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Quiet please!

Cartoon by Surendra

FINALLY, AFTER years of never having the nerve to do it, I turned around in the darkness of the movie theatre to the row behind me where two guys had been prattling away and hissed: "Shhh!" To my amazement they shut up at once. Shushing is a dangerous business, my fellow film-goers. If you don't have some practice at it, you could have a fight on your hands - or at the very least a scene. These talkers are touchy. They think it is their right to talk exactly when the movie begins.

It is always best, then, to begin with throwing a few furtive but pointed glances behind you. That may not always work because the talkers think you are probably looking for someone and ignore you. You could try glaring. But it may not get you very far in the dark.

The only thing now to do is shush - but the trick is to do it without turning around. Except, now the people in front think you are shushing at them; they spin around and say: What? (Ever notice how much easier it is to shush someone sitting in the row before you?). The time has come now to take your life firmly in your hands, turn around and say quite audibly and authoritatively: "Will you stop talking?" Try please.

Once, long ago, I found myself burdened with the task of shushing a bunch of smart-alecky college boys who had been talking through the film. It was awkward and embarrassing because I was in the company of three women friends who kept looking to me to do something and I just wasn't up to it. I looked around me at the others in the row, hoping they would join me in some neighbourly shushing but what I saw alarmed me: they were watching the movie raptly, blissfully unaware of all the chatter and noise. How in the world could they manage that? It was up to me then. I turned around and said: Shhh! And they said: Shhh! I think I sank in my seat and stayed there.

It isn't exactly cowardice that stops us from resoundingly shushing these interlopers. It has to do with wanting to avoid confrontation or not to have the spell of the movie broken. These days I find myself looking for a seat with rows that are empty in the front and back. I have come to relish watching a film in that kind of solitude and have discovered that movie-watching is peculiarly both: a shared experience and a solitary one. I don't think, for instance, I would like to watch a movie in a theatre absolutely alone. I would still want to share it with total strangers.

But for it to work there has to be a shared silence. Neither, then, would I want the theatre to be absolutely packed. It tempts the prattlers, that is when they come out of the woodwork.

Which brings us to the New Talking Villains - mobile phones. First of all, will someone please tell me why they simply have to bring it along to a movie theatre - isn't the whole point of going to a movie to get away from it all? And if they must bring it, why keep it switched on? It boggles the mind... Recently, midway through a matinee show of ``A Beautiful Mind" a cell phone went off and to my disbelief and delight I saw the audience turn around as one and shush the call. Most gratifying.

The real movie hall terrorists, however, are not the prattlers these days but the hecklers. You can always elude the prattler by moving to another seat but how do you escape the heckler?

In all my shushing experience, only once have I been pleasantly surprised: impatiently waiting for a houseful show of ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to begin, I found myself having to deal with two guys at the back who had been talking away through the ads and the trailers. I couldn't bear to have them talking once the film had begun, so I turned around and did my heroic best: asked them to talk a little softly. Looking outraged, one of them exclaimed: "Boss, we love this movie. We've seen it five times. We're only waiting for it to start. Once it begins, we promise not to talk." Taken aback, I told them I had seen it twice and this was my third time. "Great, man!" they chorused.

We shook hands. They kept their word. It was, I think, me who at some point turned around and began talking.


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