Though I remember Mohanlal starrer Ravanaprabhu as the first movie I watched in the theatre; I got to know the actual essence of the great Indian cinema audience, which I am also part of, only much later. A few years back, my friend and I walked into a theatre playing Tamil demigod Ilayathalapathy Vijay’s Vettaikaaran. I didn’t hear any of the movie dialogues nor did I hear any of the songs. The only thing that I saw and heard was an implosion of claps, whistles and howls. I was stunned to see women of my mom’s age jump on their seats and dance to the tunes of the film. Conclusion garnered: “It is true, India breathes cinema.”
The demigod status for movie stars and the craze which goes to the extent of enshrining temples in their names (idol in name of Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan chalisa actually exist) is evident in the recent death of a youngster by falling off a 40-meter-long flex board of an actor while conducting Palabhishekam (a popular ritual involving pouring milk onto a divine idol).
We howl, we cry, we dance, we swear, we laugh. A visit to the theatres results in salubrious fun that’s generated more from the crowd than from the film on display. Juxtapose this with the British audience which featured in the popular ‘troll’ culture after news broke of a person registering a complaint against another for clapping during the movie’s climax and disturbing the film’s mood.
The prime reason for the FDFS trend (First Day First Show) is not because of the intense desire of a class of genuine filmgoers to watch a flick before preconceived notions build up regarding the film due to critic reviews. Instead, it is only to experience the surreal theatre effect, to tear your ticket into the tiniest of pieces and throw at the screen the moment your favourite actor appears! The fact that an upcoming Mohanlal film has its first-day seats booked six months in advance creates awe and clearly reflects the cinema culture that rules South and a lot of other regions in India. The omnipresent and gargantuan Indian political spirits using #PoMoneModi (Po Mone Dinesha being a popular catchphrase from a Mohanlal starrer Malayalam cinema that literally translates to ‘go away dear Dinesha’) to ridicule the PM for comparing Kerala to Somalia displays the deeply ingrained cinema culture in us. I am pretty sure that nowhere on earth will there be another place where pompous parades with posters of films precede the actual movie release.
Like it or not, we need our interval in between a film. We need a ten-minute break to look at each other, ask “First half kaisa tha?” (what did you think of the first half?), discuss and analyse the first half while buy popcorn, go to the toilet and more. This is also touted to be one of the reasons why the first half and second half of Indian cinema often turn out at times to be completely different and at times make almost two different films. Production houses structure the film in such a way that it has a proper midway break preceded by a stunning sequence or unexpected plot twist. Such intervals and its consequences might be one of the prime reasons for India’s still unquenched Oscar thirst. Not to forget the ludicrous lip sync songs at the most insipid moments which the international cinema audience most probably can’t digest. I still cannot fathom how actors brew 4-minute-long melancholy infused tunes after hearing about their girlfriend’s death nor how all the guests to a wedding start dancing on the same steps the moment Kareena Kapoor breaks into a song!
I know I am a hypocrite by discussing the hypocrisy of an entity that I belong to but sorry I cannot resist. A very quick example is the critical reception to Shahrukh Khan’s full on superhero flick, Ra. One. Almost on the lines of Batman and Superman regarding technology, VFX, etc., the movie was criticised for having an unreal plot. No offence, but do these people actually believe that a particular Bruce Wayne is fighting against Joker in Gotham for real? While the whole country stood up to applaud Mad Max, for its insane action sequences, crazy no-brainer story line, and the brain behind the scenes in which jeeps filled with live orchestra played in the midst of a high-octane action sequences; back home a peculiar non-linear Malayalam flick ‘Double Barrel’ set in an insane retro atmosphere, with idiosyncratic characters and colourful gun fires was trounced by the audience for being a no brainer. Same vision but different outcomes.