Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Crown's First Show!

'Vinod, you are a palakkad iyer, right?', my friend recently asked me. Surprised, i asked back 'why ask?' 'Tell me', he pushed and i answered in the affirmative. 'Its surprising' he said, 'most iyers from palakkad went into teaching or government jobs. Wonder how you guys got into business - that too Cinema!'.

He was right. Think of it or look around - you'd find most palakkad iyers teaching, lecturing or in a cushy government job.

Well, it was a question none had asked me before. Guess thats why i'd never thought of it too. That he asked, i thought and that took me back in time to the day when my father gave me the 'flashback'!

Circa 1910 : My father, Radhakrishna Iyer, the elder of the two brothers who scripted 'The Crown' story, is in the midst of Railway porters somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. My dad (hardly a year old) is with his father, a Station Master with the Indian Railways. One of the porters playfully throws my dad up in the air but fails to catch! The fall results in an injured right arm with which he has to live for the rest of his life.

Excelling in Public relations, he grew up to be known as "The 'saami' with the debilitated right arm". In fact, most patrons thought him to be the sole proprietor of The Crown. And he lived his life to the fullest for 80 eventful years!

But the real hero of 'The Crown Success story' was his younger brother, Ramamoorthy - Handsome, energetic, a man with great business acumen and most importantly, someone who loved cinema!

But for him, i'm sure we'd never have been in showbiz!

The two brothers growing up with their Grandmother in Palakkad attend the local school. They enjoy every bit of the rustic life in their village, Kottayi. While my father is notorious for his 'single-handed' juvenile pranks, the younger brat is famous for absconding for hours togehther.

Later in life, he revealed that those 'absconding' hours were actually spent in the nearest (read five to seven miles) touring cinema!

His silent passion for cinema does not stop with the long 'absconding' hours. Anything related to cinema, that could be carried, found its way to his pocket. And it is a piece of paper from this collection that opens to him an aperture to the World of Cinema.

The piece, a cutting from an old newspaper, is in fact an advertisment of a portable 'chimney projector'. The company, based in Chennai, boasts of high quality projection equiment at a price of 'Rs.8 and change'.

Rs.8 and change... a paltry sum now. But then, those days... it was a 'hefty' figure!

He imagines of how he'd entertain the people of his village with movies; how they'd all flock to see their favourite stars. But where would he get that kind of money? Grandma would shriek at the very 'thought' of buying such an equiment, leave alone entertaining people! He buries the idea well within himself.

What lays buried pops out one day while he and the brat pack are on the treetop plucking tender mangoes! On hearing his 'buried' passion, the reaction, in chorus is, "your 'idea', you idiot, is a 'dream' to many! What the hell are you waiting for?". Inspired by the unexpected support from his peers, he sets out to do what no other in his little village has ever done - Screen a 'movie' in 'kottayi'!

He begs, borrows & saves 'nayapaisa' by 'nayapaisa'. And it takes him 4 months to reach that magic figure.

Though my father claimed to have contributed a lot, i later learnt that all he did was talk to relatives and folks of his kid brother's 'brilliant' idea.

Early summer - the precious equipment arrives in 'Kottayi'. The grand lady of the house is surprised when the postman announces, 'a parcel for A.K.Ramamoorthy'! My uncle dashes to get hold of the parcel before anyone set eyes on it. It takes him two days to convince his grandmother that he has 'rightfully' purchased the projector. And it takes him another three to convince her of his entrepreneurial intentions.

Green signal!

My uncle, ecstatic, carefully follows the instruction manual and assembles the projector. My dad chips in with his 'left' arm! The projector assembled, and two little 'show reels' in a can, all thats needed now is a 'hall with a wall'!!

Remember, we're talking of the 1920s and those days, there weren't any halls in 'kottayi' gramam. The only one that resembled a hall was the school building, and that too when the classroom partitions were removed.

My dad is assigned the task of securing the principal's permission. Taking advantage of the kindess with which people treat him(obviuosly because of his impairment) and with the god given gift of smooth talk, he gets the nod with ease and that too 'free of cost'.

Even before the hand written 'flyers' announcing the 'first' movie in Kottayi are out, the word spreads. 'Ramamoorthy & Radha are bringing the movie to our village!' And everyone who meets dad or uncle have only one question to ask, "When is the 'first show'?"

D-day! Kottayi gramam school is abuzz with kids and grown ups alike. Long before the announced showtime, they are lined up outside kottayi school.

The Box office opens an hour before the show. It takes them an hour to get the crowd in, after collecting the price of admission.

And the price of admission - 1 paisa!

The crowd, close to a hundred and fifty, settle as the chief operator (my uncle) walks in. The expectant crowd urges him to start the show. After all, they've been waiting for a couple of hours.

After ensuring that everything in the equipment is in order, he lights the projection lamp. And as he'd seen & heard in the touring cinemas, he stands up & announces to his audience, "The first show of 'There is many a slip between the cup & the lip' begins........ now!"

He rolls the film reel and opens the shutter! There is a hush... and then the hall is filled with the sounds of the excitement - Kottayi's first 'movie' is on. Silent, Black & White and all of 16mm!

