A Tamil proverb says, “திருட்டு மாங்காவுக்கு ருசி அதிகம்” means, “stolen mango is tastier.” The same applies to movies as well. The movie you bunked class to watch seemed more thrilling.
While most of the students bunked class to watch a movie during college days, my friend Mohan Ram and I started it during school days.
First I need to explain why it was such a big thing – bunking class to go to a movie. When we migrated to Madras (Chennai), my uncle advised my parents to put us in Anjuham High School, which probably was the strictest school in the city those days. He thought this would help us to get better education. The headmistress Ms. Geettha Rani was a terror. You can’t even go to the loo without carrying a pass – a set of two aluminum tokens, one was the class leader and the other with the class teacher. To cut class and watch a movie was never heard of in the school.
Mohan Ram and I were misfits in that environment. Though we were toppers, we did everything what the school teachers in general and the headmistress in particular hated. We talked incessantly in the class, argued with the teachers, tried to talk to the girls and swore in Madras Tamil. I was probably the only student in the school’s history to have a ‘satisfactory’ remark in conduct certificate after coming first in SSC exams. The toppers always had ‘excellent’ printed in their conduct certificates.
One fine day in 1977-78 when we were in tenth standard, Mohan Ram told me, “My father said, ‘Eye Witness’ is very good and we should watch it.” So we decided to watch the film. Only issue was the theater would change the movie on Friday and we could not wait till the weekend. That’s when we decided to bunk class in the afternoon and watch the movie.
We had watched only couple of movies in English before and we were not sure if we could follow the dialogues which of course did not discourage us.
Off we went after lunch to Safire theater. Safire theater was probably the first multiplex theater in India. It had 3 screens -Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald. Safire screened English movies. Old timers would fondly remember Blue Diamond as well. This was the only cinema in India which had continuous shows. You can buy a ticket, get into the hall and watch the movie for any number of times during the day.
Safire Theater and the poster of Eye Witness
Eye witness was a thriller movie. A young boy in Mediterranean Island (Malta?) watches an assassination of an African Country President who is on a visit. He is murdered by two police officers. Since the boy is known as ‘cry wolf’, no one believes his story. Only when the crooked police officers try to kill him, his sister and grandfather realize that the boy was speaking the truth for a change and help him to escape. The movie is now available on YouTube.
We enjoyed the movie blissfully unaware of what happened in the class after we left school. Our favorite teacher Mr. Apollos David, who taught us Physics asked the students why we both were missing from the class. We had sounded our close friends to inform the teachers that we had developed sudden fever and went home. But one over enthusiastic student who had seen us taking the bus (we walked to school from home) told Mr. Apollos David that we had bunked class and went to watch 16 vayathinile (at 16 years) – a blockbuster Tamil movie which starred Kamal Hassan and Sridevi. He had assured the students that he would punish us suitably.
Mohan Ram had managed to get a leave letter from his dad. My father was posted in Tuticorin, a port city in south of Tamil Nadu and my mom was visiting him. I had a blank paper with me where my mom’s signature impression was there. I just made a letter and signed on the impression and handed over to the class teacher.
Mr. Apollos David came to the class and promptly gave us a dirty look when we wished him. He asked where we were and we told him that we had fallen ill. He said he knew exactly what we had done. He asked us, “உங்களுக்கு என்னும் 15 வயசே ஆகலே. அதுக்குள்ளே ஸ்கூல கட் அடிச்சி 16 வயதினிலே கேக்குதா?” means “you are not yet 15 but you cut class to watch ‘at 16 years’.” We had to come clean and explained to him why we went to the movie. That we went to watch an English movie (rare for Tamil Medium students) probably pacified him a bit. He said, “the bees and moth select only ripen mangoes to pierce and spoil the fruits. Similarly only good students get spoiled easily. You guys have good future and don’t ruin your lives. Since this is your first offense, I will not report to Headmistress.” He somehow thought I was the one who planned this and Mohan Ram was only an accomplice. I ended up listening to most of his scoldings.
We thought we escaped but more was in store for me. In the staff room my class teacher was telling another teacher who was my neighbor that Ramesh was not well and his mother had given a leave letter. The neighbor teacher wondered how that’s possible since my mother is not in town. My class teacher called me to the staff room and gave one big lecture.
In the next couple of years we watched a lot of movies together but the first movie experience is still vivid in our memories.Couple of years back, I dug out the movie in YouTube and sent the link to Mohan Ram.
Mohan Ram during college days (L), friends even after 40 odd years (R).
It was a great experience but it also taught me one important lesson in life. For the same offense I would always get punished more than Mohan Ram.
P.S: Mohan Ram became a successful doctor and practices medicine in Chennai and I somehow muddled through life and survived to write the story. Not bad after all!