Saturday, September 3, 2016

RIP VCR, the rage of our teens
Published in HT Allahabad 2-9-16

Video cassette recorders, more popular by their acronym VCRs, officially became a thing of the past on July 31, 2016 when Japanese company Funai, which was still making them, announced that it won’t manufacture them anymore.

What a craze VCRs had in their heydays. What an impact it cast on the powerful Indian film industry. Video libraries sprang up all over. Several cinema halls closed down. Even films began to be shot with video viewers in mind.

As cinema halls started losing their charm, a TV set and a VCR provided them their home theatres. They needn’t even buy them. They could hire them for a song. Many a family used to book VCRs on weekends to enjoy a number of movies of their choice.

Those were the days when watching of films in theatres by youngsters wasn’t much liked by their families. But strangely, watching them on a VCR wasn’t considered bad. A lot of video shows, intended to collect money, were organised in our schools and we, as teenagers, got to enjoy many latest flicks without the guilt of bunking our classes.

Even long route bus travelling became fun with the introduction of luxury video coaches.

In small towns and villages, video-film halls were set up. They were similar to cinema halls but were much smaller and having a TV set with a videocassette player (VCP) instead of a screen and projector.
The VCRs had a tremendous impact on weddings. Video shows through the night replaced the traditional ‘nautanki’ performances for ‘baraatis’ even in remote villages. As the sound of dialogues and noise of a generator spread through the night, one could know from a mile that there was a wedding around.

The man shooting the event with the video camera acquired a higher status than the one with the still camera.

The video shows were not limited to Hindi films. Pakistani comedy serials like ‘Bakra Kishton Pe’, television serials like ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ were also hugely popular. Some of the video libraries situated in posh areas of big towns took pride in stocking English film videos and catered to lovers of those movies.

For us youngsters, the watching of video films was quite a ritual. It involved getting together, collecting money, selecting the venue with the least disturbance by the grown-ups as ‘all’ sorts of films were on the menu, transporting the TV and VCP on a rickshaw or a borrowed scooter to the venue and then huddling for a few hours.

There are so many beautiful memories of these shows but this one makes me laugh even today. It was one of those days of marathon viewing at a friend’s place whose parents had gone out for the day. As one of the suspense movies was nearing climax, black stripes began appearing on the T.V. screen due to long hours of VCR playing. As the host was trying to wipe it clean with a piece of cloth, someone advised cleaning it with petrol. He immediately went to the verandah, dipped a length of cloth in the petrol tank of his father’s scooter and wiped the reel clean. It was only when we inserted the video cassette back in the VCP, played it, that we saw a completely black screen staring back at us. Actually we had forgotten that the scooter petrol tank had petrol mixed with mobil ! 😢😜

The VCR had had its day once the compact discs (CDs) made their entry in the mid-nineties. It, however, trudged along for some more years like Tennyson’s Ulysses ‘made weak by time and fate’, finally to its death this July 31. I am sure all those who were in their teens in the 80s would join me in offering their condolences to this wonderful device. RIP VCR.