The Price You Gotta Pay

It was five in the morning. It was a balmy October day and the trees stood still. The town of Chittoor was pregnant with expectation. Chiranjeevi’s Raakshasudu was releasing that day. The Chiru fans’ association had arranged for a special show. Quite a few people I knew were going for the special show. I wished I knew someone that would get me inside MSR movie hall for that show but I wasn’t lucky. But, that didn’t dampen my spirit. Srinivas and I were ready with our star: a bamboo and cardboard affair with an assortment of Chiranjeevi’s pictures stuck on it. That was the tradition then. If you were a real fan, you installed a star (no matter how small) in the movie hall. On day one of the release.

I have to tell you about movie stars and their fans in Andhra Pradesh. Guys were fanatical about their heroes. In 1984, fans of Superstar Krishna created a record of sorts by erecting the biggest star for the release of Kanchu Kagada, outside Srinivasa movie hall. The imposing star made of bamboo and gray paper stood more than 25 ft tall. I don’t think that record was ever broken. If that wasn’t crazy enough, they showered rose petals, money, and what not when their beloved star appeared on screen. The movie hall would erupt and explode what with hundreds of fans screaming. I know of people that were injured when a one-rupee coin hit them. Fans would take over the balcony, the high price ticket area, days on end. It was easy to shower flowers and coins from the balcony. If you were one of those budget types that chose to sit in ‘First Class,’ well, a coin or a coconut just might hit you.
Altercations broke out between fans of different stars quite often. Chiru vs Balayya was the most debated topic. All fans had the numbers on their fingertips. How many centers recorded 100 days? Fuck the 100 days, what were the collections? Oh! Balayya’s fans forced the movie hall to run the movie for 100 days! He can’t dance! Chiru is dark! Balayya wears high heels to hide his short stature. And so on. I know a guy that broke his nose because he forgot Balayya’s fans outnumbered us and yet, he commented on Balayya. Pow! Came the punch. We kids called it ‘Mukku Pachhadi’ (Nose Salad) in Chittoor.

Srinivas and I biked it to MSR Movie Land, on his dad’s ancient Hercules bicycle. He sat in the ‘Carrier’ behind the rider’s seat, holding to our ‘Star’. And I pedaled hard. By the time we reached the movie hall, it was already six. There were a million stars occupying every nook and corner of the movie hall’s facade. We ran like our lives depended on it. The special show crowd was already there. The show was about to start.
‘We’ll get tickets for the evening show. Don’t worry.’ Srini said. I was disappointed nevertheless. What kind of fans were we! But what can a couple of 12 year olds do? We had trouble finding a nice spot for our tiny star. It appeared tiny now. There were bigger, better stars. Some even had serial electric bulbs that blinked as if mocking us.

Just as we were climbing a wall to reach the massive billboard that faced the road, a security guard screamed ‘Get the fuck down you bastards!’ And he pointed a stone at us. As I slid down the wall, I slipped, and hurt my leg. The skin on my knee peeled. It was white one moment and in the next, it filled up all crimson. I bit my lip and faced the security guy and said, “Fans…fans association. They asked us to put this star.”
“Of course, why don’t you convince me you are Chiranjeevi himself? And, what star are you talking about!?” He said and laughed. I hadn’t noticed, but Srini had dropped the star and it was crushed beyond recognition. The special show crowd had trampled it. I stared at Srini for a moment that lasted forever. He was devastated. He adjusted his spectacles a million times. And we both broke down. The tears broke free, washed my face. The special show started. It was just the two of us. We were about to leave when we heard the security guy screaming at us.
“Park your cycle. Do you have money?” He said.
We were perplexed.
“Don’t just stand there like idiots. Get in. Sit on the floor in front of the front row. All for two bucks! Now!”

We paid the security chap and parked the cycle. We flew through the tiny opening in the Iron grill gate. I almost tripped and fell again. That’s when I noticed that the cut on my knee was bleeding profusely. The security guy signaled to the usher guarding the Entry door. And, we walked in and squatted on the ground, right under the huge screen, next to a bunch of gypsies. They were smoking beedies. Some were chewing scented tobacco and spitting all over the place. One gypsy woman was trying to feed her wailing baby. We didn’t care. My knee hurt a lot. But as the lights went off, and the screen came alive, I felt no pain. We didn’t let our hero down. That’s what mattered then.

When we were riding back home, I asked Srini
‘Do you think all this trouble was worth it?’ I was sitting at the back and he was riding.
He mulled over it for a moment and said,
‘There’s a price for every experience. And what you get is a priceless memory.’

I honestly don’t know what the heck he meant, I mean, not too many 12 year olds spoke like that. But that line stuck with me.

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