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Goddess in a small, dark shack

  • Published at 06:23 pm February 25th, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:09 am February 26th, 2018
Goddess in a small, dark shack
There was a palpable sense of excitement among two of my classmates. They seemed engrossed in a small postcard. Noticing my curiosity, one of them called me to share the delight. It was a small, coloured photo and the centre of attraction was a curvaceous woman -- wearing a polka-dot white skirt, high heels, luscious red lips, and sporting a smile that could send a mind into disarray. “Dosto, darun,” was all I could say. “We went to Begum Bazaar yesterday and watched Justice Chaudhury,” one of my friends remarked with the pride of Alexander about to conquer the world. “You must go,” the other said, looking at me intently. Yes, I had to go. Begum Bazaar, a place within the labyrinthine alleys of Old Dhaka. The year was 1984 when The Devi was unleashed to us in the song “Mere Saath Aogi.” A student of class VII, I, like millions, was smitten. All over Dhaka the buzz word was: “Ice cream khao gi.” Sridevi’s sensational number from the film Justice Chaudhury with co-actor Jeetendra epitomized mind-blowing sensuality, topped with unforgettable coquettish seduction. With news of Sridevi’s demise reaching us, a forgotten past with a lost urban culture came back with countless thrilling memories. A shack of escapism  The 80s was the era of the VCR. A machine in which taped movies could be played and recorded. But since the VCR was a luxury item in a post-war decade of austerity-driven Bangladesh, very few could afford to buy one. In early 80s, one VCR could cost up to Tk1.25 lakh. Golly. One could actually buy a sizeable land just outside Dhaka with that sort of money. But in Old Dhaka, a lucrative business sprung up in Begum Bazaar and Thatari Bazaar, where small makeshift shacks worked as theatre halls. The dark, damp rooms had one entrance covered by a large sack with people sitting on the floor. The TV set was connected to a VCR outside the room. This was done to save the VCR in case there was a police raid.
Her time on Earth may be done, winning the hearts and minds of mortals, but the gods now await her beauty and enchanting charisma
Small papers with a seal stamped on them were the tickets sold on the main road, with the sellers attracting attention by muttering “oi Sridevi, oi Sridevi!” or “ice cream khaogi, ice cream khaogi -- bumper show, larey lappa!” The bumper held a rather sinister meaning -- if you bought a bumper ticket then between two Bollywood movies one would get the chance to see an explicit adult flick, while “larey lappa” meant that the main hit song of the Bollywood film would be shown two times in a row after the movie. So, one afternoon, I ended up in Begum Bazaar. The men selling the tickets were all over the place. I got a ticket and entered a shack. No seats, hardly any leg space, people huddled together immersed in a fantasy. Whistles blew, there were shouts of delight as the film’s song “Mere Saath Aaogi” came to life in front of us. At the end of the song, there was a deafening roar asking the hosts to play it again. In fact the demand, fired up by Sridevi’s unparalleled demure seduction, triggered a visceral reaction intertwined with the invocation of the Almighty. Alarmed, the shack’s gatekeeper came and asked us to remain quiet, in case the law enforcers caught wind. But the crowd went mad in a frenzy, and, in the end, the song was played again. The term “rewind” is no longer used nowadays, but, back then, it was an integral part of our everyday lingo. Today, we just replay the track in a second -- but back then, there was a wait, a suspense mixed with anticipation. Sridevi’s coquettish enigma Sridevi, in that dotted white skirt and the ravishing smile, remains. She was, for me at least, the epitome of feminine beauty tinged with elegant eroticism. You want something more but the actress seems to be holding something back. That delicious enigma created the craving, the obsession. Sorry to say, in today’s sexually-charged songs and item numbers, the coy magnetism is missing. It’s only flesh, more flesh with cringe-worthy vulgar moves. Sridevi, being an actress in a commercial film industry, had to be physically attractive, though in almost all her songs, the demure titillation is the killer. It’s never too clinical -- the enchantment was covert yet devastatingly powerful. Her on-screen chemistry with Jeetendra sparked many tales/rumours, though the actress also showed similar ease in another sizzling 1993 song “Cha Raha Hai Pyar Ka Nasha” with Salman Khan in the movie Chandra Mukhi. Shatteringly overpowering, this was the goddess at her best. Her time on Earth may be done, winning the hearts and minds of mortals, but the gods now await her beauty and enchanting charisma. Towheed Feroze is a journalist, teaching at the University of Dhaka.