It was late 1978, a small group of 15 year old boys lined up outside a run down movie theater in a small sleepy town called Bhopal to watch the latest Hollywood sensation "Saturday Night Fever". No one has a clue as to what the movie is all about. The movie poster outside depicts John Travolta striking a pose wearing the famous white 3 piece suit and a seductive Karen Lynn Gorney. The raging hormones are anxious to see some "action" as otherwise life is pretty boring with not too much to do other than hit the books and cram for exams. They pay for the cheap seats ( Re 1.65) which converts to less than 4 US cents in today’s money and get inside eagerly.
For a bunch of small town boys the movie was nothing to rave about, they come out somewhat disappointed as most scenes were heavily censored, the American English was hard to understand and it was a "silly" movie about dancing."Kuch samajh mein nahin aaya yaar" ( didn’t understand a damn thing), we said as we biked home, one of us even thought of seeing it a second time just to understand what the movie was all about.
If we learnt and understood one thing, that caught on like wild fire, the flared "bell- bottomed" pants with a waistline that came up to the chest and polyester shirts with collars the size of a dog's ear, that was made popular by the actors in the movie. Everyone queued up in front of the local tailors to emulate "Travolta style". I myself went to the tailor with a piece of fabric and told the tailor- "make the bottom as flared as you can", well there was not enough fabric for a reasonable flare so the tailor generously added extra fabric from left over cloth from someone else's garment.
The year 1980 came around, SNF and John Travolta were long forgotten and I made my transition from Bhopal to Mumbai. It was a culture shock, like moving from "Greenbow", Alabama to New York City. Albeit, I survived the initial shock and was also shocked to learn that "flared pants" and "dog collar" shirts are out of fashion and "drain pipes" were in. I was a freshman in a 3 year program in Hospitality management. As fate would have it 'DK' was my batch mate and a fellow Hostelite. He danced the Travolta dance to the tune of "Stayin' Alive" dressed in the white 3 piece suit at a college function, and became an overnight sensation among all the students- juniors and seniors alike. He was the coolest kid and everybody wanted to hang out with him. DK is a successful executive today and well respected by his peers.
Well, as for me, I flew below the radar and no one noticed me. However, I did develop an interest in pop music- Bee Gees, Beatles and tried to listen and understand the lyrics. I even tried to dance in front of the mirror and realized that the best I could do was "Gump"( as in Forrest Gump) like. The first time I stepped my foot in a nightclub was in 1986, courtesy of a friend who knew a friend. I was in awe, sat in a corner and tried to act cool and gulped down a couple of beers while the hip crowd swayed to the music.
Few years later, I landed a travelling job which took me around the world and I too enjoyed the luxury of nightlife at some of the nicest night clubs in the world. "Tatous" (now defunct) in New York city was one of my favorites, '1900' at the Taj Hotel also brings back fond memories.
Just a couple of days ago, mind you, the year is 2010, I was watching History channel and it was a story on the making of "Saturday Night Fever". The story outlines the struggle of the producer, Director and actors to shoot the film within budget and the allocated time frame. Money is short, Local mafia is hustling the moviemakers for money and to top that John Travolta's girlfriend loses her life to cancer. The initial release is met with much skepticism due to thin story line and foul language. But finally, when it was released, it broke all records in the opening week. In the last 30 years I have watched SNF umpteen times and I totally love the movie. Also, being a big Travolta fan I have watched almost all of his movies. "Get Shorty" is one of my all time favorites and all of his other movies come a close second, even the crappy "Michael", story of a womanizing angel.
SNF is about life of teens and coming of age, the story revolves around the mundane chores and mediocre life in Brooklyn. Angst of the characters to break from the monotony and do something sensational with their lives and in the process, one of them actually pays with his life falling off the Verrazano bridge. Robert Stigwood takes a group of little known actors and makes SNF one of the biggest cult sensation ever. John Travolta is adored as the James Dean of 70's and nominated for the Academy awards for best actor. He immortalizes his solo dance sequence in the movie which he executes with pitch perfect timing, tenacity and vitality. It is said that he dedicated 9 months to practice those dance moves to precision. When the director wanted to cut some of it from the final edition, he would have none of it.
John Travolta became one of the most biggest and successful Hollywood Stars. Nonetheless, fame also brings controversy and he has had a fair share of it. Recently, he lost his teenage son in a tragic accident. it is hard to fathom... losing a child is hard, no matter what the age is!
Like Prem Naseer ( my favorite hero from Malayalam movies), young Amitabh Bacchan ( the angry young man of Hindi movies), John Travolta has a special place in my heart. Whether it be a dancer, a cowboy, wily politician, a shylock, a rogue extortionist or a desperate attorney, he plays them with conviction and wins your heart.
To put it into perspective, every one has experienced a little bit of Tony Manero's life. The hair, the swagger, the values, the attitude, we all go through that phase of life. I myself have experienced the agonies and ecstasies as a young man, the little victories which makes you feel like you are invincible and the heartbreaks which makes you not want to wake up the next day. I have 2 kids who will go through these stages in a few years and probably repeat a similar story someday, thus continuing the circle of life.