Sometime very ordinary things make a big difference to your life. Small incidents become memories that don’t go away. Like your first crush some memories remain with you despite the passage of time making their original meaning completely irrelevant.
In my village Loliem, we were one of the first few people to get a television set. All was well till I was very small and the cable had not yet arrived in Goa. Then slowly cities started having cable service and we were left behind. It was very clear that my village will never get a cable service thanks to its sparse population. We could not afford to buy that big dish antenna and I was stuck with good old doordarshan.
Quality of DD was going to dogs day by day and I was upset. One day government decided to broadcast it’s DD Metro channel on VHF and I was very happy. I forced my father to invest some money in better quality antenna and it’s booster to improve signal reception. Thankfully he did listen to me and we worked hard to get the signal. It involved putting the antenna on even taller tree and adjusting it till we could get the picture.
Honestly, those few months were the most pleasurable television moments of my life. 9 Gold had partnered with DD and they were telecasting some of the finest television serials India had seen so far. Among them, one was “Director’s cut”. Some big shot and award winning directors were given an opportunity to direct a 2 hour tele-film. They also used some of the finest actors available such as Ashutosh Rana, Renuka Shahane, Rageshvari and so on. One of the tele-film was “Jannat Talkies”. It features Milind Soman and other very powerful star-cast. Honestly I saw only the last few minutes of the show where they showed Milind Soman sitting alone in the theatre looking at Madhubala’s songs on the screen and crying.
That made a big impact on me. Till today I search”Jannat Talkies” on torrents and wherever else possible with a hope that I might find that tele film and relive those moments but only in vain.
It was by accident I stumbled upon the film “Cinema Paradiso”. It struck to me that “Jannat Talkies” is just translation of Cinema Paradiso and I felt that Jannat Talkies could have been a remake of Cinema Paradiso. I downloaded the movie and saw it.
I was completely blown away by the movie and my efforts to search for Jannat Talkies were greatly rewarded by fate. I always love movies that revolve around the theme of nostalgia, redemption and sacrifice. Cinema Paradiso’s main theme is nostalgia.
Story goes something like this.
Salvadore is a famous film-maker who returns home one night, his girlfriend tells him with sleepy eyes that his mother had called him up to tell that Alfredo was dead. Salvadore has not visited his village in last thirty years. He is afraid of any committed relationships. With this news however Salvadore goes into a flashback where he is a 10 year old kid known as Toto. In the post world war II, cinema halls are a novelty. People crowd to see movies. Those are black and white movies shown on a projector which is fed with a film made up of nitrocellulose which is a highly combustible substance. The local priest is always the first to watch all movies and orders that all love scenes be cut. Alfredo is the projectionist who has not kids and he loves Toto. He realizes that Toto is a smart kid and actually has a passion for movies.
One fateful day the film catches fire, the whole movie hall is burned down. Toto manages to save Alfredo but Alfredo is blinded. One person who made a fortune in lottery rebuilds the movie hall and appoints the 12 year old Toto as projectionist. Alfredo now tells Toto stories and wisdom which he mostly borrows from the movies he has seen. Toto grows up to become a young man and starts liking a girl Elena. He secretly shoots her while she is in school and so on. Alfredo gives Toto love advices. He tells him a story.
Alfredo: Once upon a time, a king gave a feast. And there came the most beautiful princesses of the realm. Now, a soldier, who was standing guard, saw the king’s daughter go by. She was the most beautiful one, and he immediately fell in love with her. But what could a poor soldier do when it came to the daughter of the king? Well, finally, one day, he managed to meet her, and he told her that he could no longer live without her. The princess was so impressed by his strong feelings that she said to the soldier: “If you can wait 100 days and 100 nights under my balcony, then at the end of it, I shall be yours.” Damn! The soldier immediately went there and waited one day. And two days. And ten. And then twenty. And every evening, the princess looked out of her window, but he never moved. During rain, during wind, during snow, he was always there. The bird shat on his head, and the bees stung him, but he didn’t budge. After ninety nights, he had become all dried up, all white, and the tears streamed from his eyes. He couldn’t hold them back. He no longer had the strength to sleep. All that time, the princess watched him. And on the 99th night, the soldier stood up, took his chair, and went away.
