Theatre of my own

September 13, 2010

Watching the movies was considered sin those days. But nobody could supervise us friends enough from loitering around the theatre bins to see if we can scrounge posters or waste film strips. We friends had cultivated this pastime after we started accompanying Bhiku on theatre rounds. Bhiku was slightly senior to us in school. We helped him collect these first for fun and slowly started having our own collection if he did not want the duplicate films.

One fine Sunday he came to my house in the early morning and announced that he has his own movie theatre and he would be showing a movie that afternoon. I dismissed him. However, he was a talk of the town the next day and most of my friends had gone crazy with what he had shown to them. I could not keep a lid on my curiosity for long and visited his house in earnest.

Everything was normal in his house, his mother milking the sheep, father was about to bark at me, and his brother was stacking firewood in the lean-to shed next to his house. There was no trace of a movie theatre. I was convinced that it was some sort of prank, but the friends were all praise throughout the week speaking about his theatre.

The next show was planned for the coming Sunday. I ran to Bhiku’s place just after I got up, ignoring Grandma who had guessed that something was cooking and was trying to persuade me to have at least milk before vanishing.

Bhiku’s place was normal as always. I scurried past his father and brother. Bhiku was still in bed and I caught up with him there.

“No show today,” he said in a hushed voice, “No show if my father is in town”.

That was an acceptable explanation. I told him to tell me when there would be a show.

“This time everybody has to bring two brand new marbles. I have decided to collect ticket fees. Last Sunday, there was unmanageable rush.”

Hearing this, my excitement had no bounds. Theatre must be a good business.


The Sunday arrived when Bhiku’s father went out of town. Bhiku sent his mother to my Grandma in the afternoon to gossip, with a message for me to come as quickly as possible ‘to play’. I understood the code word and ran to his house. A few friends had already gathered there ahead of me. Bhiku was collecting marbles from them. I had not carried any. As such he said I had to help him in setting up the theatre.

We agreed. The lean-to shed was evacuated of fire wood. Bhiku brought a black blanket from the house, which had a hole. This was tied to the only opening. He then brought a mirror, set it up on a chair quite far away from the lean-to and adjusted the reflected beam such that it pierced the hole in the blanket. Another friend who had not brought marbles was stationed there permanently to make sure that the beam remained in its place. Bhiku now brought a box from his house, on one side of which was a lens and on the other a slot to take a single cut piece of film.

The set up was now ready, Bhiku became door keeper, spectators were seated, the room was already dark, Bhiku became operator, adjusted focus by moving the box here and there and started showing piece by piece, the ‘movie’. First frame was a woman, next one again the same woman, third the same woman and so on.

The frames had indeed come alive on the wall, although there was no motion-picture.

“Is it the same in theatres?” Somebody questioned towards the end of the five-minute show.

“No, duffer, the pictures move. My father has told me. Just like this. ” One who answered danced in the air.

“Then why two marbles?” Taking charge of Bhiku’s box the first one started jostling.

Others pacified him, and the quarrel ended when Bhiku returned one marble to him.

“There are no advertisements either in Bhiku’s movie.” Another complained. Bhiku returned his marble as well.

“Your screen is a foot wide. In theatre it is this much” Third one said showing the expanse with his outstretched hands and dislodging the blanket at the same time. His marble was also promptly returned.

The show ended on a mixed note. We were discussing the movie with Bhiku when suddenly Bhiku’s not-very-friendly elder brother came home. He got angry as soon as he saw the fire wood lying outside the shed and warned us of grave consequences if the fire wood was not rearranged in next ten minutes. Others ran away, but I and Bhiku carried and arranged the wood for the next half an hour.

Bhiku’s mother complained to his father about his mischief of sending her to my Grandma. His brother joined in and informed his father of Bhiku’s extra-curricular activities when he was away. Not surprisingly, Bhiku’s theatre was closed down the same day with violent means. Where one’s hard work will take him; you cannot predict.

Before I left, he handed over his marble collection and the cine-box to me for safe keeping and said he will meet me on Saturday.


Bhiku came on Saturday. We discussed the fate of Bhiku’s theatre. He said it had no future. None the less, he was ready to partner with me if I provided the real estate and he the technical know-how. I applied to Grandpa through proper channel and Grandpa said he had no problem if we used the “Women’s Delivery Room” at the back for whatever I wanted to do. In return, I had to clean it thoroughly and keep up the rank in the class.

It was fine because this room had only one window, the room was very dark and no family members ever ventured that side. I readily agreed for the later part of the arrangement, because there was one more reason. I wanted to take stock of this room anyway. It was stuffed with heavy wooden boxes, a permanently locked cupboard and so many sundries.

What I had not thought out was how to bring the sunbeam in. The room was purposely set in the middle of the house. With a single mirror, it was impossible to bring the sun in. In the end, I had to resort to two mirrors, a big one in the backyard and a small one in verandah to have the beam entering our theatre at the proper place.

Then I discussed with Bhiku the shortcomings of his theatre.

One – People wanted advertisements. With thought, we collected cut pieces of glass, blackened them with soot and carved out the ads of the barber shop, the sugar cane juice stall, the circus then in town and such others. We tried them and they worked fine, only problem being that you had to remember to hold it upside down, just like the cut films. You also had to take care your fingers did not blacken while inadvertently smothering the soot.

Another of my ideas was also implemented. Brown papers pierced with burning incense sticks! The holes made lines, dots and therefore characters and pictures in the ads.

Two – People wanted big screen. The room was big and Grandma had white Sarees. This problem could be solved.

Three – People wanted moving pictures. There was no chance to have those. This will have to be bartered with something else. We decided that we can allow two shows in one ticket.


The theatre opened without a bang. Although I knew that Grandpa and Grandma never watched a movie, our first show was only for them and compulsory.

They said the room is not clean enough and Grandma’s white saree screen had become dirty. As such, all the further shows were cancelled by them until the room was clean enough to their liking.

That done, I called my fast friend to attend the promo. He came, he saw and he said that the intensity of the beam is not enough to illuminate the films and ads properly. We tried a few adjustments, but it did not work out. He said our theatre would not be successful.

He went home and opened his own theatre with all the changes we had done to Bhiku’s invention; that too, ahead of us.

We had no takers when we were commercially ready to open ours. On the day of the opening, and thereafter also, I and Bhiku were the only spectators for the shows. Business had gone fut. Bhiku left me alone.

In my own theatre, I had to bring the sunbeam in, work as an operator and as the only spectator.

My friends apologized for their not visiting. They had heard from my fast friend that our theatre was not up to the mark and also because my elders always kept a watch over proceedings.

After a few days of fuming and fretting, I handed over all my raw material to my fast friend for use in his theatre. He had done a good job. He had pasted posters, set up a tent in the open air, made up of two cots covered with all the blankets in the house he could lay his hands on. There were so many family members in his home; nobody really cared what the others did. As such, his theatre ran alright for some time. I had a free pass. Bhiku would not go there. He turned to cricket and had the same treatment from his family as when he was in theatre.

Grandma was ecstatic with my theatre business since she had achieved her purpose.


3 Responses to “Theatre of my own”

  1. Good one! Some nice adventure, and some good business development lessons too 🙂

  2. PeACEMAKER Says:

    Thanks Nikhil, as always.

  3. […] I was through with my cinema theatre business (, I had spare time to look at the wooden boxes that I had found stashed in the ‘delivery […]

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