Kamal Sinha
IIT Bombay

Movies at IIT Bombay

While enlightened professors were trying to cultivate our minds with readings of A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, young men at IIT Bombay were more interested in watching Sunil Gavaskar at bat or better still, watching Kishore Kumar and Madhubala singing their duet about 5 rupees and 75 paisas.

First let me briefly mention main sources of our movie watching [1973-1978] followed by a slightly detailed account of a movie-related event that happened in Hostel 7.


Our black and white television (26 inch?) was the life of our hostel on at least two nights a week - one when song excerpts were shown (Chaya Geet) and another when movies were shown. Chaya geet was more popular because that presented us exactly what we wanted, leaving out useless fillers like story line and plots. On those days one had to come promptly at 7:30 PM to the mess tables to have dinner or risk missing out on finding a nice floor location in front of the TV. Some, who were slightly late, would stand behind people having their dinner, almost touching them, staring at the food on table, and it had the desirable effect of getting a chair quickly.


These used to cost money, around 150 rupees for decent ones like Awaara and Madhumati. Came to about one rupee per head. To reduce costs further we sometimes shared them with Hostel 8. After we were done with one spool, it was passed on to them. Or the other way. Small problems arose when one spool had good songs and they were replayed 2-3 times, resulting in delays for the other hostel. About 1-2 were shown per semester per hostel and probably because of planning delays lot of them were shown towards the end of the semester. It left some of us with difficult decisions but the right one always won. It was not unusual to find Shabbir Merchant, a friend and an EE topper, going to one of them just the night before the finals and I would join him after thinking for 5 seconds or so.

For a year or so, we watched Nasir Hussain's Yaadon Ki Baraat and other movies - for free. However, after the contact person went to MIT to get his 4.0 GPAs, we had to pay for movies.

Film Club

Showed art movies - mostly French and Swedish. Mostly "snobs" ("pseudes") patronized them but I too joined it. Couldn't understand the dialogues (most had subtitles, though) but even the pseude junta couldn't understand them and this fact made me feel equal to them.

Convocation Hall

We could buy monthly passes for two rupees and could watch IIT's weekly movies there. Hall was big, accommodating about 1,800. Most watched on Friday night, A second screening was held on Saturday. Silence was NOT observed during the screenings. Commenting loudly especially trying to guess the dialogues that followed was practiced actively and quite often the guesses were correct. Almost all tragic scenes were subverted for comic relief by this method. A favorite piece of dialogue was "Shanti, you don't know" (Shanti, tu nahi janti?)

I think it was the most fun many had for the week. Except Narendra Karmarkar perhaps, who would have been studying in the library. However, to add to fun, there was the added thrill if someone could get in without paying for the monthly pass.

Of course, two rupees for potentially 4 movies was a good deal. Actually, a very good deal for two-three hours of entertainment. Local movie theaters at Ghatkopar costed two rupees for the matinees and four rupees for the other shows. But the charm was in getting in free. The traditional way was to have one person enter with a pass, go to the front of the hall and unlatch one of the side emergency exit doors where hordes would be waiting to get in. Worked most of the time. Once an IITian was caught trying to get in through the bathroom window with his body stuck there. One other interesting way I witnesses when one person entered and after passing the lobby and entering the dark theater would call out loudly "Mani, why are you waiting? Come." And Mani from outside will walk fast across the lobby or even run to meet his friend. And vanish in the darkness before the people could understand what was going on and react.

Movie Theaters

IITians who wanted to see the latest movies of their choice could go to outside movie theaters. The most popular and convenient theaters were Amber, Oscar and Minor in Andheri, all in one building.

Now time for a movie event at IIT Bombay's Hostel 7


Given a choice, most of the hostel seven dwellers would have liked to see Hindi movies. Given their backgrounds it was not surprising. All, despite their varying mother-tongues, could understand Hindi well. Moreover, the culture was somewhat conservative ruling out many foreign movies. Besides foreign movies were expensive too. Therefore, Hindi movies were the norm, except briefly for one time.


Every hostel had its psuedo crowd and Hostel seven had our share. I think that we had more than our share partly because a group of Delhiites who cleared JEE, opted for IIT Mumbai, and they all were sent to hostel 7. And almost all of them could be classified as pesudes. A few of them like Sanjay Bhargava and Rajive Chandra, interestingly enough had Hindi as their mother tongues, but seemed to look down on Hindi. For example, Sanjay Bhargave (winner of prestigious Mr. Brain competition and many English dabates), once threatened to boycott the debating team if Hindi debates were allowed in hostel seven. Khalid Ahmed Kazi, who now is Hal Kazi at Oracle, was from Delhi too, but he had a more balanced outlook. However, he had some complex relationship towards other Delhi-ites and he was made fun of by them. Anyway, I found him to be a sensible and smart person full of new ideas. He became our Social Secretary one year, in-charge of movies too.

Push for an English-language Movie

Rajive Chandra was nice to me and he practiced his Indian language skills with me. I was bad with English. (Once when I was in perhaps third year, I attempted a GRE general test practice in the privacy of my room and scored around one percentile in the verbal section.) Any Rajive hardly saw any Indian movies. Once, when he was passing by while the others were watching an Indian movie starring Amitabh Bacchan and he seriously asked me whther he was Rajesh Khanna. Anyway, some people felt that while everybody was required to contribute for the Hindi movies, it was unfair to people who would not watch Hindi movies.

Moreover, I think, Khalid Kazi, had intention of raising us IITians' intellect level, just like professors were trying to do the same by forcing us to read James Joyce's novel. [Portrait was the first English language novel for grown-ups I attempted to read, and I failed. I really couldn't connect with the character in that novel - he seemed so foreign.] I too was curious about English movies not being a fan of formula-Hindi movies. However, most of the others were dead against it.

Butterflies are Free but the Movie is Expensive

One other factor that weighed against an English movie was its cost. I think the quoted price was 600 rupees while, as I have mentioned earlier, regular Hindi movies were priced 150 rupees each. Lots of things happened that I don't recall now. There was a vote or something and Kazi won. Finally, he and his friends decided on Butterflies are Free starring a blonde in two-piece underwear and a blind man.

The Movie

Rajive Chandra who didn't watch any movies, showed up for this and sat next to me. When the movie started we all saw Goldie Hawn, that blonde in two piece underwear. She is considered cute by many including Kazi who remarked about her cuteness recently. However, I think that most of us would have preferred to see some Indian actress, likely from South, in a two-piece but were stuck with Goldie. After a few seconds, it was time to concentrate on the dialogues.

Here is where I failed completely. Except for a few stray words i couldn't understand a thing. In contrast, later when I had chance to watch Roman Holiday and Follow Me, I could understand enough to follow the story line. But, some of these Americans have funny accents and no such luck here. I think most of the other guys might have thinking on similar line. I heard, the movie is a classic and was well-received by critics. But, that night one only thing I remember is that occasional Rajive Chandra was laugh that indicated to me that some funny dialogue must have transpired between the two characters and I had to think whether to laugh or not. It had two characters and I think that was it. They were confined to one or two rooms. Just like in those plays. On the other hand, a Hindi movie would have brought us songs in Shimla, a boat-car -helicopter chase, a night club dance and so on.

There was a deep silence after the movie and it does require saying that that was the last time for such an event.