Monday, December 12, 2005

Multiplex Dis/pleasures

I spent nearly 8 hours at a mall in Delhi this past Saturday! After two movies (Harry Potter, Apaharan) and two trips to the food court, I came out feeling very ambivalent about the entire movie-going experience. This was my first time watching films in a multiplex in India, and as anyone who has grown up watching movies in single-screen halls will agree, the multiplex is a completely different experience.

Let me talk about the nice aspects first.

Toilets: Sparkling clean! Not the stinking mess they used to be in the single-screen halls.
No Smoking: Earlier, you would step into the foyer during intermission be enveloped in cigarette smoke. And the only escape would be the nasty loos!
Seats: All the push-back seats work, no torn cushions, no bugs and rashes to deal with at the end of the movie!
Seat numbers: throughout the hall and not just in the balcony section. Which means you don't have to deal with all the pushing and pulling to enter the hall, or pick a fight with folks who've reserved entire rows of seats with their handkerchiefs.

All this and more is supposed to give you, as the IMAX staff announced before the movie began, an "immersive movie experience." The screen sure was impressive, as was the sound. But what does "immersive" mean to contemporary exhibitors and audiences?

Here's what failed to make the experience immersive for me:

Disappearance of the Gandhi Class: The gandhi class refers to the first 3-4 rows in a hall, patronized by members of the working class and students (mostly male). Folks in these rows believe that the only way to watch a film is to make it a collective and participatory experience. Whistle, hoot, throw flowers and coins, deliver dialogues in sync with characters on the screen, sing along, and of course, pass comments throughout (some hilarious, some lewd, and some deeply sentimental). The multiplex audience is quiet, atomised, and BORING!

The Interval: Interval conversation is a sacred ritual. You step into the foyer, smoke (or inhale second-hand), and talk about the film. You discuss the first half, speculate on the second half, there is quick round of appreciation/anticipation of a "hot" item number (song performed by a sexy, scantily clad woman is usually not the heroine), and weigh the possibility of coming back to watch the film a second or third time.

Cell phones: When you hear a fancy ringtone, you assume that the person in question will quickly silence the thing with an embarassed/apologetic smile. Heh, nothing doing. People were merrily chatting away on their phones, irritating me no end. But others around me were seemingly not bothered.

Nostalgia aside, the multiplex is easily the most visible representation of transformations in urban India. And where the politics of the multiplex - both in terms of the industry and the audience - is concerned, there are several questions to be asked. Go here if these questions interest you:

"From its present shape, there only emerge more queries than any concrete predictions. Will the rapid spread of the multiplex and its concentration in particular zones with audiences constituting existing and potential markets for the retail entities supporting the multiplex, emerge as the dominant trend, and push doors for further segregation and institutionalization of segmented audiences, leading to branded multiplexes? Or will encouragement from the various governments drive away the multiplex, aiding its penetration into other urban and semi urban, non-affluent territories? Will the multiplex alter existing film form so as to align with its own plush and colourful appearance? Or will it encourage alternative films?" (Aparna Sharma, Seminar, May 2003)


  • I actually liked multiplexes. I didn't have to jostle in the crowd, no one to pinch me or harass me. I could go out during the interval and buy snacks, rather than being way in the back because i'm short...

    but i guess, i got a taste of what it would be in manipal. even though they weren't multiplexes, these chotu halls showed different movies for different shows and I remember sitting through multiple movies.

    PS: these multiplexes also have a rs 10 tickets for first 4-5 rows which are usually reserved for students. i have stood in line for more than an hour to get one of those.

    By Anonymous mandira, at 12/13/2005 8:29 PM  

  • me Delhi in the PVR complexes and Priya too. Sometimes in winter..and sometimes all alone!! with all those shouting and hooting men
    but I liked the multiplexes too, not only because of the lack of crowds but also because of their Clean loos!!

    By Blogger Durga, at 12/16/2005 12:51 PM  

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