I watched the latest Michel Gondry film Be kind Rewind a couple of weeks back. It’s a film about a small community of people who come together to save a rundown VHS rental and thrift store in a rundown neighborhood operated by a rundown owner, Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). The building is termed unsafe and Municipal corp plans to construct a new structure on the spot. The film also stars Mos Def as Mr. Flecher’s shop assistant and Jack Black as his crazy friend, Jerry. Now, I am an out and out Jack Black fan and I love Michel Gondry’s work too. But this post is not about the film, or Jack Black or Michel Gondry. This post is about the wonderful experience of watching cinema and the love so many of us have for the medium.
After watching Be Kind Rewind in a ‘multiplex’, I thought about Chanakya. Chanakya was the most iconic 1080 seater, single-screen cinema hall of Delhi which closed its shutters forever on 27 December 2007, after a successful run of 37 years. The decision to close and vacate the place was due to a Supreme Court judgment paving the way for the New Delhi Municipal Council to raze the theatre complex and build a multiplex-cum-mall on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis. There was a lot of write ups on it, a lot of nostalgia around it. TV channels beamed interviews of the general public who were sad at the theater closing but were happy that a new, swanky multiplex would come up in it’s place.
Different people have different take on films. Some take it too seriously but for most, it’s a mere mode of entertainment, a paisa vasool. Agreed that the scene of cinema is evolving in India. It is also true that the multiplexes have enabled the release and screening of small and independent films. But it also has a reverse effect. I believe people took the whole experience of watching films too seriously earlier. Before the world opened up, films were the main choice of entertainment for people. I am in love with the whole traditional big-screen, 1000 people packed in a dark theater, totally lost in the story-unfolding-on-the-screen movie experience.
The single-screen cinema halls have a different charm to them. Many of them were built in 70s and their structure looked so great. The whole 70s look, which now we call retro. The façade, the way their names were written in fancy fonts were all part of the experience. They had a personality, a name, an identity. Each were known for, and by the kind of films they would screen and hence had almost a set kind of people who would frequent them. People love films in India, and come what may, it was and still remains the biggest form of entertainment for the masses. I believe that people took watching a film a lot more seriously earlier. They were a lot more involved in the films, because they had chosen to be in a particular theater for the film they wanted to watch. So they felt at home, they were more in it. But today, with the multiplexes where everything and anything is shoved under the same building, people have ‘choice’. Choice makes you lose respect for things. People come to cinema hall to catch a ‘flick’, and if they don’t get the tickets for ‘Mere Baap, pehle aap’, they’ll get it for ‘Be kind, Rewind’, because they have come for a good time and yeah maybe have heard of Jack Black, ..yeah..he is very funny, man!! Well, unlike Eternal Sunshine, Be kind is a ‘light’ film, but it still is not exactly a Jack Black movie, it’s a Michel Gondry movie which of-course these weekend flick-catchers have no clue of. So what do they do when they are stuck in a cinema hall and not tuned to the film they are watching? Simple. They talk amongst themselves. Play ‘predict what will happen next’. Text people that they are watching a boring film, talk on their phone and crack jokes. And god forbid if you ask them to shut up, they give you a ‘what’s-wrong-with-you, we-have-paid-for-our-tickets-too’ look. Or they just giggle and go back to doing whatever they were doing. Like I said, the respect and involvement with the medium has gone down.
If choice is the yardstick of development then hell, we’ve come a long way. But it is not. Choice is for people not sure of what they want, it’s for the confused lot. And with the multiplex culture, a lot of this confused multiplex crowd bring their confusion to cinema halls and kill the whole magic of watching a film. Single-screen cinema halls are closing down everywhere in major metropolitan cities making way for multiplexes. The screen fades into the dark and curtains are drawing on the single-screen theater and god, it is not the proverbial happy ending we forever wish for.