Those who grew up in a different time will remember cinema halls with a lower stall, an upper stall and balcony seats. These categories were divided not just by the price of the ticket but also by class. You moved up the class ladder as you moved up from the lower stall to the balcony. Your whole experience of the film could change depending on which stall, and thereby which class bracket, you were seated in.
So even with its class divisions, the cinema hall seated everyone. A different ecosystem altogether, it was far more organic. Rickshaw-pullers, street vendors, small-time businessmen, their families, privileged classes, all were offered a break from reality, an entry into a make-believe world. For those three hours of a movie, the experience was for everyone, rich and poor.
Somewhere along the way that changed. A shared experience was replaced by an exercise in exclusion. The experience was reserved only for certain classes. The upper and lower stalls vanished and only the balcony remained with new superlatives. The gold, silver and platinum (or some such) grading that the multiplexes divide their movie theatres
into still baffles me. To me, it’s all balcony. The crowd, too, is homogenous. So the experience surrounding the movie is usually bland.
Back in the day the excitement of watching a movie in the hall was something else. Even getting your hands on the tickets to a popular film was an adventure. It wasn’t as easy as sitting at your computer and booking it online, with the luxury of choosing your seat. You had to be in the queue well in time, praying the tickets wouldn’t run out before you made it to the counter. If the balcony got sold out, you sometimes grudgingly shifted to the queue for the upper stall. And if that sold out too, you would attempt a lower stall. If you wanted to watch the film badly enough. And then sitting there, six feet away from the giant screen, you would crane your neck to stiffness.
The reactions of your fellow movie goers and their hilarious attempts at participating in the proceedings on the screen sometimes made the experiences unforgettable. Movie-watching was a social exercise, and came with the possibility of stumbling upon curious characters. Once, a chap in the audience, who had already seen the film, decided to narrate every upcoming scene. We were a group of friends seated in the upper stall. The fellow drove us mad but left us with something to laugh about for years. Another time, one gentleman kept ticking off the protagonist’s onscreen father.
Such experiences are neither found, nor imaginable, in the “classy” world of multiplexes. Our attempts to polish places of entertainment and recreation have systematically killed the democratic movie-going experience and airbrushed entire sections of the population out of the big picture.
So even when the cinema halls do open, they will remain closed spaces.