About watching movies

I’ve got to read an article by Roger Ebert through a Google group of movie buffs. Mr. Ebert’s article was titled “Why I’m so conservative“. Not in politics, he says, but in his thinking about movies. Basically he is saying that he likes watching movies in projection theaters than in digital format. That got me thinking about my experiences of watching movies in cinema halls and why I would prefer a home theater experience instead. (Disclaimer: This is about my experience in watching movies in theaters in India and I mention that particularly because somebody said that the theater experience in USA is different from that of here).

The experience of watching movies on a big screen is different. It leads you to a new world, an amazingly wider world of reality and fantasy. But watching a movie in cinema halls in India is just that – watching, and not enjoying. It depends a lot on the projector, it’s operator, the crowd, the atmosphere that the cinema halls gives you, the screen, sound and so on. If one of them fails, you would never be able to appreciate a movie for what it is.

In some theaters, they project a 70mm movie in 35mm on a 70mm screen. Sometimes it goes out of focus, scenes slightly blurred. When you watch a 3D movie, which is supposed to give you a more real cinema experience, you can see some folds and dirt marks on the screen and so you end up constantly reminded that you are ‘watching’ a movie. Sometimes our good old ‘film editors’ in the projection room do their own cuts and edits. So you abruptly jump between frames or scenes. Audio in some theaters, even the ‘good ones’, turns out to be just ‘noise’ sometimes. The ambiance that the movie halls provide also matters in enjoying a movie or giving your full attention to it. In some theaters, you’d wish they had a better cooling air conditioner and in some others you wish they had a heater. Then there is the crowd. Some would push you to the sides of your chairs and some would play games to win the space for arm rest of the chair.

You think multiplexes are good, but they are a vast abode of bored people. Some of the problems mentioned above apply to multiplexes too (or at least the ones I went to, in Bangalore). And if you are watching a Hollywood movie, you are doomed. People would laugh out aloud even at the silliest joke in an English movie which does not usually happen when they watch regional language movies. You would be left wondering if the joke was something that you did not understand because of the language. I’ve felt it as if the multiplex audience, while watching English movies, wants to convince others that they do understand the language (which is – understanding English language – considered as a sign of education and intellect in India). So you would end up hearing laughter outbursts every now and then with a semi-loud chatter. As an aside, it is largely in two types of places that I have seen people trying to convince others, mostly strangers to them, that they do understand the language and appreciate cinema – in multiplexes and film festivals.

When I watch a movie in my laptop or at home theater, none of these problems affect me. The only thing I really miss is the screen size. There are many advantages to watching a movie at home. I can adjust the light and sound as I like it. That gives me a feeling that I am also being a part of the movie presentation. Ebert says, ‘projected’ is good. I think it is eery. It gives me a feeling that somebody is hiding behind me to control what I see. That doesn’t feel free. When I was a child, I used to look behind to the source of light that came to the screen (I admit that I was just curious back then, than being frightened). When the movie originates on screen, it is like a gift that somebody’s offering you, from right in front of you. It’s a call, that says, ‘come, let’s take this trip together‘. And when I am at home, and have the freedom to control the presentation of a movie, I’m also being a part of the movie. That makes me feel good.

When I watch a movie at home, I don’t have to control or hide my feelings. I don’t have to be socially conscious. I can weep if I want to or laugh out loud when I want to. I don’t have to wipe my tears before people see it. I don’t have to worry about people seeing me weep like a baby. If it is a DVD, I can read the sub-titles at places where I did not understand the spoken language (even if it is English). I don’t see pause and rewind as an advantage though; I think it’s a distraction. When it’s just me and the movie, the line of distance between us is blurred. Sometimes I can touch a character. Or can just stroke them to console.

I’m not saying that all cinema hall experiences are bad. It’s definitely worth experiencing to watch a commercial masala movie in a full house packed with people laughing and clapping and passing on comments. But there cinema doesn’t go beyond the level of being a medium for entertainment.

Meet Akash Kingston

[Lies on the Prize, directed by Dubai-based Akash Kingston, won the first prize at the 15th Slamdance Film Festival 2009. He shares his winning experience with KK Moidu]

Akash Kingston was chosen by the Real Ideas Studio Student Filmmaking programme in 2009 for Slamdance Film Festival held in January in Park City, Utah, USA. Eight documentaries made by thirty-two students from different backgrounds from all over the world were screened at the festival. Akash’s team got the story idea for the winning documentary from colleagues. He was the head of one of the eight teams selected through an interview and skills assessment by the board members of the Real Ideas Studio. Twenty-year-old Akash, son of Kingston Gilbert and Usha Kingston, is a graduate in film production from SAE Institute, Dubai.

Born in Calicut, Kerala, India, Akash has been living in Dubai for the last 13 years. Akash was the only one to be selected from the Middle East and the Asian region for this prestigious event. The participants had been given a short period of 10 days to write the script, shoot and edit a five-minute short film. Akash’s film was selected by the jury as the best film from the entries submitted by more than 30 students from around the world.

Continue reading Meet Akash Kingston

The ‘real’ sad state of Malayalam cinema

There has been a hue and cry in many blogs from Kerala about the sad state of Malayalam cinema. It is a fact that the mainstream movies being released these days are mostly junk and rejected by the audience. But is the state of Malayalam cinema too bad to cry that we are losing the hard-earned status of the best of Indian cinema? Or are we seeing only one side of the coin?

It is true that we do not have a Bharathan or Padmarajan these days who used to bridge the gap between art films and commercial films. But we should also check our attitude towards good films. How many of us who are now furious about the lack of talent in Malayalam cinema have seen Karutha Pakshikal by director Kamal? Kamal himself was so sad about the situation and remember it had one of the two super stars of the Malayalam cinema, Mammootty, in the lead role. There were lots of people complaining about scriptwriter-director Ranjith and the superhuman characters he made for superstars. But when he made a wonderful film such as Kaiyoppu, the Malayalee audience turned their back to the film (remember it had such a star cast with Mammootty and Khushbu). These movies were released primarily because there are KSFDC theatres or else it would have gone from theatres in the first week itself. Adayalangal, which has won several state awards this year, was gone from the KSFDC theatre in the first week itself (director M G Sasi had tough time finding distributors for the film) and director Jayaraj is now looking for help to release his latest film Gulmohar.

This, I say, is the sad state of Malayalam cinema. That we crib so much about the lack of good films but turns a blind eye towards them when they are released. That the film makers are not being able to release their films because there is no interest from theatre owners or distributors. That we never move from our armchairs at least to buy one ticket to see the movie and help the team who worked hard to make the film happen.

Tail piece: The maximum number of films selected for Indian Panorama this year is from Malayalam cinema which includes, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Oru Pennum Randu Aanum, KP Kumaran’s Akashagopuram, TV Chandran’s Vilapangalkum Appuram, Priyanandanan’s Pulijanmam, MG Shasi’s Adayalangal, M Mohanan’s Kathaparayumbol and Jayaraj’s Gulmohar.

(Image courtesy: Rediff)