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June 10, 2010

Experience the action onscreen and off screen with an Indian movie theatre experience.

Every time I go to watch a movie in a Singapore theatre, the silence astounds me. The pin-drop kind. The only time that such silences prevail in India is the 5 seconds after the umpire signals that Sachin is out on 99 runs. And that is merely 5 seconds.

After spending a healthy part of my teenage youth watching movies in the more modest theatres of semi-urban Kerala, I have learnt to appreciate that a movie is judged not only based on its popularity but also on the 'special effects' that the audience and theatre provide. If anybody is thinking this is a Dolby Sound System ad, then you are wrong :)

Indian theatres hold a magical charm of their own but entering one again after a gap of years might prove quite the challenge for a seasoned NRI.

After years of booking movie tickets online complete with seat selection, you might be a little miffed having to chuck aside that laptop and go to the theatre directly and book tickets. A long queue awaits you there. And be ready for some good-natured and sometimes not-so-good natured elbowing and jostling as the queue snakes its way to the front. None of that robotic assembly line queuing that Singaporeans are so fond of.

If the movie tickets have sold out, then not to fear. The 'black ticket knights' always appear to the rescue. Pay the knights a noble fee of double or triple the original ticket price and you’re in.

The sweltering heat and the frenzied queuing has made you thirsty. You head eagerly to the snack bar. And you stare. Wait, were you expecting popcorn and Coke? Well, you'd better be ready for Limca or Bru coffee and 50-50 biscuits or roasted peanuts.

As you stagger into the theatre from the disappointment of the snack bar, you smack face to face with the friendly theatre usher. Now this guy sports an attractive lungi and a great big scowl which says “I love my job and Customers are God”. He grabs your ticket stub and flashes his prehistoric torch into the theatre for exactly one millisecond. Because one millisecond is all the time an average person needs to find a seat in the pitch dark theatre.

You stumble down the stairs and gratefully plop onto the seat, accompanied by the gentle crackling of toffee wrappers squished in the seat corners. Almost identical advertisements of sarees and gold jewellery flash on the screen till your head is filled with laughing girls wearing lots of gold and very little saree.

But once the movie starts, an Indian movie theatre comes to life. The audience is very interactive. Who needs the mighty heroes when there are equally skilled 'artists' in the audience itself? There are the whistlers who gleefully whistle away at any steamy scene or corny dialogue. Then there are the wise-crackers. No movie escapes their sense of humour. These guys can crack the most hilarious jokes when a really serious scene is being played out. Also, let’s not forget the occasional die-hard fans who cheer their idol hoarse when they first appear on the screen. A far cry from the Singapore movie scene, where the only noise would be the errant ringing of someone's mobile and the rhythmic munching of popcorn.

Halfway through the movie appears The Great Indian Movie Intermission. If there's one thing which has remained constant throughout the history of Indian cinema, it is the bold, white font in which INTERMISSION is displayed onscreen. Men whiz off for toilet breaks and smokes. Excited whispers dissecting the movie plot can be heard.

Intermission over and the Movie continues. The audience, invigorated from bladder relief and nicotine consumption, take to their special effects once more. As the movie ends, people spring from of their seats even as the credits begin to roll.

And as you join the buzzing crowd leaving the theatre, you are faced by the rickshaw drivers eagerly waiting to pounce on your NRI ignorance of Indian auto fares. But that’s another story to tell. Some other time.


