I’m not going to lie, I was afraid to go back to the movies. Is the virus hiding in the air vents? Would I suffocate behind my trifold mask? Would I get COVID 19 somehow, despite all the sanitizers and hand washing?
It turned out that the film on Friday of last week brought not one movie, but two. Back to back. That meant six hours divided between two rooms, in the same multiplex. Keep my mask in place ALL THE TIME. Breathe in the air exhaled by the people sitting next to me, because the authorities, in their wisdom, have allowed the theaters to operate at 100% occupancy.
The movie theater, which had been my happy place every Friday at work all these years, now looked like a potential death trap.
I called my childhood friend, a doctor at a large hospital who worked tirelessly on the front lines during the year of the pandemic, to share my concerns. She looked surprisingly airy: keep your mask on, and when you’re done, “patli gali se nikal lena” (leave through the side door). I was shaken. It’s so different from my old friend to use such ‘Bambaiyya’ slang, but maybe she felt pressured to come up with an appropriate slogan to match the Bollywood experience.
I must admit that I expected it to be a little more simpatico. Here I was about to risk my life, and there she was so nonchalant about it all. But its neutral character, a stock in the trade for people who face death on a daily basis, has proven to be eerily calming, almost therapeutic.
I’m happy to report that the first crowded filmi on Friday, after almost a whole year, (that day last year was the ‘Janta Curfew’, which was the ‘trailer’ of the lock that was to leave us in isolation on a scale we had never experienced) has come and gone, and I am alive to tell the tale.
It’s a testament to the things humans get used to, that I not only managed to keep the mask on, but dared to lift it off the side for an occasional sip of a soda brought in from the concession. It helped that there were only five or six other people in the first show: the afternoon show was a bit more crowded, but there was enough seating to be able to maintain “social distancing” mandatory six feet.
Oh how I had missed that, to be able to enter a space specially designed to get lost, to be transported. Literally every Friday, every week, for more years than I could count, my life had revolved around the movies I was going to see.
It was a homecoming.
So much has changed in the past year. Lockdown meant no longer going to the movies. The movies came home instead. Ride on OTT platforms. We always had access to the movies on our home screens, but they only showed up after tilting for the first time on the big screen. And here we were watching the most amazing thing: A BRAND NEW MOVIE. AT HOME. ON OUR DEVICES. AT OUR FINGERS.
Imagine Amitabh Bachchan spending a Friday, with Ayushmann Khurrana, in Shoojit Sircar’s highly anticipated “Gulabo Sitabo”. To borrow a favorite line from a friend who has never taken New Yorkers out of his system, it wasn’t chopped liver, no sir. It was an A-List movie, studded with A-List stars, coming back to us.
Over the months of the pandemic, we started to get used to it and a whole new phenomenon was born: new movies “ falling ” on Netflix, Amazon, Disney + Hotstar, ZEE5, Apple TV, AltBalaji, MX Player, Hoichoi, Neestream and so many others, on a device five inches from our nose. There was consternation among the large exhibition groups. What if people never went back to a PVR, or an INOX, or a Cinepolis, or the simple screens, which had braved the onslaught of shiny plexes?
Like many of us, I’m a fierce old guard when it comes to movies. Those flicks-on-OTT that can pause, play, and rewind aren’t and never will be the real thing. Your imagination is never captured as it is when you watch a raised screen, basking in absolute, velvety darkness, surrounded by giant Dolby speakers, communicating with other viewers. This is the real deal.
It can take a long time for a true rebirth, and more and more we can choose to watch the most intimate bedroom dramas on small screens, but for a big movie there is no such thing as the big one. screen.
Watching a movie at home is another thing you can do, for example, brush your teeth. A banal and routine daily activity. Entering the cinema, on the other hand, is where it happens. The virus is not going anywhere. But neither do we.
I’m back in the movies, baybeee.
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