When movies were intimate!

When movies were intimate! Before this title gives you any ideas let me make it clear that it refers to the intimacy that the medium used to share with the audiences, something that has gone missing over the last decade or so. Those were the times when there was only one universal medium of entertainment, cinema. Radios were hugely popular, but the TV was yet to make its presence felt in a big way. Even when it actually did there was only Doordarshan. Cinema was the biggest source of entertainment and there was only place that one could experience it from, the theaters.

This is not really long back, perhaps a decade and a half ago. Going to watch a film in theaters was like a mini festival for the family. Planning well ahead (minimum of two days, sometimes nearly a week), getting to the theater, standing in the queue for tickets hoping nervously that there would be enough (advance booking was not known in those days) and many other small things that constituted the movie experience. Different people had different

necessities to be completely satisfied with an outing to the theater. Songs and intervals served as smoking breaks for men, children were adamant on that cone ice cream. There were minor/major inconveniences also like the lousy seats and people who did not bother to go outside the hall to have a smoke. There were also times when movies were such huge hits that theaters felt it unnecessary to stop giving tickets even after all the seats were filled, as if the ‘Houseful’ concept never existed. Queues could get uncontrollably unruly and if you were anywhere close to the counter there would be pleas from the more unlucky people outside it to get a ticket for them. The more acrobatic could be seen climbing atop grills to get close to the counter. And, once the doors to the auditorium opened there would be a huge scramble to get inside first and grab that coveted position right under the fan; there were no seat numbers in those days. Those were also the days of special queues for ladies which made it easier for families to get tickets on weekends.

While it has to be admitted that all these experiences did appear frustrating in those days, they seem like an old enjoyable joke in today’s ultra sophisticated way of catching up with movies. Most changes have been for the better. Numbered seating is one of them. In years past, a good portion of the movie used to get lost while trying to find three adjacent empty seats in a packed theater if you were going as a family. The ‘man with the torch’ would be as confused as you were. Advanced booking is perhaps another good change. It has reduced the uncertainty with which one goes to the theater, especially for a hit flick. But, that said, I would like to confess that thinking of standing in the queue and chewing fingernails frantically as one got closer to the counter does evoke a bit of nostalgia. It was adrenaline without having to take any risks. One change that everyone will agree is not the best is ticketed parking for vehicles which can cost up to 15-20% of the ticket, for just an open space, no shelter for your vehicle from rain or sun and a inscription below the ticket that the ‘Management is not responsible for any loss or damage’. Seats are better by a huge difference and the technology used for projection is a revelation. Remember those days when there used to be black outs on screen which sent young people of the audience into cat call mode. So much has changed in such a small time. Theaters that used to be the pride of Chennai have become inconspicuous or just disappeared, new multiplexes are the toast of the day. Old timers still fondly talk of Safire and Anand, both only memories now.

So much for the cities. One can still recall what movies used to mean for the rural folk. It was a way of life. ‘New’ movies were ones that had released in the city a year or so ago. Theaters had personal spaces for regular visitors, the facilities used to be minimal. Refreshments mainly consisted of roasted peanuts and ‘paneer’ soda, there used to be just 2 shows a day and no film played for more than a week. There was a continuous rotation from the old classics to the latest releases. The most important part of it all was publicity. Door-to-door is the best way to describe it. Huge painted posters of the movie carried along on handcarts to the accompaniment of drum beats, letting everyone know about the new entry in the local theater. People walked into theaters after a day’s hard work to unwind; there was no hurry. Cinema was a way of life, the only source of entertainment.

Now, I don’t know how to wrap things up. But, what cinema means to us has changed a lot. Nowadays there is cinema everywhere; songs on radio, snippets on TV, the internet and flooding of other such content has cut off the intimacy between the theater and its audiences. Earlier, the theater used to be ‘the place’ where one watched movies. Nowadays, it is just one of the places where one watches movies. We still love movies, in a different way.

(By Sudhakar, with inputs from Arun.)

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