Now dont ask me what it means and why he did that. (He gets up and walks away).
One day when Elena visits church for confession, old Alfredo keeps the priest busy in a hilarious way (He tells the priest that he has many doubts about the bible and questions many miracles. ). Toto gets into the confession chamber and speaks to Elena. Elena say’s that she find him nice but she doesn’t love him. Toto replies saying he will wait outside her house of 100 days. (Inspired by Alfredo’s story).
He actually waits outside her house for many days. On a new year’s day he waits till the midnight , the window opens , he closes his eyes and before he opens his eyes the window closes and no one comes out. He walks back. His wait however is rewarded as Elena comes to Cinema Paradiso and they kiss passionately. Toto has to enroll in compulsory military training, Elena promises that she will come to meet him at a particular time but she never comes. Toto join army and gets to know that Elena has left the town with her family and no one knows where. All the letters he writes for her are returned undelivered.
After his training Toto returns to the town and takes a walk with Alfredo on a beach where he explains Alfredo the meaning of the story he narrated.
In one more night, the princess would have been his. But she also could not possibly have kept her promise. And it would have been terrible. He would have died. This way, however, at least for 99 days, he was living under the illusion that she was there, waiting for him.
Alfredo tells Toto. Leave this town and chase your dreams. This place is not for you. Go, never come back and never think about us. Toto heeds the advice and takes it literally. He flies to Rome to become a great film maker.
Finally he returns for Alfredo’s funeral. Alfredo’s widow tells him that Alfredo very closely followed Salvatore’s success but not once he wanted him to come back. Salvatore’s mother requested Alfredo to call him back to village but he was furious. However he left a gift for Salvatore. That is a reel.
Salvatore visits the Cinema Paradiso which is now completely desserted. No one comes to watch movie and hence the owner and Salvatore’s old boss has sold it to the city administration. They demolish Cinema Paradiso before Salvatore’s eyes. Salvatore remembers the old faces. The hall manager, the local madman, regular movie visitor and so on. Before the demolition he visits the projection room and screen and so on.
When he visits his house he goes through all his stuff that his mother has carefully preserved. In that he find the first movie he ever made. That is of Elena. He apologizes to his mother but she is happy. She says his decision to leave was correct.
The movie ends when Salvatore goes back to Rome and sits in his private theater to watch the reel that Alfredo has left for him. It is a movie Alfredo made up by joining all those love scenes that the local priest has ordered to be censored. Salvatore breaks into tears and the movie ends.
In the expanded version of the movie we also get to know what happened to Elena. It is Alfredo who meets Elena and tells her that she should leave Toto and never meet him. He says she will hold him back and Toto will never be successful. It is for his good that she should leave him. She agrees but also leave her address with Alfredo just in case Toto does want to come back to her. Alfredo never gives that to Toto.
The movie caused a chaos of thoughts in my mind. Success needs sacrifice and many times we need to sacrifice our roots for that. We need to give up our village, parents and those who we love the most. But then, we can never really get strong enough to outgrow the nostalgia. It stays and it stays as a thorn and pierces your heart throughout your life. I can understand why Salvatore cries. But I can never understand what he will feel. While Alfredo’s advice made him successful, it was also responsible for the biggest loss that is of Elena. But then just like the princess in the story we never know if Elena could have stayed with him.
Nostalgia is my favorite feeling. I find it impossible to give up my old stuff. I have preserved my old textbooks and notebooks and not to mention all the stickers of cricket players. Each of them has a memory. Memories of days when I studied late night just to complete an assignment, fights I had with other friends over the stickers and some notebooks I used to exchange notes with a certain girl and so on. These are like little memories that are locked in a deep chamber of my heart and each visit to that chambers costs me a lot emotionally.
My Cinema Paradiso will be the hostel in panaji where I used to live. It is now deserted, well almost. I make it a point to visit that place every time I go to Panaji. Each time I enter I feel as if Vividhbharati is playing. (We use to play radio 24×7). When I look at the table I remember the nights I spent there studying for engineering exams and so on. Soon that place is going to change and with that change all those memories will get a blow but I will simply move on.