Which was the last movie that I saw in a single screen theatre? I don't remember. What I know for sure is that it was at least seven years back. My earliest experience of being hooked on to a multiplex was Ajay Devgn's Qayamat (2003). Reason being that I was mighty impressed with the cinematography and sound design coupled with good use of digital colour correction of the film that made me swear off single screen theatres for good. It was during this time that the leading multiplex chain was mushrooming with branches all over while newer players were looking at making their presence felt as well.
It was bye-bye single screens and their not-so-cushiony chairs and the hostile staff and the trouble to get the best seats and the time restriction of half a day divided into four quarters and unhygienic candy bars and (excuse me for saying this) the kind of crowd that I wasn't quite comfortable sitting with, courtesy the fact that I was married and hence had to show off my 'class'. Despite the fact that balcony did place me at least 30 feet above this crowd, I made a swift move to multiplexes to be amongst the elite.
But then the first promo of Dabangg released and something just happened to my psyche:
I had an adrenalin rush. Fine.
I wanted to watch the film. Fine.
I was curious to check it out with a bunch of friends. Doubly fine.
I wanted to watch it in a single screen theatre. What? Now where did this come from?
In this week's 'Reflections', let me talk about a vow of seven years being broken and subsequent magic that was relived once the curtains came up in the single screens for Dabangg.
Honestly, it was a sudden thought of watching Dabangg in a single screen theatre that only turned into a resolve as the film came closer to its release. The germ of this thought must have been sown around three weeks back when it was written all over that the entire country would check out this Salman Khan starrer once at least. However, it was the 'chillar appeal' of the film that made me drop that snobbish persona and say to myself - 'Ok, so you really want to enjoy this magic then well, check it out in a single screen'.
My wife was surprised but supportive. Her only condition - 'Don't ask me out'. Believe me, I didn't. After all I had just accompanied her for We Are Family a week earlier and after the quintessential multiplex affair, I wanted to have my share of fun as well. So there I picked up my cell phone, called my dear friend Nitin, informed him that he could ask his wife to take a vacation for this Friday and it was going to be a guys only outing for an event called Dabangg. He complied, a couple of other friends didn't. One was scared that this 'act' (come on now!) would make him go down in his wife's eyes; the other just went 'Eeeks'.
'Good for you', I said to them, 'It's you who would end up missing all the action'.
The action that followed
Action there certainly was as I began my journey for Dabangg. Step one was to procure the tickets. Advance booking for single screens open on Mondays and honestly, I forgot all about it. When I called up the Manager of a leading single screen theatre on Monday evening, the response was - 'Sir, picture Houseful ho gayi hai. Saturday ki chalegi?'
'No ways', I said to myself, 'I will check out the second most mass dominated single screen theatre'. I zeroed in on another and fortunately for me, this theatre had actually tied up with an internet booking service. Pronto I got myself the seats in the balcony, a fact that I really regret now. I strongly feel that I should have opted for the stall. But then that's a different story!
The show timings were 6:30 PM (aah, now this itself was nostalgic - the beauty of 12-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12) and I stepped out of my workplace at 4 PM sharp. Tata guys, I worked hard throughout the week, now I need to have my share of fun.
'You poor losers, while you would hog on to your hotdogs with the Lords kinda crowd that would merely give a silent nod of approval, I will throw some loose change on screen while munching those samosas.'
I park my car, Nitin is 10 minutes late, I grumble, we make up (the event is so strong, no enmity stays for a long duration), we hop into a train (the theatre is 35 kms away and nearest station is an hour from the place where I boarded the train) and chit-chat about the huge opening reports that I have been getting incessantly since morning. We don't mind the hustle bustle at all. After all we had bargained for this.
We reach the station and don't have any clue around which direction the theatre is. Left ya right, kuch maloom nahi. I don't trust one man who was polite enough to state the direction. I ask a couple of more folks. The excitement is so palpable; I don't want to miss the show at all. Worse, only 40 mins remain and I have not even picked up my tickets (remember, it was an internet booking?).
Finally, we trust the cumulative judgement (and honesty) of the three guys who have showed us the directions and we hop into an auto rickshaw. Yaay, we are on our way. Saat saal baad. Phir waho kahaani yaad aayi!
We reach the venue. The first thing that catches my eye is the huuuuuuuuuuge billboard of Dabangg out there. Man, it was larger than life. Literally. In the times when multiplexes are required to plug in at least 5 boards in the same space to do justice to multiple films running at their venue, there was just one man - Salman Khan - dominating the entire wall. My eyes light up, and then dim down. There are hundreds of patrons outside the entry gate, waiting for the bored looking gatekeeper to finally allow them all in. Worse, the counter from where I have to pick up my tickets is the same for current/advance booking as well.
Never mind, I went right to the front of the queue, excused myself to the man at the very front - 'Yaar, housefull show hai. Aapko to kal ki ticket leni hai. Meri already booked hai, main le loon'. The young man obliged, and so did the people behind him, all with a smile on their faces. Sab khush the. Sabko Dabangg jo dekhni thi.
