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.
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.