Priya Bhattacharji on the rise of cinematic events in India and how they are becoming a unique contact zone for filmmakers and film buffs to foster dialogue and collaborations.
A decade ago, a college student with cinematic craving had to satiate herself with a very limited set of options—latest Bollywood releases at jam-packed single screens, an ‘English’ film at a convenient multiplex at affordable hours (afternoon, early morning), ‘world cinema’ at the college film society and occasional film festivals, random movie CDs brought at shady markets, the insufferable barter of torrents (which made sure that all your peers had the same limited cinematic exposure).
Cut to 2017 and mind-boggling options to indulge one’s cinematic cravings exist today. Things that you dreamed of as an entertainment starved youngster—varied film festivals, open air cinema experiences, micro-theatres, boozy movie nights, Netflix, Hotstar, Amazon Prime have completely changed the movie game entirely.
According to the Economic Times, the multiplex segment is passing through a boom phase which is likely to continue for decades in the country. Though there are much greater number of single screen theatres, around 8,000-10,000, most of them are on the verge of shutting shop. Most of them have closed down in the metros and are being replaced by multiplexes in tier-2 and tier-3 cities as well. The ticket rates are also significantly higher in multiplexes and, due to this, the share of multiplexes in overall collection, despite their smaller number-around 2,000-is much larger. Film viewing in India has traditionally been an act of reverence, where fans congregate at the multiplex or theatre of their choice to pay obeisance to their favourite star by watching their latest release. With new-age movie viewing platforms and changing tastes in film, content and experience are slowly nudging aside the blind celebrity for a niche audience. While the culture of watching a movie along with a popcorn and cola at a multiplex stays a dominant ritual, the lure of the cinematic event lies in the heightened experience of belonging, besides the attractive F&B deals.
The curated cinematic event, in particular, has made movie watching in India an irreverent, intimate social experience and opened up avenues for alternative content. By redefining the role of movies in India from cathartic entertainment to immersive experiences, cinema as a ‘social event’ is set to broaden its reach. Take for instances, organisations such as Peepshow@social, Bedlam (Delhi), Sunset Film Club, Lost the Plot which document the attendees’ enthusiastic responses as a testimony to the promise they hold.
As Reshma Ramachandran from Bedlam, a Delhi based outfit that organizes such events, says, “We wish to create a community where people can reach out to others, organize, share and participate .Like Timothy Leary says, “Find the others”. Even with the internet dominating our lives there is still a strong sense of community where people can meet each other, have fun, network and participate. The feeling of being in a dark room with a bunch of strangers staring transfixed at a screen and sharing a common experience is something a laptop screen can’t beat.”
These events also offer the less available affordable luxury of deep diving into nostalgia. With the presence of such activities, public film viewing is simply not about catching the latest films, but catching up on some classics. “You have various platforms screening yesteryear blockbusters –Taxi Driver, The Godfather. There is a charge on these screenings as it’s presented with flair and style. If someone doesn’t want to see a new film, he has the option to attend these screenings to relive cinema of the past and its associated memories,” notes independent film director Pankul Gupta.
Be it through showcase of independent films, Q&A with directors – the distance between the movie goer and film maker has significantly reduced with such events. The cinematic event acts as a unique contact zone for filmmakers and film buffs to foster dialogue and collaborations. “Cinema has always been a social event. Laughing and crying with 200 people together on a particular moment in a film sitting in a cinema hall connects you to humanity. But these events around films get me an audience, my tiny but ultra-true audience. When I saw my film first time with 20 people on a big screen, their laughter on multiple moments in the film firmed my belief in my instinct,” says Gupta.
Clearly, the cinematic event is simply not about the movies, it’s about community cohesion. Hardly makes one miss the ringtones, wolf whistles, cheers of the regular Indian Cinema hall. Ramachandran notes, ‘‘we screen a smorgasbord of content from established filmmakers in the circle and students. Be it independent cinema, documentaries, classics, or popular mainstream films. Independent and mainstream films, a screening always leads to a varied range of discussion. Our screenings make people talk about a plethora of issues ranging from questions of identities, narrative structure, homogenized cultures, cinematography, soundscape and the visual politics of filmmaking.”
While movie screenings outside the hall have existed for a while, it is the two-way participation for both creator and audience that breeds a certain desirable intimacy. The cinematic event also works as a great incubation lab to encourage and chisel the craft of film-making. Gupta says, “these screenings can be utilized to do test runs for upcoming films or web series and the filmmaker gets an instant feedback before the official release. Additionally, a young filmmaker today can make a small film and can get a chance to see it with an audience on a big screen and feel that high”
Not only is the cinematic event a useful counter to Multiplex culture but to the film festival circuit and its highbrow championing of cinema. While the ‘film festival circuit’ provides an opportunity to interact with big names and eclectic programming, the cinematic event works as a great social leveler, with its ‘one price for all’ charge – all you need is an open mind, no film snobbery. There is always a film fest happening at a particular time of the year at some place or the other. It mostly attracts the ‘film crowds’. Such social events give the common public to experience varied cinema at regular intervals. And probably that’s where the success of these cinematic events lies—as an alternative form of movie watching for everyone.