Sanu Kummil’s ‘Cinemapetti’ tells the story of Nazer, who used to ride 100 kilometers a day to bring film reels for theatre releases.

Black and white poster of Cinemapetti in which a man is on a cycle and the photo is taken from the bottom
Flix Kerala film festival Sunday, December 12, 2021 - 17:04

It is easy to picture Nazer’s story in black and white, a young man on a bicycle riding distances with boxes of heavy film reels. Theatres in Kerala were a different lot those days, where seating began on the floor in front of the screen, went back up towards better chairs and seats, ticketed between several paisa and a rupee. The villagers would wait for Nazer’s cycle bells, the man bringing them movies from far away for matinees and evening shows. When years rolled by and technology dropped the likes of Nazer on the street, the black and white world he inhibited simply faded away.

In colour, Nazer sits in a deserted old theatre and tells his story for a documentary called Cinemapetti (Film Reel Box). Sanu Kummil, a journalist who digs up such uncommon stories of commoners, lets Nazer talk his heart out. The film was screened at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).

Before Nazer begins talking, Sanu gives a short history of Malayalam film releases, beginning with one a year in the early 1950s, going up to a record 41 in 1967. Naturally, the story can’t be told without the role played by the men who brought the cinemapetti, the film representatives as they were known as. Like Nazer, scores of people went long distances to carry the heavy reels and earn an income.


Nazer

Nazer began doing the work in 1987 when he was 27. Those were days lots of Mohanlal and Mammootty and Jayaram pictures came out in theatres, he says. The poor man cycled more than a hundred kilometers on a day he had to bring the reels from Thampanoor to theatres in rural areas. When the ride was uphill, he’d step down and push the loaded cycle up. In the early days he earned about 30 rupees a day for the work. By the time he finished – 1998/99 – it was still less than Rs 300 a day. But he had no complaints he says. He could watch a film and he could look after his family if he didn’t spend much of what he earned and waited to go back home for his lunch.

“Hundreds of people like him had lost their livelihood when technology replaced their services. But these stories never get told,” Sanu says. What he can’t write as a journalist, he makes documentaries of. A few years ago it was Sanu who made a documentary about the late Yahiya, who was famously known as Maxi Maman. He was a tea vendor known for his unique ways of protest, as wearing nighties or shaving half a moustache.

Read: Maxi Maman: Meet the Kerala man protesting injustices in a nightie with half shaved head

“I knew about Nazer because I have seen him ride that cycle of his. I was one among the audience who eagerly waited for the reels to come so the show could start. It was in the C class theatres of villages that the reels came and it went on up to year 2000,” Sanu says.


Sanu Kummil

Gradually the C class theatres closed down when better facilities came to villages. All the film representatives who lost their jobs with the closing of C class theatres began finding odd jobs -- some did loading or unloading, some ended up as security guards. Nazer says in the film he turned to loading and unloading and selling lottery tickets.

Also read: Short film by three Kerala priests tells endearing story of how kids tackle a crisis

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