Covert Operations

Mine was the kind of household where watching movies was seen upon as a frivolous activity – something to be undertaken during one’s summer vacation, after one completed the morning ritual of writing multiplication tables from 2 to 16 in a holiday notebook. Maths is important. Morning is when the mind is freshest. Watching too many movies makes you dull.

Amidst such encouraging environs, I fell in love with cinema. Along with my cousin and the maid, we amused ourselves re-enacting the legendary vaazhapazham joke: the three of us took turns to be Goundamani, Senthil and the Shopkeeper. We always played this game in secret, on the terrace, nobody knew why exactly it had to be secret – we knew later when we got caught playing the game. Let me just say the repercussions ranged from incredulity to anxiety (do you want to become one of the stupid children?). This was in Chennai. In Surat, I eagerly waited for 5 in the evening every single day: with forty apartments in one building and numerous children, we lived for this most holy time of the day. Our favourite game was “Mogambo khush hua!“. The eldest child was Mogambo by default. He (it was always a He) would order the murder of a little tyke, whom we killed without much remorse. Then, Mogambo would instruct us to carry the kid and march in step to Mogambo khush hua. And we would all perform the Hail Mogambo salute with great precision. This game was thrilling, and not to mention, confidential.

Much later, when the internet invaded our lives with all its wonders, I chanced upon my father reading news on and soon discovered its section titled Movies. I was particularly excited on the day of my discovery. And then I also discovered that each time I clicked on a link, it changed colour from a bright blue to a dark blue. A little deflation occurred. I could not let my parents know I was reading about movies online. Up until then, I only watched videos on the PBS website and played the Ski Lift game which had a shortcut on the desktop. For a while, I was content clicking on links that were already blue (Oh! How clever!). It took me a few more days to uncover that gem called History, and the magic of deleting from the browser’s memory whatever you chose to. And from thereon, my (clandestine) love affair with movies progressed steadily. A stroke of luck was that, at this point, my mother, being a bored housewife in Kuwait, rented from the video cassette library every Tamil movie to ever release between the years 1997 and 2005. And that is how I have watched Samudram, Koodi Vaazhnthaal Kodi Nanmai, Kannathil Muthamittal and Pithamagan; and every movie that was shown on Sun TV in the afternoons.

It almost seems laughable now, but that need to keep this love for cinema to myself never quite went away. I still do not want to admit to family members I have watched movies that released when my parents were in college. I do not want to reveal that I watched Moodupani the day Balu Mahendra passed away. I pretend I do not remember who sang Poongkathave Thaazhthiravaai. I try to not let them know how essential it is for me to watch Irandam Ulagam because it is a Selvaraghavan movie. I suppose the dalliance is now a marriage. 🙂


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