It’s 1986. Thanks to the astounding popularity of Sholay, Zanjeer, Deewar, and Don, Amitabh Bachchan sits on the pinnacle of Bollywood as its biggest superstar ever. His biggest fan, you had watched his Mard five times in the hall and thrice on rent the last year and absolutely couldn’t wait for his next. To your good fortune, after a year of ‘will-he-won’t-he’ post the commencement of his political career, he is coming out with Aakhree Raasta. You get together with your colony friends, get two rupees per head, and jet set to the local video library to rent your original copy of the film the night after its release. Who goes easy on contri (contributed) chai and samosa? So, you digest the savouries as you enjoy the film and for the next few weeks are often spotted humming ‘Gori Ka Saajan, Saajan Ki Gori, Lo Ji Shuru Ho Gayi Love Iss-tory!’
Yeh Un Dinon Ki Baat Hai
“Yeh voh zamana tha!” (This was about that age), fondly reminisces Rashmin Joshi, owner of Rashmin Video Vision, Dahisar, Mumbai. “We used to get the original branded copy of films the night after it used to be released and for a rent of seven and a half rupees, we used to put it out for circulation. Every additional rental would cost five rupees. There used to be so much rush over the weekends and during festivals that we didn’t use to have the time to eat!”
Established in 1988, Rashmin Video Vision was amongst the many videos libraries thriving in the India of the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s. Indian small screen entertainment fully began around the same time that Rashmin Video Vision came into being. In the 1980s, as Doordarshan was opening its doors to iconic shows like Phool Khile Gulshan Gulshan, Rajani, Khandaan, and later, Hum Log, Ramayana, and Fauji, India sat huddled in their neighbours’ ‘TV room’ to watch weekly shows and rental VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders). About a decade later VCDs (Video CDs) DVDs (Digital Video Discs) would be bought, if not rented, and stored carefully in plastic cases to be played in middle-class drawing rooms, desktops, and much later, cars. A single scratch on the latter side could earn an earful from a parent or a hole in the pocket if we were the one with the wallet, so doing a little math would probably make us remember how precariously precious these magical instruments of entertainment were.
But, coming back to Rashmin Joshi.
Much like the rest of India, which is known to have a life-long romance with films, Joshi grew up with Indian cinema. When he was in the sixth form, Joshi’s father, Kanaiyalal Joshi, who used to run a cinema theatre in Ambaji, Gujarat, realised India’s passion for cinema and started operating a video library out of his Nancy Colony (Borivali) house. VCR was quite new to viewership then. The popularity of the store can be gauged when Joshi says that with customers pouring in, there would be no time to do anything else – not even to eat, and even during exams, he wouldn’t have the time to study. He also recalls never having dinner before midnight.
“Itna craze tha!” (There was such craze!), he exclaims.
“Yeh voh daur tha jahaan pe movies ka bohot value tha,” (this was an age when movies were really valued) gushes Joshi as he recalls collecting five rupees per head from his friends and watching films all night with them. He remembers a boyhood-well-spent staring at film posters on the streets to memorise each feature, each part of the poster, waiting in queues outside Borivali’s Jaya Theatre stretched up to a kilometre long to get cinema tickets, and almost getting lost in the Bombay local train circuit whilst trying to catch a matinee show of Shashi Kapoor’s Atithee in Malad with his brother.
It Happens Only In India
With his inheritance money, Kanaiyalal Joshi moved his shop to Dahisar. After completing his matriculation exams, Rashmin Joshi joined a technical institute where he learnt the craft of VCR repairing and for 12 years, worked as a VCR repairman. He would later also go on to learn to fix the CD scratches we talked about earlier.
As the 20th century yawned in exhaustion, giving up the stage to the 21st century, India advanced from VCR to CDs. The Joshis also moved with time, discarded all the VCR stock and started collecting CDs. The craze that they had all grown up seeing only heightened as this new age came about. Initially, it was just audio CDs of film songs that used to be rented. With an assortment of music platforms available to us on our smartphones now, we might hardly assume that music was not accessible to people until about 15 years ago. In fact, those times are too far behind us when those who couldn’t afford, used to wait for their favourite songs to turn up on the radio and record them. To make music reach those who couldn’t afford to buy it, while other libraries refused to rent out music CDs, Rashmin Video Vision gave those out in the circulation.
Hum Saath Saath Hain
One of the major realisations we had whilst speaking to Rashmin Joshi and his daughter, Prerna, was that unlike today, films used to be an extremely social and familial affair. Speaking of recording, Rashmin also recalled how he used to record films from Doordarshan to watch it 50-60 times and then circulate it in the distant family for his cousins to watch them.
The love for films that Rashmin and his family carried inside their hearts was the love they wanted to put out in the world. To this end, Rashmin Video Vision was specifically designed to be open to all — anyone could come in, explore the library, read the blurb on the back of the film’s CD cover, and see if they would like to rent it or seek a dubbed version of an international feature. With a collection of more than 7,700 CDs and DVDs, Rashmin Joshi prides in having “something for everyone – full family.”
