Cinema, Cinema!
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 one Tuesday.
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:
The Heroes
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?
Action!
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 nonsense.
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!
The sound!
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!

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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