The titles are brief and then walks in the Hero (on screen, i mean). The hall is abuzz with the 'ooohs', 'aaahs' and mumurs of seeing a tall & handsome 'sayip' (read white man). Seating himself in front of a table, he studies the table... A steaming pot of coffee, a cup of sugar, cream, a cup & saucer and of course, a news paper. He takes the cup and pours the steaming coffee into it. Two spoons of sugar and some cream added he stirs the contents of the cup.

He sits back, relaxed, and opens the news paper. Engrossed in some article on the open page he reaches out for his cup of coffee.

He takes the cup in his hand and as he brings it close to his lips, a cat, a white furball, jumps across, scaring the hero, spilling the contents of the cup!

Well... Thats it!

The End!!

Someone in the crowd asks 'Movie over?', 'So soon?'

Well, the brat pack swings into action and bellows 'What more did you expect for 1 paisa?'

Grudginly, yet with a sense of satisfaction (of having seen kottayi's first movie) the crowd move out.

That was Ramamoorthy's & Radha's first show! In fact, The Crown's (the name they'd thought of for the cinema house they'd own some day) First show!!

It took them 20 years, several failed business ventures and a chance meeting (with a splendid young man named Venugopal) to manage and eventually own The Crown.

Now, that my friends, is another story...


drbabu said...

very nostalgic

please chronicle the warner brothers visit
Those old malayalam flyers/notice we had during those wild west days
describing 'good, the bad, the ugly etc, which my bro abu used to enjoy

Angel said...

The show must go on! cant tell u how moved i was. We want more vin!


To Mr.AR Vinod
My father Late A.V.Ramakrishnan Rtd Postmaster,Koduvayur 8-10 years
younger(cousin brother) than Radha/Ramamoorthi Periappas.He had told about this events.It is enjoyable to read the article Vinod.You know my first seeing of "Ten commandments" with my father at Crown theatre is the only picture I had seen with my father during his life.He told me that the Two brothers were only in business and all their cousins were/are Military, Postal and Railways & Teaching dept

ar venkatachala Iyer , Nanganallur Chennai-61

Sunil said...

Hi Vinod! that was a nice opening piece down memory lane of the Crown. It did bring back memories of my dad and has sort of given me the inspiration to do a piece on his life - from the other side of cinema - distribution of foreign films in South India, may take a while though... till then keep your story going. All the very best!

Sriram Subramaniam said...

Hi Vinod,

Amazing story. And very well written. I still remember my first film at the Crown - The Ten Commandments. And I was honoured to be taken to the projection room during that visit. Look forward to more from you.

karan said...

As I was reading this write up I was so engrossed in it that was actually trying to picturise the simple life led by people back then.
A story like this really makes one appritiate the achivements of our grandfathers.
Despite the numerous hardships and obsticles faced by them they were strong enough to keep going untill they were able to achieve there life long dream.
For that I take my hat off to them.
When we learn about the problems and difficulties faced by them back then it really makes our present day issues seem very negligible.
I guess its fair to say that every inch of Crown Theater teaches us something.Every single brick that was used to build the theater is indication of the blood and sweat spilled by our grandfathers in there life long quest.
All this coming from a major movie buff himself.Now I know where I get my passion for movies from......
Hey Vinma.... really enjoyed reading this story.Thanks for bringing it to light.

Mo said...

It was great travelling down memory lane, especially since "Crown", Park Restaurant ET All were the seats of education for most of us Calicut'tans. Why not think about a Gallery in a small part of the theatre?, where such info can be displayed. The theatre is a land mark of Calicut, like Bombay Hotel and all!!!

Meen said...

Vin, for few minutes I was at Kottayi Gramam waiting for the first show to start. :) ..keep going...u have successfully & beautifully entwined the past & present..My best memory at crown is that we became friends at the ticket queue..Thanks to Harry Potter :)

Shilpa said...

Great story...very well written and highly inspiring! It makes me truly proud of my lineage. Thanks for sharing this. Look forward to more...

jasmine said...

thankyou vinod ....for an outsider like myself the matter was truly amazing....what a fablous story to have with you and to carry it forward from generation to generation....how proud you must feel and rightly so....waiting to read more....

Paul Mathew said...

Fascinating reading. Eager to hear the whole story.

Great 'show'.

Paul Mathew said...

Great stuff. Fascinating reading! Eager to hear the rest of the story. When I lived in Calicut for 3 years from 1981 to 1984, I used to come to Crown often. I remember seeing 2 elderly gentlemen, usually dressed in white, one of whom would often usher us in with a smile. Who would that be?

Paul Mathew

mehul r said...

Really interesting piece of info, put in simple, yet a manner in which one could picture the whole incident . Waiting for more...

Bas said...

great stuff vinod! I cannot remember my first movie there but things I cannot forget is that tiny ever smiling man (little swamy) who opens the door for us to get in and his non stop comments!!! Ofcourse the hot samosas and coffee! I am really glad that you took this initiative. Good luck my friend.

Anand said...

