Sunday, June 29, 2008

Please be kind Rewind

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.


CaptainDave said...

A fascinating point about choice... choice does lead to a loss of respect for things. In the olden days.... did a woman ask her children what they wanted to eat? NO. Its not a restaurant. Children ate what their mother cooked, and were damn happy just to be fed. I know I was. And how about careers... I know in US at least, the teenagers and young college kids I know of.... have too much damn choice.... what should i be when i grow up? what could i be that is only enjoyable and not too much work....but will pay me like a king.... discusting if you ask me. Lets spend 10 yrs of our youth....deciding what to do with our lives. "We should all be so fortunate. You say poor Toby? I say poor us."

Excuse the rant... your writing evokes emotion and thought....what better combination could one seek? A tribute to the important things in life.


Kaushik said...

New Empire, "The House of Warner Bros", Calcutta. Marble steps worn down by countless feet over god knows how many years. Lighthouse, with that old Grand piano tucked away in the corner (Lighthouse before the 'renovation'). Hole-in-the-wall Tiger, now extinct ( how ironic). Globe, Jamuna, Metro, Elite, Regal, Minerva (now Chaplin), Roxy... all within a 2km radius. I would say the biggest multiplex ever.

machu.picchu said...

hey, some nice thoughts there. makes me wonder why u hate options in layouts.

ManchuChanchu said...

vim-la bitch! I have seen you rant about the same problem in person a gazillion times. About how we 'madu-gujju types' are the death of a movie watching experience. But I agree with you. I think there should be 'right to admission reserved' signs outside all theaters showing good movies across the globe.

Now that I live in Mumbai with two homeys my TV n DVD player have been hijacked by them so if they are not watching another season of 20-20 cricket or the euro, or some shit like die-hard 3, Norbit, or Rush Hour the 15th time over I get to take the remote n DVD player in my hand.
And then I take out one of the many DVDs I bought from Palika before leaving. And a good movy like Children of Heaven Or Rosemary's baby starts.

5 minutes have passed and then..."ey ki! eto khoon dhorey juto ee shilai korchey", "ei movy ta ey kichu hoi na" so on n so forth.

My flatmates are well educated cosmo-mumbaikars but sometimes they remind of the irritating lot behind your seat in a movie theater.

At times like these I really die to watch these movies with more 'like minded' people. Different people can be like minded for whole lot of different reasons. Movy watching is one of them.

Isn't it funny how something as light as watching a movie has turned into such an issue with our times....

vimsical said...

@Captaindave: It's strange that everywhere it's the same story, whether in a superpower like yours or a 'third world country; like ours. People are different yet they are same.
And captain, please keep your comments coming. Don't be so apologetic about them. thanks for your involvement in my blog.

@Kaushik: Exactly, the biggest multiplex ever. And the food for which you had to walk out of the halls in the 'half time'. Insanely cheap 'chops', samosas, patties(strangely people call it 'patties' even when they are buying a single patty), and the beef roll outside Jamuna(3 bucks flat). We'd do one more thing, that is, buy quarter pound breads from one of the bakeries in the 'old' new market, buy some 100-200 grams ham, tear the bread, slap the ham in between and have a grand meal while watching a film :)

@machupichhu: My secret is out :)

@Manchuchanchu:Right to admission reserved is too much, Maybe they can hand me a bazooka in the cinema hall :P
And oye, Die Hard is not shit movie. I love Die hard series :)

Arpita said...

It is very difficult for our generation to adjust to this new mall-multiplex culture...coz we had a taste,though not for long..of that old world charm...that i still look for in kolkata...before all that was torn/gutted down...what now stands in these places i considered heaven...are retail hell(or heaven)..depends on which side u of 30 u are on...i know change is constant...but really could not the old and new co-exist...It is fashionable now to say..''ami inox/fame eh movie dekhechi''...but truly speaking...i find no soul in these places...
Keep on writing's cathartic for me...

Anshumani said...

DDLJ, in a cinema hall called Anjali, tucked away into one of the many localities in Shillong. It was my first unattended movie, mum and dad decided that it's ok for me to got out with my friends. Excited, we headed for the theatre, wondering which person we'll end up sitting next to and how we'll spend the 15 rupees left over from the ticket money.
DDLJ was obviously a huge crowd puller, in fact in a local cinema hall in Mumbai, it still runs full house. We didn't get tickets and couldn't afford the ones in black, so we waited for the next show to start. There were no multiple screens, no choices, just the excitement of waiting for the movie to finish so that ours could start.
Over the years, there have been many more unattended cinema movies. but none have held the same charm as DDLJ did. None have made you wait.
The other day, Mihir and I went to PVR in Juhu to watch a movie- The Orphanage. A cannes palm d'or winner, spanish with subtitles. The entire hall was empty, and we were priviliged enough to be sitting on the last row with a random selection of like minded people. Sad, sex and the city was the major crowd puller and the orphanage got lost in the multiplex, and society decided to treat it, quite like its name.

Nirmal said...

Isn't it strange that in most of our major cities earlier had single screen cinema halls named Roxy, Metro, Minerva, Regal and so on. Nothing much has changed there, you know, now they seem to be called PVR or Adlabs.
One of the things which I loved doing in a single screen cinema is to sit in one of the front rows and look up at the larger than life images. And hey it was also good fun turning around and watching the hundreds of people staring, their faces lit up by the silver screen

And dear friend, you do have a very evocative writing style, hope to catch more such wonderful pieces.

vimsical said...

@ Arpita: It's weird for us. I guess, weirder for my elder brother's generation. The change is quite baffling for him. He keeps talking about the time they would take a tram ride to Basusree, watch a film and have a patty also, all in some Rs 2. Or the fact that earlier when you went to a chinese restaurant and ordered chow chow as we call it, you got a big bowlful which 2-3 people could easily share and the last of the Buicks he saw on Calcutta roads.

Dude, Thanks for writing. I hope you keep coming back.

@Anshumani: DDLJ was such a hit. it still is. I haven't yet watched it yet but have heard so much from everybody. It's considered a landmark film. A coming of age film for hindi cinema in terms of the subject. And you came of age with the film too. Nothing can beat the excitement, can it? Kind of like the first drag of your cigarette :P

@Nirmal: I don't agree, dude. A Minerva or a Roxy had more personality attached to them. There is an individuality to them, unlike a PVR this or a PVR that. Thanks for your comment. Hope you keep coming back.