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The first-night-first-show experience

Will film viewing in cinema halls be the same ever again?

The clock strikes 12. Everyone else is asleep as I gingerly switch on the wi-fi to start my work for the day... err, night.

I’m watching a ‘first-night-first-show’ of a film for the first time. Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal has been uploaded on Amazon Prime, making it among the first mainstream Tamil films to be released directly on an OTT platform instead of theatres. There are more such films to follow — with Amitabh Bachchan’s Gulabo Sitabo and Keerthy Suresh’s Penguin lined up — even as OTT players fight it out for the rights of new films.

Also read | Cinema after COVID-19

That the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our lives is a given. It has also drastically changed the way audiences and reviewers consume their films.

Even just a few months back, early morning shows were the in-thing for the Tamil cinema fraternity. Most superstars and aspiring-to-be-superstars actors felt immense pride when they were given a 4 a.m. slot on opening day... it made them feel like they had arrived.

Early morning shows

For fans and reviewers, the story was completely different. A 4 a.m. show, mostly held in theatres that are not exactly in the heart of the city, meant an early morning routine that would take some effort. I’ve had varied experiences in pursuit of a seat in such shows, ones that required constant following up with fan clubs and theatre sources to buy these ‘prestigious’ tickets. If you’ve managed to get a ticket for such a show, it means that you have arrived, and cracked the Kollywood code.

The scenes outside the theatre on release day are to be seen to be believed. There would be huge cut-outs of the leading star and songs from the movie would be blared from a loudspeaker, even as fans dance and make merry. Tea shops outside the theatres would make a killing, and the chances of you spotting a member of the crew or the director of the film inside the cinema hall are pretty high.

Also read | Who will emerge winner in the battle between Tamil Nadu theatres and OTT platforms?

I have a strict schedule whenever there’s an early morning show. I’d sleep early the previous night. I’d set multiple alarms, and once they all go beeping, I’d wake up and trudge sleepily towards my bike and head to the cinema hall that is usually more than 10 km away. Amidst the early-morning chill, I’d ride on, with dreams of how the big screen would come alive. I’ve been highly excited at times and mightily disappointed during others.

It looks like I’ll have to bid goodbye to this schedule henceforth.

I doubt if films like Vijay’s Master and Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru, two big Tamil films slated for release soon, will have the same ‘FDFS’ craze, even if they were to release in theatres. I doubt if fans will queue up to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars, and whistle and cheer whenever there’s a ‘mass moment.’

For, early mornings will never be the same again for fans of Tamil cinema. For now, staying up at night looks to be the new cool.

Srinivasa Ramanujam writes on films for The Hindu

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 5:26:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-first-night-first-show-experience/article31807009.ece

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