  • Maria Francis
    Maria Francis
    06.07.10 09:37 AM
    Lets just hope the whole experience doesnt knock you 'sense'less ;)
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    06.07.10 09:24 AM
    Great job, Maria - to my great shame I still haven't been to the cinema here in Kerala! I'll have to get down to a local showing of the latest Mohanlal or Mammootty film and indulge all my senses.
  • Maria Francis
    Maria Francis
    14.06.10 02:26 PM
    Hi all, thank you for the amazing feedback I have received on this article. Glad to know I am not the only one who enjoys the subtle delights of Indian movie theatres :)
  • witty jester
    witty jester
    14.06.10 10:28 AM
    Real life is better then reel life............We only understand worth of something once we no longer have it.......nice to experience the thoughts of a seasoned NRI
  • priya
    11.06.10 06:44 PM
    laud your first. great going.
  • Plingal
    11.06.10 12:51 AM
    There are two things that bring the people of a diverse country such as India together 1. Cricket and the other 2. Movies. And this coming together of the latter in an Indian movie theater could not have been more aptly pictured than what you have in your post. I loved the bit about the duration of a "silent spell". It reminds me of the famous Sholay Dialogue ('Ithna Sannaata Kyon Hai Bhai ?' - 'Why the silence people ?'). Anyways good light hearted post - keep 'em coming !
  • Hayaah
    11.06.10 12:09 AM
    @ Rufini, I believe Indians have narrated experiences of doing similar stuff when the National Anthem is sung on the screen, during a movie or so ;)

    he he
  • Rohit
    10.06.10 09:54 PM
    Hey... gr8 post. I never knew you are such a good writer... way to go lady...
  • Mithun
    10.06.10 04:01 PM
    Well done Maria!! Nicely written :)
  • Rufini
    10.06.10 09:18 AM
    I can totally relate to this article :) Few years back, I went to Bangkok with my 3 girlfriends. Since the movie ticket was so cheap, we decided to catch a movie. We were in for a shock! The movie theater was sylish, big & modern (a far cry from Singapore movie theater!) but at the beginning of the movie, there was a short trailer about their King followed by their country national anthem (everyone in the cinema roused up and put their right hand against their chest) we did it but it was a giggling experience :p
  • Hayaah
    10.06.10 08:35 AM
    OH! This has to be one of my most favourite posts from you!!! I LOVED IT... It had me giggling on my couch while I read this, especially from the lungi bits and the torch flip show to the seats. I have lived it JUST as you said it and was reeled right back to my own times!

    Superbly expressed and written!

    *super applaud*
  • Niranjana
    10.06.10 07:57 AM
    Hi maria, a great post, and congrats for your first published article.

  • Imelda
    10.06.10 07:43 AM
    A very apt description of Indian cinema,
    which I still love compared to the 'quiet n disciplined' ones in the US.There are times when I'm the only one watching the movie..this would never happen back home.
  • Francis Tharayil
    Francis Tharayil
    10.06.10 07:18 AM
    Really I had a visit to Ragam
    theatre at my home town after reading Maria's article! Well done Maria. Keep it up.
  • Anoop
    10.06.10 06:43 AM
    I love the post...especially the first four lines..."The only time that such silences prevail in India is the 5 seconds after the umpire signals that Sachin is out on 99 runs. And that is merely 5 seconds."
    a correction though...the silence prevails no matter at what score Sachin gets out... :))
    the gud thing abt this post was that it was not too lengthy and thus in no way tested the patience of the reader...the crackling of toffee wrappers was sublime....wonderful eye for detail...and wrapping up, for me the title is the icing on the cake... :)
    i think it's very good...
  • Anoop
    10.06.10 06:36 AM
    Off the mark straightaway...Starts off on a confident note with a beautiful stroke, all the way to the boundary...
    Privileged to be the first one to comment...Good Luck going ahead!!!!
  • Rakeshwa
    10.06.10 06:19 AM

    Loved your post and it did indeed bring back a lot of memories during my college days. I am an NRI too who completed my graduation from Bihar. Recently on my visit back to my hometown, I had the chance of watching "My Name is Khan" with my cousins. And I must say, most of it was exactly as you mentioned above.

    One more experience that I had was the cushioning effect my body produced, thanks to the swellings on my backside, caused by the bug bites!! Probably because I blocked their view :)

    Keep posting such light hearted articles!! All the best.

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