Movie, Mall, Bazaar

(Part 5 of the Bangalore Days series that began here.)

Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu, a Kannada movie starring Anant Nag, begins with a boy playing with an elderly man. The game isn’t an innocent one. Using the old man’s failing memory to his advantage, the boy attempts to trick the grandpa-like figure. Soon he is stopped by a nurse, but we are the only ones to sense relief: the old man, an Alzheimer’s patient, isn’t aware of what has transpired.

The backstory emerges gradually. Venkoba Rao has been admitted to the old-age home by his son Shiva. Incapable of facing the situation of his father’s condition, and unable to bear this responsibility after his mother’s death, Shiva distances himself from his father. One day Venkoba Rao slips away from the old-age home, gets muddled up with a couple of contract killers, and the rest of the movie follows the twin threads of a son’s search for his missing father (of ‘Wheatish complexion, average build’: the film’s title) and the tragi-comic predicaments of criminals who are stuck with a man carrying few memories but plenty of wisdom.

The ending brings a resolution. Son and father are reunited, and along the way the son finds himself too: Shiva now regrets his earlier decisions. A neat and feel-good conclusion that reaffirms a comforting belief: this is a society that still cares for its elders and values how they are treated.  

I watch the movie at the Mantri mall in Malleshwaram. Physically and commercially the multiplex movie experience in this city mirrors what one sees in the West. Standing in the dimly lit windowless foyer, with digital screens beaming trailers and counters stacked with bottled drinks, I recall evenings we stood on M.G.Road waiting to be let inside The Plaza. On the sidewalk were magazine sellers competing with hawkers peddling roasted peanuts or corn cobs. Traffic eased by unhurriedly, and the expectant buzz of cinemagoers on the pavement made this wait a part of the movie experience: we could not have imagined it otherwise. This was during the nineties. Nowadays, before you enter the foyer inside a multiplex, you pass through a security check, and surrender your camera’s battery. Smartphones are permitted without fuss, but even a small point-and-shoot camera is problematic. Inside the cinema hall, the glow of mobile phones is a source of amusement and discomfort, especially when people take calls when the movie is on. In the nineties crying babies were the only source of interruption. They were hushed or taken outside, but a ringing phone triggers a different response. These new babies demand immediate, on-the-spot attention.

After the movie I walk towards Sampige Road. During the eighties, when we visited Bangalore on summer holidays and stayed at my grandfather’s residence in Malleshwaram, my mother occasionally led me to the street-side market on Sampige Road. The sidewalks, flanked by shops on one side and metal balustrades on the other, were among the busiest I had seen. I recall my mother buying steel utensils here, perhaps because every purchase was accompanied by an engraving of her maiden name on the utensil. The electric pen engraver used in these shops produced a grating noise, so I would step outside and wait on the footpath, absorbing the kaleidoscopic patterns of wares on display, the sight of eager shoppers ducking into stores, the snarl of passing traffic, and occasionally, a whiff of jasmine.  

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Twenty-five years on the road is choked with snail-paced traffic, but the sidewalks are bustling with the same energy and spirit of commerce. There are fruit and flower bearers, fake jewellery and handbag vendors, paan wallahs with small towers of steel dabbas, the aroma of coffee mingling with the scent of jasmine, men tracing mehendi patterns on slender arms of eager young women, girls in salwar-kameez bargaining for sandals, women with babies on their laps displaying an array of plastic toys. An ambulance shrieks for right of way, a megaphone-bearing policeman orders a stalled autorickshaw to move, a boy rolls a plastic tractor near his father’s spread of toys, a middle-aged woman heaves her trolley filled with roasted corn cobs, a ponytailed teenage girl with white earphones speaks as she walks, young couples stand eating outside a sweets shop, clients sit examining gems in a jewellery store, a salesman unspools a crimson saree: the scene has the appearance of a flea market, only it isn’t one. This is daily business, and it has continued uninterrupted all these years, with few signs of change. Hawkers, shop owners, and clients here have engaged in small transactions of traditional goods while the rest of the world has marched towards new technologies and modern consumables. What matters is local, this place seems to say. And as I walk back I wonder if this question — how would it change Sampige Road — could be a touchstone to gauge the impact of larger events and trends.

6 thoughts on “Movie, Mall, Bazaar

  1. “Nowadays, before you enter the foyer inside a multiplex, you pass through a security check, and surrender your camera’s battery. Smartphones are permitted without fuss, but even a small point-and-shoot camera is problematic.”

    I agree, totally, with the frustration/irritation you must’ve (or should’ve!!) felt! What’s with using a camera? I don’t get it. Yes, my 30x optical zoom camera is better than my low-end smartphone; and yes, I get it that there might be some compromising of security if folks with a camera were to take photos and videos (*points to David Headley*) but surely folks under the pay of the high level miscreants would’ve a smartphone that beats even my camera hands down?

    I didn’t have issues with malls (maybe because the only mall-like area I really visited was UB City), but I did get in trouble with the whistle-toting (what’s with those anyway??!!) security folks in the metro stations. Fortunately, they didn’t go into the trouble of getting me to delete my photos and videos, but they did say that photos/videos were permitted with smartphones only. Though I didn’t challenge them, I did enquire at a ticket window (where there was no rush) what the real rules were. Dude said that he didn’t know what the rules were, and that only the security folks knew them. The couple of times I tried to google, I was unable to find anything concrete about this.

    Oh, and the other time I had an issue was when I took a photo inside a domestic Air India plane. The air hostess rushed towards me, told me that taking photos inside the plane was not permitted and immediately got me to delete the photo I’d taken. The plane was still almost empty (we had boarded first as our seats were way back in the rear), and the only passengers – and the air hostess – were near the front of the plane!

    1. I faced the same at the MG Road metro station in Bangalore. It seems a regular protocol they follow. Self-appointed vigilantes are also common — many people I know have their stories of being stopped from taking photographs.

  2. Another blast from the past, I say. Sampige Rd indeed. Were there a bunch of juice vendors on that street, around the market? I remember having some mighty fine mosambi juice from those chaps.

    1. Yes, they were around. And one old fellow told me about the rowdies from IISc who bought juice on credit and rarely paid up.

  3. Hello Parmanu!

    I came across a blog whilst researching for incidents against Indians in Germany and I discovered your blog, dug comfortably deep in the google search. The name of the blog that piqued my interest and soon enough, the content. I find myself relishing your stories about Bangalore, a city I only visited once but with which I can relate to, thanks to your eyes which refresh my own perceptions of the city. You describe the city with the same ambition I hoped anyone with a middle-class upbringing would describe an Indian city (I hope my guess is right) and you nail down all the vague observations I scribbled down in my fickle memory to the T.

    I find your writing very enjoyable and I set aside the evening to go through as much of your work as I possibly could (it’s also ironical that I am currently going through ‘The Book of Disquiet’) and I didn’t wish to be a silent lurker. But I write with a request in my head, a request which I think would be delightful to read – I would love to hear about the day that follows or precedes you reading this comment, right down to the mundane details. I already feel very connected to you through your work, I perhaps would enjoy a conversation with you with a lot of coffee flowing around.

    Much love.
    R.

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