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Art is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Maa, thank you for bringing me here to see the Indian Cinema

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Shukriya Maa, Tune Sirf Jag Hi Nahi Dikhaya Mujhe, Tune Mujhe Behtareen Cinema Ki Bhi Jhalak Dikhaee, Jo Aaj Mera Deewana Pan Ho Gaya Hai Aur Ek Nasha Bhi Ban Gaya Hai Ali Peter John

I am not only sure,but very sure that if my mother (Maa)was educated, she would have made a better leader than any of the leaders we have today who are busy leading us no where or an administrator better than many of the administrators who are more of lackeys of the leaders and are happily destroying the country or any of the men and women at the top who are playing havoc with India since the last seventy one years. She had proved her mettle even when she was living in Kondivita, the village where she spent all her life and brought up her three sons, which included me.

I still wonder how that woman who was an orphan found by my father who was the son of a rich family from Hyderabad could think of sending her sons to the best schools and take very good care of them and see that they lacked nothing even if she had to make the greatest sacrifices.

How I miss you “Maa” today so many years later, when I have grown older than you were when you left me alone to grapple with this world!

ali peter john sharing his bond with her maa My mother had in a way prepared me to face the challenges awaiting me before I could be fifteen. And one of the fields in which she literally went out of her way and trained me was in the field of cinema without knowing that cinema was going to be my way of earning my bread and sometimes my butter and whatever name and reputation I have today….

Cinema was almost unknown to Kondivita,the village I started living in when I was only three years old with my senses already working over time . The first time I could sense the impact of Hindi cinema in my village was when there was an epidemic of small- pox and people were dying “like rats”like the people in the village said .There were vaccination vans which came into the village and they had a novel way of attracting the villagers and especially children to the vans which played popular Hindi films songs like”Mann dole taan dole”and “Zara saamane toh aa oh chhaliye “and then caught people and children and forcibly vaccinated them.

ali peter john sharing his bond with her maaThe epidemic got over after months and after it had claimed several lives (I wish I could say the same about the pandemic we are going through today).I have a strong feeling that my mother and her three sons survived the small pox epidemic because my father took a decision to send us off to Mangalore, my mother’s native place. we came back to a changed Kondivita and one big change was that there were many people who lived in shanties and were working in different capacities in the film studios that had come up in and around the suburb of Andheri….

It was these smart men and women who had made a strong impact on the original inhabitants of Kondivita, who started treating them like aliens who had come from some other planet. The smart people tried all their ways to win the hearts of the innocent and illiterate villagers and singing songs from Hindi films and dancing to them and wearing fancy and colorful clothes was one of their strong points.

ali peter john sharing his bond with her maaThey went several steps ahead when they had their parties and invited their friends from “abroad “which gave the villagers whose ancestors were living there for hundreds of years and had their permanent homes a complex. The influence of these aliens from the world of Hindi films was so strong that girls from the village fell in love with these aliens and even eloped with them and in many cases even married them without knowing that they were asking for an uncertain future.

Kondivita was changing colours for the first time may be in a thousand years. It was otherwise known as a tiny village tucked in between the two thousand year old Mahakali Caves and the one thousand year old St.John the Baptist’s Church and with the age -old Warli village and the Warli tribe in between…

The aliens had found a new way of capturing the imagination of the people of Kondivita. Some men would get some used prints of old films and screened them on white bed sheets and sometimes on real but very old screens and show films to the people on the occasion of different festivals whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

These screenings were big hits and people, especially women and children waited for them even though they were very bad technically and there were several breaks during the screening and the screening sometimes depended on the moods of the men who Screened the films,most of whom were drunk during these screenings. And the people at times even broke into impromptu dances and fights according to the scenes in the film being shown. There were even inter-village fights when people from other villages walked in to watch what where “our films”and not” their films “…

My mother who was popular all over the village as “Mary Aunty” was very conscious about not being seen at these shows and it seemed as if she had vowed that she would take her sons to the theatres wherever they were screened in Bombay to see the films in their full and origional splendour and whatever the price she would have to pay for it. And then began a long ritual of watching some of the best Hindi and English films in different theatres of Bombay, from Andheri and Bandra right upto Churchgate, VT and Colaba. These visits to the theatres used to be day-long events for which my mother used to prepare days in advance. There were special clothes made for the occasion. We were taken to the theatres in a taxi. If the tickets were not available in the current booking,Mary Ali,my mother would not accept defeat, but buy tickets in the black market at double or more the price of the original. It would be the best ice cream in the largest cups during the interval and Mary Ali would time the shows in such a way that we could have the best biryani in George Restaurant in Flora Fountain, Lucky Restaurant outside Bandra Station or Moti Mahal outside Andheri Station, but ice cream and biryani was a must during and after every film. Oh Maa!

