Dhoom 3's signature tune is barely a buzz in the projection room of Rex Cinemas. The characters on screen are busy in the middle of an action scene while the operator at the theatre watches the reading on the digital projector screen slowly inch its way towards completion, with only the soothing hum of the air conditioner for company. Nataraj loves the machine that has made the job of the operator much easier over the last few years. He said, "I used to work as a helper before, when they had the old reel projector.
It was a difficult job and I never wanted to do it. Nagaraj sir had been operating it then." Nagaraj and Nataraj now handle the digital projector together and are big fans of the machine that is user-friendly and not time consuming. Nagaraj, the older of the duo, has been the operator at Rex Cinemas for the last 17 years. Dressed like an old movie star with his brown glasses, he says that his interest in movies stemmed from watching too many Tamil films starring MTR, as a young boy. He quit school at 17, when the theatre he trained at to be a projectionist offered him a job. "I worked in many cinema halls before I came here. The pay here is good, the owners are the best. They're supportive and have been generous with their help over the years," he said.
The money he saved after toiling over the old reel projector saw to his daughter's education and marriage. "She's now settled in the US with her husband, all the hard work here paid off," he said. Before the digital machine entered, three operators worked in the projection room. Multiple film reels for a single movie would arrive in single cans. They would have to be joined and each reel would run for 20 minutes, during which time the next set would have to be joined.
"I couldn't take my eyes off the reel for a minute. The carbon had to be adjusted and this would be burning because the light has to fall on it. It was very difficult because we had to inhale the burning smoke. It causes many health issues. There was no air conditioning then either," said Nagaraj. The distributor usually arranged for a 'shifting man', who would take a completed reel from one theatre to the next that played the same movie, easing the load on the operators. "If the man was late, then sometimes the movie would stop for two to three minutes because we couldn't load the next reel on time.
The people watching would shout 'they cut the picture!' but what could we do, we just carried on as fast as we could," laughed Nagaraj. "That doesn't happen with the digital machine," said Nataraj. "We load the movies on the machine, check that the print is good and the scenes are smooth twenty minutes before screening and once we start, we don't have to hang around looking at the machines, like they had to with the old one," he added. "Before people were curious about the old reels. Now, not so much," said Nagaraj. He stated that it was Nataraj who told him how to use this machine. "He knows about computers and all the new technology," said Nagaraj. To this, Nataraj said with a laugh, "It wasn't difficult.
I went to computer class only for 15 days then stopped. When the machine came, an engineer was here for a week and taught me how to operate." As movie lovers are heading out to select multiplexes across the city to soak in as many movies as they can that are offered with the Bangalore International Film Festival, Nagaraj, has become cynical about the quality of cinema after being exposed to them on a daily basis. Nataraj, on the other hand, has a growing interest in direction, especially after watching Dhoom 2 and 3 Idiots. "Every time an Aamir Khan movie is out, it's house full here for at least a week. The Narnia movie and Life of Pi had nice actions scenes too. But, I don't think it's in my fate to make movies."