Happy Birthday, Clint Eastwood!


Born on May 31, 1930, Clint Eastwood went on to vanquish all kinds of movie villains – except power cuts in 1970s Kolkata.

Clint Eastwood has acted in more than 60 films, including the Dollars Trilogy: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

Later this month, Clint Eastwood turns 93. The winner of four Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards, he is a true American legend who made the transition from action hero to sensitive character actor in movies like The Bridges of Madison County, and Gran Torino. But his finest moments came behind the camera as director of movies like Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River.

For my generation though Eastwood will always be the ultimate superhero, the man who first drew us to the movies. Which is why his 93rd is a moment to step back in time and think of the days when all roads led to cinema halls that would be screening his movies.

Growing up in Kolkata (then still Calcutta), movies were one of the few passions that we all shared. At that age, the more action-packed the movie, the better. Every time a spaghetti western hit town, we were sure to queue up for the cheapest tickets in the front stalls of Tiger or New Empire or Lighthouse. It was of course an expensive hobby and called for many sacrifices in preparation. Pocket money was severely rationed, and it would take a month of saving and scrounging to ensure we had enough for a ticket as well as the extra needed for some indulgence outside the hall. As the big day approached for the release of The Outlaw Josey Wales or A Fistful of Dollars, we would walk the half hour it took to get to school to save the few coins we got as bus fare.

While Westerns were popular, the one movie that really caught our fancy leading us to transgress our ethical boundaries was Where Eagles Dare. The first time we saw Clint Eastwood atop the cable car, hanging on for dear life, we were mesmerized. It was magical, with all of us imagining ourselves as Clint Eastwood equivalents storming the formidable bastion of the Nazis. Of course, the similarity with the 6 feet 3 inches tall superstar was a bit of a stretch. But in the darkness of a cinema hall with stereophonic sound effectively shutting out the voice of reason, such leaps of imagination were commonplace among an audience coming in from the grimness of the world outside.


Where Eagles Dare had to be seen, once, twice, thrice and so we adopted the time-tested route of boys low on cash and high on need – stealing from the kitchen jar. It was poetic justice in a way since the money was stashed away by doting mothers hoping to save up enough to start us off on glittering professional careers, which never materialized. Eastwood, ironically, was a weak student and was held back for a year in high school due to poor academic scores. And here we were, helping him rake up his million dollar fortune.

In this world of Dirty Harry and The Good, the Bad, the Ugly there was always the one hero, Clint Eastwood. No villain could stand up to his courage and skills, though there was one that even the man nicknamed Samson by the nurses at the hospital in San Francisco where he was born, couldn’t conquer for us. That was the dreaded load shedding, that bug bear of Calcutta of the 1970s. Suddenly in the middle of such tense scenes as Eastwood battling the villainous Scorpio in a stadium with all lights switched on, the hall would be plunged into darkness. To the sound of catcalls and whistles in an auditorium now resembling a furnace, we would swiftly be brought down to earth. Somehow the load shedding which bedeviled us at home never had the same malevolent face as the one which interrupted the two-hour movie.

Nothing, not even the frequently long procession of demonstrators disturbed the eagerness of our trip to the cinema hall more than the apprehension of a power cut which would be rudely announced with a banner outside simply saying “Cancelled”. It was anticlimactic after the excitement of reaching the hall in anticipation of watching Eastwood’s polite query for the mad serial killer: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” Against a background of blaring alarms, that’s probably one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue in movies.

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