Vinod, great stuff dude. i still remember the days when my daddy used to bring me to crown/ the day when we bunked 8th std and saw our first adult movie, blue lagoon and saw and that too very secretly... then till ghajini going strong man.

Any time i visit calicut, a movie from crown is sure, but i miss our hero who was in the theatre right from when i was bought by my dad till last year : guess who is that.

aparna said...

Once upon a time, a small girl, clasping her father's hand, stepped into a theatre, movie- Crocodile In Lake Placid. She remembers not a single shot in the movie. But kind of curiosity regarding something else was left in her mind. Baby girl saw not many young boys and girls of her age rush into the theatre. Naturally dad had to explain, '' Generally everyone don't come here...''. Well, that was the explanation that rough and tough dad could give her, the bird-brain could think no further!
She grew up; young lady was put in the unseen cage of dad's rules. and the important one among them , ''don’t roam in the town, back home once classes are over''!!! But now there was some difference. She was no more a bird-brain....but a bird with brain! She was warned not to watch movies alone or with friends. And not many friends of her belonged to the beautiful town- calicut. Consequently Hrithik, Amir and the King Khan were out of her reach!! But that curiosity about this theatre had grown with her....now young and full of energy....
Still she was not destined to step her foot in that denied compound.... She was not aware, not in her wildest dreams, what life had to offer her.
One Tuesday afternoon, she met her dearest teacher from the very same place-The Crown. I f this has to be called by a name, well....''coincidence'' would be the very common one. The young, enthusiastic teacher whom she had met from her MBA coaching centre, surprisingly, belonged to the theatre...or that theatre belonged to him.....! Mr. A. R. Vinod....'ARV' for those who dream about 'catching the CAT', Crown Vinod for his neighbors, simply 'Vin' for his dearest friends 'Vinma' for kids of his age [!] and more importantly...'Raja' for all at home....
A place which was more like a lion's den for the rabbit...turned out to be the only place in the town where she could meet wonderful people whom otherwise she would never have met!. The cafeteria that serves her favorite snacks- Amul ice-cream, boiled corn and Nescafe allows her to see her hometown in the best angles some of which she'd caught in her frames. The Silver Screen....the air that smells good cinema...she began to miss one not in town...making her realize that... Crown was not denied, but reserved for her, to remember throughout her life...
Reading the blog, she can find the two brothers replaced… history repeats…!

sheen said...

Hi vinod,

nice to see your Blog. wish you all the best. am sure that this blog spot will be a reputed url in cyber world just like crown theatre :)

rgds - Sheen Chungath

Rajagopal said...

Still Remember the days when I used to stand "first" in the Rs. 2/- queue cage (below the staircase to the balcony) almost every sunday Matinee show some 20 years back, and watching Saami ( kalla saami for the Rs 1/- guys) patrol the corridor waiting for the first bell.

The Good the bad the ugly, Mckenna's Gold, Ten Commandments are some of the oldies I watched quite a few times paying Rs2/- and one roll of poppins and a Podhi of kadala for 25 paise each.

Enter the dragon, The Posidon Adventure and the Towering Inferno were the then new gen films which we thoroughly enjoyed in the sweltering Crown sometimes sitting on the huge door steps if we were late for the show.

Sitting with my kids Madhav and nandita for the Harry Potters at the Air conditioned Crown was a diff experience.
Good show Vinod for such a nostalgic blog start.

nishi said...

Very interesing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

yAz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yAz said...

its been a thrll to find ths blog.
we hav a community for "crown"ians in orkut. it wud be wonderful being ther. visit further..


charmaine said...

Vinod, you take me home down the country roads. I am once more the 6-yr-old who ran up those steps not wanting to miss the trailers; I m the gawky teenagerall excited about her first movie date, waiting anxiously on the open terrace; for all those of us who trace our childhoods with the Crown, please go on writing.....Amazing blog Vin. I'm only sad I didn't read it before.....

Roshan said...

Really delighted to see this blog… remarkable story.

devaki said...

very well written..was totally engrossed and was ofcourse trying to picture the life back then I love watchin movies and have grown up watchin most of them in crown. wish u all the luck and loads of growth to your business.

bipi said...

Keep going

MUNNU said...

Its look like crown theater is loosing its pride.. Nowadays the sound quality of the theater is becoming very poor and also the picture quality too....

I am ver eagerly waiting for a multiplex in calicut to watch new movies...

crown its time to change otherwise you will loose your kingdom

Rumi said...

Great article Vinod. Brings back a lot of memories. Have watched quite a few movies as a kid during the 70s and 80s with my brothers and bother in-law, among them McKenna's Gold, Posiedon Adventure, Enter the Dragon.
Also in the 90s was a regular, during my college days. The small guy who used to usher us in was of great help in getting us tickets.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sranj said...

WOW!... Fantastic post!

My father-in-law used to say that he and his friend used to walk from Feroke to Crown. So i knew the theater had such an old story to say and a history behind it and i was about to post a query in both the FB calicut groups if any knew if crown or Radha which was the oldest and knew any history of these two theaters.... and here it is! Good reading Vinod.. and yes.. eager to know more...!!!