At the multiplex, the enjoyment is of a different kind altogether

Coming back to Chennai after four long months away, even the blatant swindling of the autorickshaw driver could not detract from my joy — a joy that only someone who has experienced all the rigours of small-town living for an extended period can truly understand. I did not even curse the chaos caused by the Metro Rail's construction — something every Chennaiite does with great pleasure every morning. Instead, I did what I had been longing to do for weeks now — book a ticket at Sathyam cinemas.

For someone whose one-movie-every-10-days habit had been abruptly cut, and whose only choice in the last month had been Agneepath dubbed in Tamil (running for exactly three days), the mere online booking of a movie offers unadulterated pleasure. Don't get me wrong — I love Madurai, my hometown. But every once in a while, when I fancy watching a good movie and eating cheesecake, it frustrates me.

The Iron Lady. Check. The right kind of popcorn. Check.

Call movie watching what you will: a waste of time, a form of escapism or an intellectual pursuit, the fact is, on an evening out, nothing beats it for sheer entertainment — and this is testified to by the ever-growing crowds that haunt movie theatres.

Some months ago, the last time I was in a multiplex, a stranger glared daggers at me for having the temerity to answer a text on my mobile. Chagrined, I put the phone away and reflected on the change in the movie-watching experience over the years. It wasn't always like this.

Five years ago, when I first started my regular visits to multiplexes, the movie-watching crowd was far more tolerant — of crying babies and mobile phones ringing. These days, people have no qualms in politely but chillingly telling harried parents to take their child out or giving dirty, ominous looks at the boy trying to silence his phone. Even the cheers on the arrival of a star on screen are more subdued, and don't last for all that long.

Back in my hometown, when the Superstar makes an entry on screen, the cheers are so deafening that you can't be left in doubt as to the Superstar's Superstardom. Even if you are late and still parking your car, you can hear the cheers. The dialogues for the next five minutes are completely obliterated in the roars of approval. Movie-watching is still communal there, punctuated with regular commentary from the boys behind you, a few kicks to your seat at a particularly thrilling action sequence and the crunch of snacks smuggled in from home. While this can be irritating in the extreme at times, the excitement is much more tangible, and at moments, the audience feels as one. I have no doubt that in the many other movie theatres in Chennai, this still goes on unabated, to the doubtful enjoyment of its patrons — but not so much at the multiplexes.

At the multiplex, the enjoyment is of a different kind altogether. The experience is just a little subdued, comparatively. Even a little reverential maybe, depending on the movie. Snuggled in the depths of the ‘couple couch' so helpfully offered even if you're not a couple, the air-conditioned silence is soothing. For Rs. 120 (plus Rs. 20 as booking charges) it's not bad at all. In fact it's stupendous.

Zubeda Hamid is a feature writer for The Hindu.

Keywords: human interest

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