Our Very Own Saturday Night Live
In 1999, the biggest fad of our lives was Cable TV.
Our TV had suddenly graduated from 2 channels to a glorious 46 channels. The remotes ended their 20 year strike that year and the unused numbers finally had some utility - they had a purpose to their lives now - to show channels beyond double digits to their owners.
But for that generation of teenagers, the most exciting part of Cable TV was the Cablewala Movie Channel. In typical middle class households, TV viewing till then was restricted to Doordarshan News at 9 pm and a few shows like Shriman Shrimati and Rangoli. Movies on TV meant the oft-repeated classics of Sholay, Chupke Chupke, Chamatkar on lazy Sunday afternoons. To a starved generation like that, you gift a channel like this and what you get is pure glee.
The Cablewala Movie Channel was a legend in itself. On Fridays, first day first show, all the cable guys would book tickets, sneak in a cheap video camera into single theatre shows and record the movie from under their arms. Come Saturday night, a whole colony of people would be waiting breathlessly to see their handywork. A newly released movie seen on TV the very next day was a luxury most of us couldn't even imagine.
In fact, we would rate the various cable operators on the quality of the movies they showed, how fast they could show - at one point, the competition was so intense, some would start broadcasting their pirated versions on Friday afternoon.
While changing our cable operator (for poor service as per my Dad), his conversation would be peppered with my sister and me peeking from behind and arguing secretly with the cable guy:
"Bhaiya, woh doosre cable waale ne Hum Dil De Chukein Sanam Friday raat ko daal di thi. Quality bhi masst tha. Aapne toh Sunday ko daala."
And as soon as the guy plugs in the cable into the TV, we would take control of the remote and switch channels "to check if everything was coming fine". We would start innocuously at the news channels -
Star News - check
Zee News - check
Doordarshan (for old times sake) - check
Then move on the General Entertainment
Star Plus - check
Sony - check
And while moving from General Entertainment to Music channels, silently slip by channel 14 to check if the cable wala movie channel was coming.
To call the quality of the pirated versions good would be blasphemous. Every once in awhile you would see a hand on the screen - the person recording, trying to hide the camera from the movie hall guards. Sudden blackouts - the camera slipped and fell down. The middle part of the movie missing because he went to grab pop-corn and got stuck in the queue.
My best memory of such a movie was Lakshya - starring Hrithik Roshan. That song Main Aisa Kyun Hoon was played so many times on the local music channels, it became imperative to watch that movie. And we were really looking forward to it. In a need to gratify his customers, our Cable guy went two steps ahead and decided to show us the movie on the same day of release. So we turned off all lights and grabbed some snacks and settled into our sofas on a Friday during our summer holidays. I even remember the cooler whirring behind us.
Now, we had some vague idea about the movie - we knew there was a war, we knew he went to Army, we knew Kashmir was in the movie. The movie started out fine. All the Delhi scenes were quite good. We laughed and enjoyed. Recognized some of the places in the songs.
And then tragic-comedy stuck. Hrithik was posted to Kashmir and our Cable guy got caught. We could hear him argue with the Guard.
"Bandh kar diya. Kuch record nahi ho raha."
But brave that he was, he continued recording. From under what we can only assume was his shirt. So instead of bright shiny days in Kashmir, we could see darkness all around with some blurry figures moving here and there. We could hear the dialogues, so it was all good.
At one point in the movie, Hrithik points to the Tiger Hill and tells Priety Zinta quite emotionally, "Woh hai mera lakshya." Now, it so happened that the hall our man decided to record in, was quite the local kinds. The crowd was not exactly the type to appreciate the depth of emotion captured (apparently) beautifully in the moment.
They thought Hrithik's expression was laugh-worthy. My sister and I were of-course going by the sound track. We didn't know what he was pointing at or why. In the dark, it looked like he was pointing to someone and saying "woh mera lakshya hai". And then the audience burst out laughing and we thought the director was so smart to provide comic relief in such a serious war like moment. When I saw the actual movie some 8 years later, I could not, for the love of God, understand what we had found so funny back then! In fact, I realized while writing this post, that scene is put up on Youtube as "The Best Scene of Lakhsya". Touche.
When the actual hill capturing scenes happened, it was night time in the movie. Now, imagine. Night time - in dark hills - people wearing dark suits - and dark color on their faces for camouflage - and seeing all this through the very dark lens of our cable wala's shirt.
We could hear it all - shooting, shouting, audience clapping, whistles. But all we understood was - There was a war, someone died, we won.
8 years later, when I did see the scene, I realized how much our cable guy had duped us.
That Monday when we went to school and friends were discussing the movie, we butted in saying, "Oh Lakshya was awesome. Some of the war scenes were so funny." I remember getting a few weird stares. I assumed they needed help with their sense of humour.
We saw quite a few movies like this - most of the releases of 1999 - 2005. If you ask me anything about the movies from this period, you will see my understanding to be completely different from yours. Because mine was an interpretation of the movie, through the cable wala's shirt.
I was considering taking Netflix the other day and I remembered the Cable Wala Movie Channel. We have come so far. :)