It was some kind of an auspicious start for me with my mother after seeing some films in school, when she decided to take me and my brothers to see “Mughal-E-Azam” at the Neptune theater in Bandra. It was the first day of the release and I still remember how there were people right upto the Bandra station with all of them wanting to see the film and I heard from my mother that people had even come from Pakistan to see the film. My mother like always refused to give up and made her way to the theatre with us following her. There was a huge board which screened “houseful “but she bought three tickets for twenty rupees in(1960)and we watched the film in a state of high excitement with the entire audience going crazy. The dialogues were too difficult for both my mother and us to understand but they were good to listen to.It was the performances of all the actors and especially Dilip Kumar and Madhubala which caught the attention of my mother and she told us about what she felt about the performances.
She also told me that the song “Pyaar kiya toh darna kiya”was picturised at the K.Asif Studio close to our house. The crowd was still the same when we came out and we celebrated “Mughal-E-Azam “with Mughali biryani at Moti Mahal. It was the beginning of our pilgrimage to Bandra to see films. We watched other English Films like “Samson and “Delilah “Battle of the Villa Florita “(which we found very boring as there was no battle in it till the very end)and “Spartacus “(we throughly enjoyed it because of all the action)at the New Talkies which only showed Hollywood films those days.

Our next big outing was “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai”,a film made by Raj Kapoor who was also the hero but was a film directed by his cinematographer Radhu Karmakar, I came to know years later. It was running at the Akash theater in Kurla near my school. There were separate queues for men and women. My mother asked me to stand in the queue for women and when I got the tickets (sixty naya paisa for each ticket)she bought me an ice cream on the spot. I heard the entire audience calling out the name of Lata Mangeshkar and exclaiming, “wah Lata wah”when she sang the song “oh basanti pavan paagal na jaa re na jaa”.Little did I know that it was to be the beginning of my worship of a deity called Lata Mangeshkar. The other discovery I made during watching the film was how bad a man could be when I saw an actor called Pran as the villain, Raaka.The next day,when I went to school I was surprised when my teacher who taught me English told the whole class that I reminded him so much of Pran,the villain.

It was back to Dilip Kumar who had become a favourite of my mother after “Mughal-E-Azam “.This time, she had taken some of her neighbours to watch “Ganga Jamuna “at the Usha Talkies in Andheri .They all enjoyed the film and the performance of Dilip Kumar and especially the game of kabaddi and the climax in which Ganga (Dilip Kumar)dies .I was twelve at that time and was surprised when those who saw the film with me started an argument over why Dilip Kumar in the film did not have a father and how my mother told them that they couldn’t find all their answers to their stupid questions in a film.

Our pilgrimage than headed towards South Bombay and within a short time we had seeing historical English films like “The Ten Commandments”, “King of Kings “and “Ben Hur” and the musical classic, “Sound Of Music “.

I had seen more than fifteen of the best films with my mother between 1960 and 1964 which was an unexpected record for me. Or was my mother in a hurry to give me all the experiences she could give me as soon as she could ?

The last two films we saw together were Dev Anand’s “Tere Ghar Ke Samne “and Rajshri’s “Dosti”I don’t know why she expressed her earnest desire to see “Mother India “,a film she should have seen and all mother’s should see because it is the ultimate tribute paid to a mother.

My mother was never the same again and so was I .She went to sleep one night on November 29,1965 after telling me not to wake her up under any circumstances and never woke up. It is a mystery I am living with for the last five and a half decades.

And how I wish my “Maa “was around today when I, her favourite son have made whatever name I have in this world of cinema she introduced me to when I was a little boy!