Amar Akbar Anthony and Other Stories

A VERY long time ago, when Ramsey Noah was the name of a schoolboy in a classroom, when fifty kobo was a crisp blue note, when TV programming started at 4 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m. and NTA was better than MTV; the VCR, or “video” for short, was the most important gadget in the home. In those days, the air was cleaner, the cities were greener and life was good because we had Indian movies. Simple.

The only actors greater than Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra were a certain James Bond, whose face kept changing; and a much-muscled man still called Rambo by some people. And in the million hours before TV started at 4 p.m., Amitabh and his retinue of Indian actors told us stories. The video cassettes were heavy: three-hours of black reel. But the VCRs didn’t mind. Not even when the play-head was dirty and we had to clean with methylated spirit, kerosene or the all-important video-cleaner.

There was Amar Akbar Anthony. There was Dharam Veer, Ghazab, Jugnu, Sholay, Dostana, Nagin, The Burning Train, Mard, Toofan, Dus Numbri, Disco Dancer. Theirs were stories of love, revenge and split families. And though these themes re-occurred in several, or almost all, other stories, we did not mind. We did not also understand the language, but the subtitles were usually enough. The delicious songs entranced us. We sang along, rewinding and playing back the VCR to better learn the songs. We practiced the dances in secret. We cried with our heroes and heroines. We cried for Mother India.

In truth, the Indian movies of today are by far more colourful and better produced, thanks to better sets and bigger budgets. So why did the popularity of Indian movies decrease? First, along came technology. The time we spent with our Indian friends was gradually eroded. Second, our very own Nollywood matured and we finally had our own stories. But most importantly, Hollywood became much more appealing and even our Indian friends betrayed us and copied Hollywood. The flavour we enjoyed was gone, replaced by special effects, excessive violence and sexualisation of stories.

Nevertheless, our memories stay with us. And they are sufficient.

–      Olanshile Shonoiki

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