Many of you reminisce about the good old days when you would watch the latest film with your friends and family in a talkies or single screen theatre. Lining up to buy tickets, going with a big crowd, eating popcorn out of plastic bags and collectively hooting and clapping on the amazing dialogue delivery by the hero.
Well, with the passage of time, these talkies dwindled and multiplexes took their place. So, I never had the opportunity to experience cinema in its purest way. Going to the movies for me had always meant carpeted floors, icy air conditioning, long lines for the loo, and overpriced stale popcorn and cold-drink. It was never a ritual or something to look forward to. So I never understood this romanticism of watching a film in a talkies.
That was until I had the pleasure of watching Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) in Maratha Mandir. This was just after the release of Tiger Zinda Hai and I was marveling at the fact that this 1000-seater single screen is still willing to run DDLJ even though the screening of Tiger Zinda Hai would have made much more money than the measly 25-rupee ticket of DDLJ.
The friendly usher heard my conversation, while checking the tickets he shared, “If we cancel even one show then the people get very angry. So we have to have this show at 11.30 every day. Only once it didn’t happen, because that film, Haseena Parker had some function here. I saw that film, it was okay only. How they got permission to cancel a show, I still wonder. People get very angry. Last time, they put on Shahrukh ka masks and threw stones. Anyway, film is starting beta, you go and sit.”
The balcony seats were surprisingly full with gangs of college students, young couples and a smattering of other individuals who were free this uneventful afternoon. The titles rolled and there were hoots and claps from my fellow audience members, and I joined in. This continued for the introduction of every major character and the iconic – “Bade bade deshon main aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain, senorita”.
The film ended and we left the auditorium. The big halls of Maratha Mandir, the opulent chandelier, the winding staircase where the biggest stars of Bollywood had once walked, the friendly usher, all formed a part of the experience that made me realize the charm of the ‘talkies’.
But the most heartwarming part of this experience was the audience; made up of broke college students, the working class of Mumbai, and me. This was the group of people I had witnessed having the most fun watching a film. If these theatres were closed down, what would become of this important and enthusiastic part of the audience? Will the shiny glass malls and multiplexes with English-speaking guards have a place for them?
Well now, I am a regular patron of Maratha Mandir, Regal Cinema, and Plaza Cinema. The lesser crowds, cheaper tickets, and friendlier staff certainly doesn’t hurt. I will try and hold on to this charm for as long as possible and urge you to experience or re-experience this wonderful way to consume cinema.