The only cinema hall playing English movies on a regular basis in Cochin during our schooldays was the Star Talkies at Mattancherry. The movie changed every Friday and on the previous night a brightly lit handcart, decorated with banners of the next day’s movie did the rounds along places where the English movie going public was most likely to come from. Through a hand-held megaphone in that familiar sing-song tone a man would announce the next change at Star Talkies and kids would be off the blocks from each of the houses as soon as he was heard him in the distance. This was to collect the foreign posters before they ran out. These were collector’s items for us and like postage stamps duplicates were exchanged — in it stars like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Ava Gardener, Judy Garland in cameo postures set our adrenaline pumping. Star Talkies provided us with wondrous entertainment.
In Francis the Talking Mule when Donald O’Connor asks Francis “Why didn’t you tell me you could talk” and got the horsey retort “You never asked” — we were there.
We went ‘Singin’ in the rain’ with Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds and can testify with full authority, that Bogart never said ‘play it again Sam’ — well, not in those words anyway. We picked up that Bogart line ‘Here’s looking at you kid’ and went with a brooding Marlon Brando to On the Waterfront.
On Sunday mornings Star showed westerns — Gunfight at the OK Corral, Shane, Vera Cruz, and High Noon were hot favourites. Decades later, we found ourselves leasing videos of westerns on Sunday mornings; subconsciously reliving woebegone boyhood days.
We smuggled out of our houses, old newspapers, bottles, gunny bags and the like which we flogged to Mohammed kaka, the scrap dealer to fund our tickets. It was the Brits who usually occupied the two balconies at the rear and for their tacit information a prominent notice displayed said ‘DOGS NOT ALLOWED’. Out front in the 25 paise per seat ‘Lungi Circle’ or ‘King’s Row’ ,as we called it, the bed bugs tormented us.
Star Talkies had other regular visitors in between shows — people who sat on the theatre lawns, drank endless cups of tea from its canteen and enjoyed immortal Mohammed Rafi classics (Star was partial to Rafi) belted out by Star’s loud speakers, from movies like Baiju Bawra, Barsaat ki Raat, Naya Daur, and others. The song from CID which immortalised the cliché Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jan so impressed three of my friends that they took a train to Bombay to re-enact the histrionics of Johnny Walker with the sights of Bombay in the background — the VT station, Flora Fountain, Gateway of India, Marine Drive.
Star is no longer there — razed to the ground, but the place continues to be called Star Junction. To many of us the area still resonates with the velvety voice of Mohammed Rafi sung to the haunting tunes of Madan Mohan, Shankar Jaikishen, Lakshmikant Pyarelal and others belonging to that golden age of Hindi music.