Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cinema! Cinema!

I remember my childhood visits to the cinema hall at a time when they ran a single movie for all four shows. The women in the group were pressed into service to wait their turn to buy the tickets in the Ladies Queue.

The cinema hall snack counter had greasy samosas, vegetable puffs, pop-corn and bottled soft drinks, that too, only two varieties. Most of these snack bars also had an ancient ice cream machine, which would swirl out milky ice cream, always vanilla flavour, into a cone that the attendant deftly moved to catch the swirl right. Towards the climax of the movie, we would exit the theatre so that we could leave in our car without getting caught in the rush of vehicles at the end of the show. So, invariably, we didn’t know what happened at the end of the movie.

Multiplexes have changed all that. Now, you have a bigger choice of movies to watch thanks to multiple screens and different movies showing on the same screen over a day. The experience begins even before you’ve set foot in the premises. You can book tickets on the internet, the phone, and even by messaging from your mobile. If you want the ultimate in luxurious movie watching, you can book seats that recline. If you visit the snack counter before the movie starts, you can place an order with your seat number as identity, and ask to be served at an appointed time during the movie. The snack counters now have chocolates, cookies, potato wafers, sandwiches, samosas, doughnuts, soft drinks from vending machines, pop corn in three sizes of portions, and of course, ice cream that still comes out of a machine, only more snazzy looking. No more missing the end of the movie – the parking is organized and sometimes, you pay extra for it. If you’re wondering who would watch the kids at home while you went for a movie, there’s a new service at some multiplexes where children are chaperoned while you catch up on the movie.

Needless to say, one pays a hefty rate per ticket, now touching an average of Rs. 200. The difference between earlier and now, is that then, we paid for products and now, we pay for service and convenience.

However, one of my greatest desires is to experience the ‘tent’ cinema theatres of yore, with the men and women sitting in segregated sections on the ground made comfortable with fine sand. I imagine that when the hero appears on the screen, there would be whistles aplenty and silver paper thrown on screen. Some members of the audience would dance energetically during songs only to be shushed by those whose view of the screen was blocked by the dancers. The Interval would see the audience rushing to get their share of oily ‘gold finger’ and ‘murukkus’, along with ‘colour’, a sherbet-like drink. There was also, I presume milk lollies and stick-ice creams we used to call ‘kucchi Ice’.

Ironically, what hasn’t changed between then and now, is the fact that the movie is incidentally only a small part of the entire cinema-going experience.

(Article appeared in The Friendly Post, Kodaikanal in February 2007)

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