Dabba talkies: Window to an era gone by

Durgappa Koppal started earning his living by showing the bioscope, called Gardi Gammattu, in areas around his Abbigere village when he was a young man. 

Published: 13th January 2019 06:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th January 2019 06:30 AM   |  A+A-

Durgappa Koppal showing the wonders of the ‘magic box’ to children | Manjunath Nayak

Express News Service

GADAG: Before the television and the internet, there was the Bioscope.  A 65-year-old man in Gadag district is trying to recapture the old-world charm  with his Dabba talkies — the bioscope that he carries in the area around Ron town, drawing children away from mobile phones, towards the mobile theatre of a bygone era.

Durgappa Koppal started earning his living by showing the bioscope, called Gardi Gammattu, in areas around his Abbigere village when he was a young man. 

Four decades later, he still feels attached to the work, despite knowing well that the obsolete piece has become a collector’s item. 

“Children have changed. They have mobiles in their hands, so why would they come to see old photos? But I will continue to show my mini talkies as long as I am able to walk on my own,” he says, talking about how his two sons decided not to pursue the vocation since it fetches very little, instead opting to sell plastic items in Ron.

When Durgappa first took up this work, he used to charge 5 paise from each viewer. “When I started during the 1970s, I didn’t fix an amount. While some people gave 5 paise, many others gave a vessel full of jowar, rice or wheat,” he recalls, adding that the occupation brought him sufficient food and money at that time. But things have, of course, changed over the years.

He has now increased the amount to `5. And expanded his repertoire of slides. The show starts with stars of yesteryear and veteran actors, such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi, Meenakshi Sheshadri, Rajkumar, Ambareesh, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, and ends with celebrities of today, including Prabhas, Rana Daggubati, Darshan and Yash. Stills from recent hits such as KGF and Baahubali, like the ones showing

Prabhas lifting the Shivalinga, or Kattappa, evoke cheers from the young and old alike.
For his older viewers, Durgappa’s show brings back treasured memories. “The sound of his song, accompanied by the peals of the bell, draw out memories buried somewhere,” says Manjunath Nayak, a teacher from Ron. “It surprises us that he has preserved the old entertainment medium and is earning from it. And it makes us happy to see children dance on his song, as most of them are addicted to mobiles and computers for entertainment.”   

Tungabai Panthar (94) from Wakil Chawl Gadag reminisced about the appeal that bioscope held earlier. “It used to be like a festival for my children if Gardi gammattu manasha (man) came on our street. Kids at that time had no other choice for entertainment. They initially showed Gandhiji, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. After some years, they were replaced by Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini and others.”

Durgappa is the only person in the area who is actively involved in the occupation now, although three or four other people too went around with their bioscope in the district until 5-6 years back. He earns anywhere between `50 and `120 every day. Besides, he gets `500 as old-age pension from the government.
However, Durgappa stresses that he is carrying on with his Dabba talkies not to earn a livelihood, but because he wants to show this old means of entertainment to the new generation. Their surprisingly enthusiastic response keeps him going.

Prashant Kuri, a 7-year-old resident of Saduajjanagar Extn in Ron, always looks forward to Durgappa’s visit. “It’s exciting to see the slides,” he says, adding that the experience is made more interesting by the songs that Durgappa sings to accompany the picture shown in the bioscope. “If we see it once, we want to see it again and again,” Prashant adds.

Such a response delights Durgappa. “Children have started showing a lot of interest to see Dabba talkies,” he says. “For us, the mobile phone is new. But for them, Dabba talkies is new.”

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