Readers Write In #19: Of bandhs and the VCR boom

Posted on June 17, 2017


I was in college in my sophomoron year (sic)  and I’d just discovered the joys of binging on Video cassettes.

My  classmate in college was one of the first families to own a VCR (Video cassette Recorder) and I was a regular at his place, watching the old classics as well as the latest releases in the U.S at his place in Balajinagar during the day (I had joined  evening college) with  tiffin and continuous old style tumblers of coffee supplied at frequent intervals. I’ve given up all hope of ever living that king’s life again. My wife hates movies and  hates English movies even more and hates supplying more than one coffee per twelve hour shift.

His  VCR was a road roller  compared to its subsequent sleeker successors and it required specialized repair service. Rupees one hundred fifty per repair…………… this was in 1988 rupees.

We also discovered the joys of Bandhs.

I cant remember why there were so many in those years but I wasn’t complaining.

The video cassette libraries loved them even more and so did the guys who hired out the VCRS and VCPs.

There were really no entertainment options in those days barring the cinema theatres and  the beach.

Cable Television was still a few years away. The word ‘internet’ had not yet made its appearance in the dictionary.

Forget cell phones, even phones were rare.

So, the VCR filled this gap admirably in the intervening years.

Videocon Limited even floated a successful public issue of shares to manufacture VCRs.

I could have never imagined that any subsequent scientific discovery would render it obsolete. While a VCR could record programs, a VCP could only play cassettes and hence cheaper and smaller.

Whenever a bandh was announced ( I think the Cauvery dispute was hot even then), there would be a scramble to the nearest library to hire a VCR and atleast three cassettes to ensure 110 percent utilization.

The VCR owner and video cassette library were separate entities so it meant rushing like mad between the VCR hirer and the video library  –  in short moving heaven and earth to ensure that the Bandh day went productively and all “necessary resources” were available.

The rentals were 40 bucks for 6 hours and 70 bucks for 12 hours. In the event the VCR was kept at the hirer’s place overnight there would be some negotiation to waive the extra rent for the “idle time”.

Invariably we would have arguments amongst ourselves  over which movies to hire since the time slot was limited.

The high class video library in town was TIC TAC near St.Mary’s Road which had a separate section for Laser Discs at exorbitant rentals.

Then there was a cute little library with a limited but classy collection called  Video Shock where my friend and I used to borrow old classics – Roman Holiday was the first movie that I borrowed from there and saw in the aforementioned road roller VCR.

How to run a Successful Business “SOOPERBLY”

Then, a year later, there was this  aggressive video library owner who opened shop on Warren Road.

Navin Video library  (name changed) was a bit bigger than small – not a TIC TAC – but had everything under one roof  – classy stuff, crappy stuff and  carnal stuff.

The owner, Navin (name changed) , was perennially in a collared T shirt and ultra short shorts.

He had the mean look of a hood but he had great insights into the peculiar tastes of his customers.

Before Customer Data analytics, this guy was the epitome of Analytics.

He knew exactly what you would like and would pull it out for you.

He was inflexible in business and when cassettes were returned late he nagged you till you paid.

Even if you didn’t pay and tried to impress upon him your impressive record of borrowing on average  one cassette a day,  he still nagged for payment.

His vocabulary was restricted to one word …….and that word was “SOOOPEERRBB !!”

Every film was  “SOOPERB !”.

When he recommended a film you had to listen carefully to  what he said.

Correction –  You had to check  THE WAY  he said“SOOPEERB !”

That was the only way you’d get an idea of whether the movie was good enough to rent.

He had atleast seven different ways of saying ‘SOOPERB !’.

The clincher was the decibel  level, accent and enthusiasm  level of the “SOOPEERB !”

Just like the different ways the proper noun “Jayalalitha” is pronounced by the news reader on Jaya TV.

It could be “JayaLALItha” or “JAYAlalitha”   or even “JAYAlaliTHA”.

In response to the customer’s question “How’s the film ?”, if the movie was a class thriller and potential trend setter he’d bellow “SOOOOPPEEERRBB !!”

If the film was a good and engaging film but required some patience and capacity to understand it on the part of the viewer, he would shake his head in a peculiar way as if he’d just heard about a captivating new economic theory and in a much lower tone of  voice pronounce “Soopeerb ! Soopeerb !”

He’d have to pronounce it twice just to make sure that we’d heard his response since his voice would be very low compared to his normal decibel  level.

And then if the movie was an Oscar winner but a crashing bore like Platoon or Born on The Fourth of July, his response would be preceded by a sheepish grin  and somewhere between the moustache and the lips a  “SOOPERB” would escape and for added spice he would shake his head in a semi-circular  gesture typical to Tamilians  and whisper incredulously “Oscar winning film”.

My VCR owning friend from Balajinagar got wise to this trick from the very beginning and rejected the recommendation outright.

If low inventory turnover was the disease, this guy Navin was the cure.

Now with entertainment available literally at our fingertips, the good old days of  Bandhs and the excitement of hiring a VCR has gone.

And to add insult to injury, with the virtual work place now a reality, we are now expected to work on Bandh days, whether at the  office or out of home,  since our clients in the U.S don’t know the meaning of that beautiful word ‘Bandh’.

The above is an extract from a forthcoming book by cartoonist Zola (S.Ravishanker)