The ticket seller is sitting outside the cinema theater. His chair is placed on the cozy, sunlit driveway. Romy, the dog, is lounging lazily beside him. A few men enter the cinema’s gate. The box office windows are closed. They walk straight to the seller, who takes out a sheaf of cinema tickets from his shirt pocket and starts handing them one by one, on the payment of 30 rupees. Soon, half a dozen men step inside the main door for the afternoon show, here in Gurugram’s single-screen Raj Cinema, since the 1950s.
Now, somebody will have to start the screening. In most other theaters, that process has been computerized. No staff is specifically employed to operate the projector, or change the film’s many reels during the course of a single show. Of course there might still be a person in the projector room, but their job is to press a few keys on the computer.
In this regard, Raj Cinema is old-fashioned. It continues to rely on the services of a projector operator. The reel of the movie have been with the cinema for a long time.
“I’ve been working here for many years,” says Vinod Das, a native of Samastipur in Bihar. In his late 20s, he has a friendly but quiet temperament. He agrees to show the working of the projection room, and politely guides his interlocutor to the cinema’s back area – as if escorting a guest to his drawing room.
The rear side of the cinema compound is huge, overgrown with bushes and unwieldy trees. Mr Das shows no haste, though he is aware that the handful of spectators in the auditorium must be waiting for the movie to start. “Most of them are regulars, they come daily to pass the time, they like sitting, they are in no hurry,” he says.
He passes by a yard littered with discarded furniture. Next, he climbs a twirly staircase, walks through a narrow corridor, and opens a door on the left. This is the projection room. The walls are covered with old calendars and posters of gods. The center pieces are the two gigantic black projectors.
With practiced gestures, Mr Das starts to fiddle around with one of the projectors. He opens a lid on one side of it, puts his hand inside, and begins to adjust some fixture. “I live in the compound, I cook my own meals.” He now opens the flap of a disc-like thing at the top, and presto – the movie’s reel pops out into his hands, which he expertly feeds into another space in the projector. He continues to carry out a series of operations, making a lot of tik-tak sounds. Finally, the movie begins.
This is the moment when Mr Das finally stills his hands, smiling shyly. He seems at peace, as if pleased that things went so smoothly.
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