A bell rung (yes, such things still happen in single screens) and the gates were thrown open. Hurrrrah, we made it. With a Houseful board outside, we were the fortunate ones to have actually made it. An usher, a 50 something man, who has probably been doing this job for the last 25 years, showed us the way to the seats. There is an all around nostalgia that sets in. The dusty looking interiors, the smell of desi Indian snacks that are melting your nostrils all over, those local advertisements on the screen which are selling you vests (instead of villas - as is experienced in multiplexes), people taking at the top of their voices (I joined the crowd as well; after all I was their own for the next two and a half hours), the non-reclining seats, an all around darkness even though the show had not yet begun.
If there ever was any fun, it was here.
It was the time for promos to begin. Trust me, in a Houseful theatre with a capacity of over 700 folks, the noise can get deafening. This is what happened when a certain Emraan Hashmi ended up saying 'Duniya Jaaye Bhaad Mein, Mujhe Kya'. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Dabangg had not yet begun but the excitement amongst audience was such that even the promo of Crook was met with a maddening response. No wonder, Emraan would have to continue his kissing ways. His loyal audience loves him for that!
More promos arrived, more excitement followed. Anjaana Anjaani, Golmaal 3 - there were takers for everything here. Some were doing this for these films; some were just plain happy. The 'mahaul' was akin to the kind which is seen in a 'baraat' which is just waiting for the groom to step down at the bride's place. Everyone in the theatre was a 'baraati', the 'dulha' (Salman) just had to unveil his 'dulhan' (Dabangg).
And the unveiling happened
I can bet that the sound that followed with the thump of Dabangg flashing on the screen would definitely have been heard by the traffic outside the theatre. Oh yes, I can actually bet. I too let go off my inhibitions. Damn the multiplex mentality, I am here to clap and whistle. And clapping I did, so did Nitin. And so did hundreds of other patrons in balcony as well as the stall. The pandemonium had begun. The fun had just started. It was going to be a 'paisa vasool' experience.
By this time around, a couple of major action sequences and a few dramatic scenes had already passed by. These were moments worthy enough to be recorded actually. Yes, it was pretty much on the cards that there would be a huge response to Salman, his one liners and his punches. But this huge? It seemed like the Rajinikanth phenomenon. Do anything and audience will love you. Don't have any story and audience still won't mind as long as there is one item sequence packed after another.
Salman did the same and audience approved. He removes his shades; the crowd roars. He wears them back, they roar again. Chalo good hai; this is what I wanted to experience!
It was interval time and comments of 'mast hai yaar' were being heard all around me. But hold on; remember this is a single screen theatre. Which means faaltu baatein karne ka time nahi, first go and get your snacks. In a multiplex they may serve you at your seat, here you have to crowd the popcorn-wallah, rush that currency note across the counter, forget all about the receipt (what's that after all?) and pick up your popcorn, samosa, patty and a coke - all for a price of one jumbo popcorn which is served in a multiplex.
'Good, I saved my money', I laugh. 'Those looser friends of mine would be spending triple this amount on eating in multiplexes', I laugh again.
Somewhere around 8:30 PM
It's that time of the movie when drama has intensified in a big way. Time has come for 'cheddi singh' ke 'ched' to be counted (aah, it was crude but fun) and 'munni' is all set to be 'badnaam'. Bhaiyon aur behnon, aapke single screen theatre mein aa gayi hain - MUNNI BADNAAM.
Roars are all over again, this time lasting for those entire four minutes as Malaika Arora Khan is gyrating on the screen. Hubby Arbaaz Khan must be happy; for all the crores that his film is earning at the box office, at least 10% of that can be attributed to his wife's efforts.
More roars follow as the action picks up from this point on. And then there is this much-relished pandemonium all over again as Salman's shirt rips itself apart. Really, I can bet that at least 50% of this single screen crowd will walk into theatres all over again just for this sequence. In a multiplex, we - the snooty eyebrow audience - may laugh this all out but an emotional bunch of patrons in single screens for sure carry a different emotion altogether.
If at all Sonu Sood was there to witness the support that Salman got from this point on, he would have died due to sheer heart attack without any physical fight whatsoever.
The show has ended and round of claps follow. We are content. Happy. Entertained. Nitin and I feel that the experience of travelling all the way to a single screen after 7 long years was worthwhile after all. We don't take a rickshaw back to the station - we walk. We want to talk about our single screen experience. We want to talk about Dabangg. We don't want the moment to die down.
We reach home. The talks have not yet ended. Congratulatory calls have been made by me to the cast and crew of the film. I know where the film is headed now. After all I have spent 7 hours in total to watch a 2 hour long film. And I am still not complaining. In fact I want to do it all over again. This explains it all, isn't it?
I actually didn't throw away my tickets. I retained them. As I reach my office today, I am showing it proudly to my folks out there.
'See, I enjoyed the film more than all of you'.