By Shoaib Hashmi
Like most cultured Lahoris of
yore, one was an avid film fan. Of course this is
fifty years ago, and cinema going was a sedate and
civilized thing then. Lahore was on the main international
cinema circuit, and you got a brand new Hollywood
film in each of the four English language cinemas
every week, beginning Fridays. Sometimes if it wasn't
particularly successful, they'd bring on another
The films came on real 35mm film, and weeks before,
it was the custom to walk into the cinema lobby
on the way back from school, to look at the 'stills'
from coming movies, and collect posters sent by
the producer which sat in a neat pile outside the
closed ticked window -- no one ever thought to steal
the whole pile! The halls were clean and furnished
in plush, and smelt nice because someone had sat
and smoked his perfumed 'Sobranie' or 'De Marco
Polo' cigarette during the show last night.
Then it all went to pot because TV came along and
killed the great Hollywood studios -- or at any
rate knocked them out for a few decades. Worse for
us the distributors here discovered the manure dished
out cheap by Golan-Globus from Hong Kong and stuffed
it down our throats week after week. Cinemagoers
learnt to stay home, and they banned smoking in
theatres and the sweet smell of perfumed cigarettes
was replaced by stinks of another ilk.
Trouble is that in all the decades since, one has
never lost the nostalgia for spending a wonderful
evening in a darkened hall watching movies. In the
meantime Hollywood too has recovered from its stupor,
and gone way past relegating TV to its rightful
place as second-rate kid brother. Movies have come
to us on the small screen, and on 'Guaranteed Original
Camera Prints', but there is a feeling that is not
all that is wrong. Herewith my cribs about the movies:
They seem to be killing themselves casting the ugliest
and most repugnant men as heroes! The whole idea
of male beauty seems to have gone out the window.
I think at one time that used to be the basic requirement
for a star; there were the Gary Coopers and Tyrone
Powers, and Clark Gable's ears stuck out a mile
but one could live with them. No one could live
with Vin Diesel! And no one should want to.
The odd thing is that we also grew up in the time
of the great female beauties of the screen, the
Ava Gardeners and Liz Taylors, and were wise enough
to look up the Greta Garbos, though I must confess
I counted Marlene Dietrich along with Vin Diesel.
And that has continued. The women in movies today
are as beautiful as ever, maybe more because there
are more. And among men who do we have to look at?
I recall the time when the Brits got on to the horror
bandwagon. They started with Dracula, went on to
his brides and children and neighbors and grandchildren,
and the action got gorier with every new opus. Eventually
the censors got at them and told them to stop and
find some other kind of muck to fill their films.
I think we have also passed the point of supreme
dumbness with Matrix and Terminator 2, and it has
been flashier and louder, but downhill from there.
Soon someone will have to step in and tell them
to go learn to play with themselves and stop this
Meanwhile they have learnt a cheap and most irritating
trick. Have you noticed how in every film most of
the action plays out ... in Torchlight? I am not
talking only of 'Alien' and the outer space movies,
or those where the action is at night -- even if
it is broad daylight, somehow the protagonists manage
to squeeze themselves into caves and basements and
holes where you have to kill yourselves trying to
decipher what the hell is going on, while you see
these beams of light flashing here and there!
And you can't spare the energy because you are already
getting a hernia of the thumb perpetually adjusting
the sound to prevent yourself going deaf, or mad.
Just as you finish fine-tuning the sound level to
comfort, the commercial break comes on, and of course
they have adjusted the sound level of the ads to
a few million decibels higher and it blows the roof
off. I could understand that. The channel people's
bread and butter comes from the ads, and they have
to tell the advertisers their message went across.
But the soundmen in the movies too have lost their
minds. They set the sound level for the action and
music. And then when the dialogue comes on they
save on the same million decibels, and you can't
hear a word. Maybe they are ashamed of the lines
and don't want you to hear them! But we have to
know what's going on for goodness sake. And I have
been watching for years, and loving the action,
and I have never known why Steven Segal was beating
the guy's butt off because I can't hear the lines.
Kill the soundmen!