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No, I am not referring to that stupid Sajid Khan’s mindless caper. The word Housefull had a different meaning in the golden days of Cinema Halls – or should I say ‘Sanimaa’ and Desi bhasha mein ‘ Theaterr’.

There was a time when one had to stand in the long queue outside the window of the Cinema Halls to buy the tickets. On the right of the window was the queue for the pricey and heavenly Balcony tickets and on the left was Budgetwalla Stall - nothing to do with the casteism - it all depended on how late or early you arrived for the Advance Booking of the tickets. If the queue was long, it only meant that you have arrived a bit too late for Advance Booking and in this situation all you could do was stand and pray to the Ishta Devtaa that when your turn arrives after waiting in that long serpentine single file queue, you wouldn’t see the hand painted tin board with the word ‘HOUSEFULL’ written on it. This board was dreaded by every Picture Dekhne Wala. Whether you opted to watch Morning Show, Matinee Show, 6 to 9 or 9 to 12- yes, the song ‘chalti hai kya Nau se Barrah’ had been inspired from these picture timings- you never wanted to see the Housefull board without the pink, blue, yellow slip in your hands.

As soon as the Housefull board was displayed on the ticket window, you would start hearing loud murmurs of ‘dus ka bees, Balcony bolo, Stall bolo, Upper Bolo’... If you have heard the term ‘ticket black mein lena’, this was it; a very common practise back then. Buying the tickets in black was actually a lot of fun. The tickets bought in black were still cheaper than a tub of popcorn sold at the PVRs of today.

Those pink-coloured tickets with handwritten seat numbers, standing in the long queue, the delight in seeing a short queue and the disappointment of the housefull board, every visit to the cinema hall was experience in itself.

What’s more, these Cinema Halls were state-of-the-art. Cushioned seats, huge red pardaa covering the 70 MM screen, large halls and yes, a working AC was a big hash (AKA sigh of relief). Back then AC was a luxury, very few could afford. Where they were no ACs, series of wall-mounted fans greeted you with their gentle breeze. All of this was state-of-the-art for us. Do you remember the ‘Torch Wale Bhaiyaa’ whose torch beam would scan across the hall and point out the right seat for you in whichever corner of the hall it would be. Mind you, it was more accurate than the pocket lasers that some ‘cool dudes’ carry to the theatres these days.

The magic of cinema began right when the show reels showcasing India’s freedom struggle in black and white flashed on the screen. Mahatma Gandhi addressed the audience in a sepia-toned picture. This ended and the ‘bell rang’. Picture abhi shuru hua hai mere dost… There was pin-drop silence in the hall; except for the whirr of the wall-mounted fans. The 70 MM screen lights up with the projector beaming away the credit titles and the next 2.5 hours used to be mesmerising. Watching Bachchan fight, Rajesh Khanna sing, Mithun dance, Jaggu Dadda’s tapoori dialogues… and suddenly in midst of all this, you would hear the bell ring again. It’s interval time. The trrring trrring of the bottle openers entice you to step out and buy a Gold Spot or Limca or a Pack of Popcorn that was sold for Rs. 10/- and the famous Patti Samosa were for Rs 20/-. This is how a middle class or in fact every family in India watched movies on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Today, everything has changed. We have PVRs of the world promising us the ultimate cinema-going experience in a small hall… Oops multiple halls... all through the day with strange movie timings like 7.15 pm or 1.15 noon or 10.10 in the night. These swanky Cineplexes are doing everything in their might to woo the audiences to these small halls. The ‘Housefull’ word has been replaced with 100-crore movie club and many such brackets to decide whether a movie is a hit or flop. The life of the movie these days is restricted to Saturday and Sunday. A released movie going into the second week is considered to be a huge success and if the movie manages to survive till the third week, you could picture the producer laughing all his way to the bank.

A recent article in the newspaper highlighted a village in Punjab where all the single screen cinema halls have shut down and Friday is just another day for this village. And it’s not the only place where single screens have been shut down. One can count them on back of a cinema ticket… the numbers of single screen cinema halls are fast depleting and are on the verge of being declared ‘extinct’.

No wonder the carpenter who was working on a wardrobe at my home was playing songs of Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Rafi, Lata, Shabbir Kumar on his touch-screen mobile phone. Out of curiosity, I asked him “Naye gaane pasand nahin hai kya?” He stopped his work, smiled and said, “Aisa nahin hai Bhaiyya, naya gaana kaunsa hai woh pata hi nai hai… Sanimaa dekhe barso ho gaye hain... Ab to yaad bhi nai hai aakhri Sanimaa kaunsa dekhe hain…” He went back to his work, humming “Hum hain rahi pyaar ke, humse kuch na boliye…” Surprisingly he sang the song without tampering the lyrics, which usually happens while humming casually. Imagine doing this for latest songs. How many new songs can you sing to perfection? Very few. Such is the state of movies these days… Out of reach and out of sync with the common beings that yearn for their good ol’ days of ‘Air-Cooled Sanima Halls’.

Let’s bring back the magic of watching Sanimaa again. Let’s go back to watch Sanimaa in the Single Screen Halls (if there is one left in your city that is). I would love to stand in the long queue for advance booking and bargain again with the guy selling tickets in black. Yes, I wouldn’t mind seeing the ‘Housefull’ board again and again...

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