Rakesh Pandey

Drama Tragedy Others


Rakesh Pandey

Drama Tragedy Others

The Last Show

The Last Show

7 mins

65 years old Farrouk Merwanji Dastur ran his hands lovingly over the huge 35mm projector in the small projector room of the Mazda Talkies. 6pm to 9pm show had just ended, and the machine was yet warm after its three-hour exertion, like a beautiful lady, glowing after a strenuous bout of lovemaking. Farrouk remembered fondly his long dead English teacher, who had corrected him when he had once said that he was sweating. "Farrouk dikra, men perspire, ladies' glow and horses sweat. Always remember!" He prepared for the last show of the day, looping in the first reel from the reel cans stacked methodically at his feet. He inspected the projector lamp as a routine check. All the projectors have an arc lamp, which has a limited life. After that, it fuses. It's considered the soul of a projector and all projectionists need to maintain them. The lamp was old aged as him and was waiting for its last show. He smiled humorlessly and patted the flank of the old machine. 

Mazda Talkies was located at the junction of Falkland Street no. 11 and SVP Road in South Bombay. It was a red-light area, which was notorious by the name 'Peela House'. During the British era, this street was called 'Playhouse' and boasted of six theaters which used to run plays for the British and upper-class Indian public. These theaters were converted to talkies after the advent of motion pictures in 1936, when Ardeshir Irani of Bombay Talkies produced and released the first talkie Alam Ara. The name of the locality was aberrated to Peela House. The dingy bylanes and old buildings were ideal for the proliferation of one of the oldest professions in the world - prostitution. The area became notorious and a hub of crime. Farrouk was least bothered by all this history. He was doing what he loved. Mark Twain had said that if you love your job, you won't work for a day. Farrouk loved movies and the warm feeling of the projector room. 

He stepped out in the humid Bombay air for a cup of Irani tea and a much-needed smoke. The humid and stuffy air felt heavenly after the muggy and hot closeness of the 80 Sqft projector room. He looked indulgently at the cacaphonic crowd and snarling traffic around him and went to the Gulshan-e-Iran Restaurant opposite the road and stood chatting with its Irani owner. He was a sad soul. Always lamenting about lack of business, antipathy of his sons or something else under the sun. Today he was very happy for a change. He was selling off the property to Kalpataru Builders, who had proposed a skyscraper in that vicinity. Farrouk was sad. He was always saddened when things of his age vanished. He felt like a sailor in the vast and unknown ocean in a small boat, who sees all the faithful and familiar stars going down the horizon one after another. He felt the same dejected hopelessness and longing. Nothing to guide him or smile to. No one ever explained him the meaning of paradigm shift. No one explained him that old ideas always perished to give way to new ideas. He still remembered his childhood when he used to visit the same hotel for a morning breakfast of Kheema-Pao and pani-kam-chai when the father of the owner presided.

He looked around him. Five of the six theaters were already sold to the builders, and one was razed too. Even the oldest trade in the world couldn't stand against the wheels of change. The prostitutes were relocated to Turbhe Tekdi in New Bombay and their buildings were being evacuated. He looked at his dying cigarette sadly and threw it in a gutter and cursed a kid selling pirated DVDs of the latest movie PK. These vermin were responsible for the dying trade of his talkies. The kid laughed after him and taunted, "O, Parsi Bawa! Abbi public ko ye-ich mangta hai. Tumara sadela talkies me kaiko aayenga? Ghar pe nei dekhenga?" and his cronies laughed. Farrouk cursed the ancestors of those brats and went inside the gate of Mazda Talkies. 

The main hoarding of the cinema hall was illuminated by a single halogen lamp. Moths fluttered around them. Hopeful lizards were waiting in crevices. The hoarding boasted of the movie, 'Beauty of Amazon'. The movie had nothing to do with the jungles of Amazon. It was a C-grade soft porn flick, which Hollywood churns out at an amazing rate, and which were showed in the ailing single screen theaters with raw soft porn plugged in to attract the ever-dwindling crowd. The spectators were usually college kids in matinee shows and drunkards in late nights. He wistfully remembered the heydays, when Sholay was released in 1976. He had bunked his school and watched that movie. He could still remember those folding chairs and whistling of the crowd in songs. People encouraging the hero, when Dharmendra thrashed Gabbar. The taste of tangy samosas sold by the canteen staff was still on his tongue! He smiled wistfully. Nowadays there was only one kid in the canteen, who sold only cold drinks. Last week he went to the nearby Atria Mall and watched a movie in the multiplex. He didn't feel the bonhomie in the plush seats or the polite crowd, who didn't even clap on an emotional scene. His befuddled mind could not understand, why people prefer to come into these sanitized multiplexes, when they can enjoy the raw fun in his talkies! He had left the movie mid-way and returned. The plush and decent atmosphere hurt his old fashioned and Bohemian sense of revelry. 

He started climbing the rickety steps towards the mezzanine floor of Mazda Talkies towards his projector room. It was a rigorous activity for him. The owner of the talkies hailed him from his cabin. 

Cyrus Pestonji was in his early 70s and all smiles. "Farrouk Bhai, tamara maate ek very good news chhe!" He got up from behind his metal desk and said, "You don't need to work in your dingy projector room anymore. You are free now." He laughed at the confused look on Farrouk's face and elaborated, "I closed the deal with Kalpataru Builders and offloaded this property to him at a very favorable rate! Now I can go back to London to my dikri Nausheer! We need to handover the possession tomorrow to their solicitors." He was nearly bubbling with excitement. 

Farrouk looked at him dully with a confused expression. Cyrus was rambling about his daughter Nausheer and her husband Fahad till he saw the look on Farrouk's face and stopped mid-track. 

"Are you all right, Bawa?" he asked with concern. "You don't look well!"

"I'm fine." Farrouk mumbled while nodding his head feebly and turned to leave, "I'm fine. It's 9. Should start the last show of this talkies." He smiled painfully and ambled towards the door with Cyrus looking at him with concern. 

Farrouk was in a trance while he automatically climbed the stairs to the mezzanine and in the projector room. He mechanically checked the aging of the projector lamp again. Checked the projection on the gray card and tweaked the lens. Then he pressed the 'Roll' button and opened the Projection Hatch. The silver screen became alive with writhing bodies. Farrouk's mind was blank. He automatically spooled the second reel in the standby spools. A whirring, not unlike the motor of the projector was running in his mind and flashing disembodied clips of long forgotten days. Each monochromatic old scene merging with multi-chromatic new one. Each dull page from past changing magically into a new and glossy colored one. Hillman taxis being replaced by shining Skoda cabs and tall skyscrapers replacing dingy chawls. Farrouk was trying to pace himself with the change and was slowly lagging behind, till... 

The second reel was spent, and the empty projector whirred. The viewers waited for 30 seconds and then started to whistle and catcall. Startled Cyrus came out from his cabin and ran up the projector room. Farrouk was hugging the projector, apparently asleep. When Cyrus tried to wake him, he sprawled on the floor. His blank eyes staring the asbestos cement roof. Cyrus spooled the third reel and resumed the movie. 

The projector lamp flashed bright for the last time and then expired, turning the silver screen dark. 

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