Readers Write In #173: Why my interest in theaters waned, and how it helped me cope in these perilous times

Posted on May 11, 2020

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(by Alex John)

Yes, you heard that right. I am not a digger of that much hailed ‘theatrical experience, and am much more comfortable in my living room watching movies. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like going to theaters. I like being a part of the crowd and all those cheers and guffaws, and used to visit every movie theater I had access to in my earlier twenties (has anybody seen Aftab Sivdasani’s ‘Red’ in theaters?).

But over the time, I…well, I won’t say I grew tired of going to theaters, I never have, but I realized I liked more to submerge myself in the movie experience than in the herd-feeling that we get from being among an audience. And I started watching movies more at home than in theaters, a habit that has extended to this time, now helping me dodge the unsettling thoughts created by the devastating pandemic lurking around the corner. Now, let me write something more about this.

Like I wrote, I want to lose myself while I watch a movie(not a privilege I always get, even in my living room). Here, am I contradicting myself? Can’t you be more focused in a movie theater than in your house? That is contingent on a variety of things. Thank about yourself sitting among a delirious crowd cheering for their superhero while you’re trying to figure out what’s happening on the screen. Or imagine a weightier situation. You are watching a more serious film, trying to plunge yourself in to the plot setting, and a bunch of school kids who don’t get the film or don’t really care about it screaming all the time and keep snapping you out of your comfort bubble.

I know this isn’t something that happens everyday, but there are a few films that I had to watch again because of this callousness. I am in constant fear of this happening every time I go to a movie theater and I am not really settled until I am at least 30 minutes into the film, and this all-is-well-after-thirty- going to see Dulqer Salman’s ‘Neelakasham pachakadal,chuvanna bhoomi’, a great-in-parts road movie, and a man came into the theater after the half-time break, and for some mysterious reason started shouting out the heroine’s name until the very end, until the titles rolled. And the audience including me chose to chicken outmore or less a societal norm for us. It was something truly frustrating for me, for my movie experience was totaled, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Around this time, the much glorified ‘movie-hall-is sacred’ notion started to fade inside me, and is never really restored to this date.

Now, is there anything other than my paranoia that diminished my fondness for movie theaters?Of course, there always is the infamous hustle-bustle on our roads, but there’s something more, and its more of a personal thing than a universal truth. I said above that I was crazy about going to theaters when I was younger. At that time, my film tastes were confined to different shades of Indian cinema and its flaky romanticism. Technology was already ripe back then, but I kept going to desi films until I realized I wanted more and our theaters are vastly inadequate in providing diversified film-viewing experience when compared to advanced technology, especially in small towns like the one I come from. As I grew older, I started to take cinema much more seriously than just a medium of entertainment, and to drift away from our cinemas those weren’t really on the same page with me there.

I still go to movies often, but also am taking advantage of the choices that I have as a non-prolific film writer(you know visiting theaters is not your pick if you are/become a full time film critic/writer, not yet). Now I know I don’t have to do theatrical visits to watch inferior films for entertainment due to the lack of choice. Now I can choose my kind of films without having to go out of my house for that. This is nothing but the film-viewing equivalent of ditching your town’s public library once you start reading e-books and listening to audio files. You know the place is your sentimental shrine, but just don’t quite satiate your desire for entertainment and erudition anymore. Cinemas could epitomize an unending steam of nostalgia for you like they did for old Salvatore in Cinema Paradiso, but times have changed and the so has the medium, and there is no point in brooding over what feeds your fond memories. This may sound expedient,but bidding these minor pleasures good-bye could be the price we pay for the flourish of the most rigorously evolving form of art and spectacle.

Let me conclude by telling you this- I don’t want to desecrate anybody’s holy grounds. I know movie halls are nothing short of religious for a lot of movie fans. And there is no denying the fact that some films are truly designed for big screens. The last film I watched in a theater-Anjam pathira, a Malayalam crime thriller- was one of those films. It was such a well staged thriller that it made me miss even the biggest of its plot holes, most of which I am sure would have hit me instantly if I watched the film at my home. Yes, the totally overwhelming theater experiences can play tricks on you, which is indispensable to some films, but think about this;is cinema as an art form truly meant for big halls? Well, not necessarily. A play is. An opera is. The actors in a play require immediate audience reaction, but those in films don’t.

This attribute of cinema started to be exploited when television was introduced, and then the advancement of technology extended film viewing to our bedrooms, kitchens, then out side of our houses. This is something alien to other forms of art. This is, I believe, what makes cinema the most diversified and democratic of all arts. And this is what succors my spirit in these melancholic times too. Here I am, locked up in my house, banned from traveling any comforting distance, but is far from the obvious gloominess thanks to the movies that surround me all the time. The multi-channel aspect makes films more accessible at home than ever, and it makes me feel everything is normal around me. This is by the way one of the prominent missions of cinema, named make-believe. Let’s forget about those hang-outs,popcorn buckets and comfy chairs for now. Movies are here, at your home, soothing you in times of insecurity. Oh cinema, what great art thou art!