Movie halls, popcorn & The End
Leher Kala writes: Cinema halls have had a good run for a 100-plus years, but the grounds they stood on have shifted. The change mimics the natural cycles of human life throughout history — cultures were born and flourished, civilisations soared and declined, carving out space for something new.
Written by Leher Kala
August 21, 2022 4:20:11 am
Recently, I watched Elvis in the movie hall. Like everyone else, my cinema sojourns have diminished in the last two years, so, for this rare outing, I splurged on the plush bucket seats that come equipped with blankets and a sushi menu. Despite the bells and whistles of platinum style, the hall, largely devoid of people, carried an unmistakable air of gloom. For the umpteenth time, I rued the many hours and money I have wasted on substandard films, all in a misguided effort to hang on to nostalgic memories of a time long gone.
People of a certain vintage will recall watching movies in opulent theatres, with ornate staircases decorated with images of superstars in gilded frames — and, a feeling of happy anticipation at the treat in store. Movies were securely knit into the fabric of our lives for all of the 20th century. It was perfectly acceptable to lurk outside, first day first show, and buy tickets in black, if necessary. Alas, technology has dealt the cinema business a devastating blow. Netflix, surround sound and flavoured popcorn at home have rendered the magic of cinema sweetly quaint, but totally unnecessary. That the Indian film industry is in the throes of an existential crisis was made apparent this last festive week, when two of the most awaited films of 2022, Laal Singh Chaddha and Raksha Bandhan, bombed at the box office, incurring massive losses.
While critics opine their failures should be blamed on dated content that didn’t resonate with audiences far more discerning post OTT exposure, it must be acknowledged that people no longer view movie-going as the special leisure activity it once was. Like literature, the idea of cinema is to evoke wonder by losing yourself in others’ lives. The human desire to escape from reality, via comedy, drama or horror will never wane, but the formats via which we consume stories have fundamentally changed. In a survey conducted by TikTok, a third of the users watch videos at double-speed, and half find videos longer than a minute, stressful. In this speeded-up world, there is a sensory overload of moving clips coming at us via WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube. Our strained eyes and cluttered headspace have much less room for three-hour movies. For a younger generation, even committing to 90 minutes for the 35mm experience, is a daunting prospect.
History is replete with examples of the decline of thriving industries and the triumphs of their replacements. Of one thing we may be sure, whatever field we may be in, obsolescence is imminent, eventually.
For two centuries, newspapers and magazines wielded great power as the benchmarks of civilised discourse before they lost market share to TV news. Now, 140 characters on Twitter and news-in-shorts suffice just as well. Cars replaced horses, the mobile phone supplanted the landline, the CD ousted the cassette tape before getting mortally wounded too. One of the first videos to air on MTV in 1981 was the hit titled, ironically enough, Video Killed the Radio Star. It begins with a child sitting in front of a radio while the singer croons into an old-fashioned microphone. The radio symbolically blows up after the first chorus, the lyrics referencing an era when technological change was viewed warily: We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far, put the blame on the VCR.
Some years back, my young son gazed in interest at a telephone in Shimla, the ones you stick your index finger in and dial the numbers one by one. To him it seemed unimaginably primitive, to us it was a staple of our childhood. Technology moves in a linear direction with every new invention, leaving many objects and careers floundering in its wake.
Cinema halls have had a good run for a 100-plus years, but the grounds they stood on have shifted. The change mimics the natural cycles of human life throughout history — cultures were born and flourished, civilisations soared and declined, carving out space for something new.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films