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.