Like a true expert, Joshi was sought for his film recommendations. Says Joshi “our customers used to trust our choice and we didn’t let them down. I valued my customer’s time. I realised the effort it took for a customer to come to my shop to pick a film. I didn’t have a home delivery system. I used to empathise with them and their effort, and wanted them to remember the film as a good experience they would like to come back to.”
“We were also expedient in telling them if it was a flop picture that they were picking. We used to promptly tell them, ‘yeh mat dekho. Yeh flop hai picture. Paisa barbaad ho jaayega.’ (Don’t watch this film. It’s a flop. You will be wasting your money.)”
Says Prerna about her father, “It was never just business to him. He always used to spend a lot of energy, a lot of feeling, a lot of thought into his passion.”
A world that didn’t know YouTube and Netflix relied on Joshi’s comprehensive collection and could trust him to have the oldest of films including a copy of Neecha Nagar (1946), the first Indian film to go to the Cannes Film Festival. Rashmin fondly remembers the smile that used to spread across his customers’ faces when they used to get a film they had failed to find elsewhere. Joshi used to go to the market and collect films for this very smile.
“You will not believe, he had Friends Season 01!”, exclaims Prerna, who remembers being envied by all her friends for having the coolest collection of watchables for free.
“I used to note down my customers’ demands. When I used to see a series or a film being requested often, I used to get down to looking for it. I used to take down their phone number and upon having found the film, I used to dial them to inform.”
Self-admittedly, not one proficient in the English language, Joshi used to watch the dubbed version of all English features to recommend them to his customers, and when the customer had exhausted all Hindi and English options, he used to offer them theatre and regional dramas and regional film features. If you didn’t like the suggestion, you didn’t have to pay for it.
“ A loss of 30-40 rupees meant nothing to me as long as I was winning the customer’s confidence.” Joshi’s philosophy is substantiated by the fact in the vast span of 20 years, his rental prices only moved from 30 rupees to 40 rupees per CD/DVD.
“All of this has been quite a journey in life, and for him, it has been his whole life,” rues Prerna.
Happy Ending? … Or not?
Sod’s law must be applying to modernity as well. As the internet started bringing entertainment to everyone’s pocket, institutions like Rashmin Video Vision started sinking into oblivion. Transformation in technology also meant the universal relinquishment of the hard copy.
The closing down of Mumbai-based video libraries like Shemaroo and Teenage prognosticated the ill-fate of the DVD era in India. Unlike many others, Rashmin Joshi does not blame piracy for the fall of the DVD. They remember things running pretty smoothly until about four years ago. Thanks to the expeditious internet penetration coupled with the rapid mushrooming of digital entertainment platforms, DVD makers stopped making them, the consumers stopped consuming them, and the collectors started selling them out to scrap.
In the race against the internet, it was not like the Joshis didn’t try. At the onset of internet penetration, Joshi started downloading films from the internet and handing out soft copies to his customers in pen drives.
“But nothing worked out, so we had to stop. This was probably his last attempt.”
After more than 30 years to this journey, Rashmin Video Vision stopped functioning two years ago.
Despite all, Rashmin Joshi, who thinks that the government might be able to intervene to make digital entertainment cheaper, still believes that everyone should have access to good movies.
His daughter says, “I have practically grown up looking at that shop and living through it and now, it just breaks my heart to see it all go away like this.”
Video libraries like the Joshis’ have shaped a very large part of the cultural perception of at least three generations in India. The mere mention of VCRs and VCPs (Video Cassette Players) unlocks the floodgates of a million memories — of renting or buying cassettes and CDs and watching them with family and friends, of the first VCP that had been materieled to the college hostel, the sheer joy of finally having colour TV in 1982, of fixing the tape wheels using a slim pen, and so many others! These video libraries that are slowly sinking into oblivion, were, at one point, the enablers of these moments and people like Rashmin Joshi, who valued their customers’ emotions and trust over everything else, were the reason so many Indians continued to bond over cinema. In a heavily-personalised and ultra-personal world, as cinema and cinema-watching become more and more individual and self-regarding, it might be useful to spare a thought for these video libraries that brought everyone together to create a shared experience, a shared memory.
As the Joshis try to grant the grand farewell that Rashmin Video Vision deserves, they also think about the archival treasure they have collected so far. The vast collection is a window into the history of India and the Joshis would like to be able to put it to use in an impactful manner. The Joshis turned to Homegrown with their story to think about how we could collaborate with them in honouring their legacy. In turn, Homegrown turns to you, our readers, to come together with the Joshis in preserving their cinematic treasure.
At this point, we are looking for archives and institutions that will be interested in digitising the huge collection. Any further recommendations from the audience can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you’d prefer to call regarding an opportunity, they would be happy to receive calls at +91 9869190319.
Relive the nostalgia and watch the heartwarming video of Rashmin Video Vision’s inauguration ceremony here.
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