence as I think that scene recurred in a Hindi film remake starring Jeetendra and Jayaprada. One film that I clearly remember is the K.Viswanath classic Sankarabharam which had many shows in Calcutta.
As a child I have fond memories of these Sunday outings. Watching a movie in a theatre was a treat. There was no television then and we would be taken to watch movies only after examinations were over, during holidays or if there were some very good movie screenings that my parents would have wanted us to see. Stand-alone theatres were the only movie halls in those days and during intermission we had small packets of popcorn and potato chips. These Telugu films were a kind of connect for my parents, particularly for my mother, who moved to Calcutta after she married my father. My father had lived the major part of his life in Orissa. For my mother, these Telugu films and Telugu magazines that were available in a small shop in the lane adjoining the erstwhile Metro cinema hall were the only link with home. This small shop also was the place where coffee powder (not the instant variety) was available. We needed our morning cup of strong filter coffee. The shop also sold sambar powder, rasam powder and other condiments and staples needed for a South Indian kitchen. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that we had to travel a long distance by bus from Dunlop Bridge to Dharmatolla in central Calcutta to procure these.
In that very same lane, almost opposite that shop was Komala Vilas, a South Indian restaurant. Located on the first floor that was approached by a flight of stairs, Komala Vilas was not a fancy restaurant. However, it served delicious idlis, vadas, upma, pongal, dosas, both plain and masala and also had a lunch thali. On Sundays after we watched a Telugu film, this is where we headed, our little bit of South India in the heart of Calcutta. Komala Vilas was a boarding house too and many South Indians stayed there on their visit to the city.
Further South, the Lake Market area had shops selling goods that we South Indians would want and restaurants too but then Lake Market was further off and it would be a much longer journey. This is not to say we didn’t go there. We did so definitely, more so to eat at the restaurants, all our favourite South Indian staples. There were very few places in Calcutta that had good South Indian cuisine in the 80s. Today, I need not venture far off to get the right coffee blend that I need for my morning cup of filter coffee – the supermarkets stock them and the online grocery portal has them too. Not just coffee, most of the other things I need for my still South Indian kitchen are available pretty much easily in Kolkata.
The practice of these morning show Telugu films at Minerva Theatre stopped, Minerva gave way to Chaplin. However, the morning show got a new address: they were shown at Roxy movie hall, in central Kolkata. I am not sure if it was our interest in Telugu movies waned a little by then or maybe we got busy with our studies, but I do remember we did not go in to watch these Telugu films anymore. There was another reason, Doordarshan began screening regional language cinema on Sunday afternoons and we began to wait for Telugu films to be screened and watched them all. On our trips to Hyderabad, we watched a whole lot of Telugu films, some good, some terrible.
These days, Telugu films are screened in multiplexes in Kolkata every week. Big Telugu blockbusters are shown in more than one multiplex and there have been times when I have had to book tickets in advance to avoid any kind of disappointment. Last Sunday, I went in to watch one such film, a morning show, and was amused to find the audience comprising of just six people. During intermission, the husband and wife sitting in the row behind me struck up a conversation with me. After all, it is not very often that we find Telugus in North Kolkata. As we talk, it turns out that the gentleman’s place of work is just next to mine and he lives close by too. He is surprised at the fact that our paths never cross. I tell him that he might have seen me but then I have often been told that I do not ‘look like a South Indian’ and that most people mistake me for a Bengali. They smile and completely agree on that. He tells me that he has been living in Kolkata for many years now. He came to Calcutta, fell in love with the city and the people and stayed on. His decision reminded me of one such decision taken years ago. In the 60s, Hari Pulugurtha had made several trips to Calcutta from Bhubaneswar where he worked as secretary to the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane. After Haldane’s death, when my father had to relocate he chose Calcutta. The city he always said appealed to him and one which for him and for us has always been home.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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