I keep asking my mother if she remembers the first movie that I ever watched. But she has never been able to put her finger on it. Then I asked myself, why was it so important for me to know the first film I ever watched? I obviously won't remember the experience so why did I want to know about it? I have always been that kind of person who loved to look back at my memories and that would be enough to make me smile for the rest of the day.
Watching films as they release has been a family tradition. Late afternoon on a nice Sunday has always been about What film can we go for? From when I was little till today the only constant source of entertainment for me has been Cinema. I was never really a book person. Reading a 10 page book is still harder for me than to watch a 4 hour documentary. Watching a film was never just about the story. It was about many other things with one important thing being the medium through which I consume it. So, all of these things together was what I would call Cinema.
If going to theaters was one thing, watching older films on KTV was another. I remember those times that I have watched a film on TV from the start till the end waiting through all of those repeated ads just so that I can watch the film fully. As I grew up I realized that it was not just the film that I was fond of but the whole experience of watching it. That is exactly why all those annoying TV ads did not stop me. Once I start watching a film, within seconds I completely lose sense of reality and entirely get into the world of the story. Watching a film gave me the superpower to forget everything that was happening around me for a good amount of time. That is why films will always be my favorite getaway! I was able to immerse myself in different worlds and experience an alternate reality with every film.
Looking back, most of the time when I was young, we used to go to this drive-in theater in Chennai called Prarthana. It was a little far from our place but it was always the perfect weekend thing to do since it combined a long drive, a nice dinner and a film all together. To top it all off we never had to plan in advance since we could get the tickets at the entry counter itself. We used to somehow manage to always get a front row space for our car. We would carry blankets and pillows to make ourselves very comfortable on the floor and I used to just lie down and watch the film with the beautiful sky as it got darker. I still remember so many evenings that I spent there playing in that little park they had till the film started and then enjoying the film alongside the fresh air and the cozy breeze. Most of the films I watched growing up were in that theater. Looking back I know that this is precisely the reason why even today I would prefer an experience like this rather than just me in my room with my laptop.
As we got older, we din't have enough time to go all the way to ECR. A bunch of nice theaters had also opened up nearby and booking tickets online also had become common by then. So we had started adapting to the easier options. But I still loved watching films so I din’t mind the difference too much. Then slowly online platforms became common and we tried our way through that as well. Even though I didn't get the experience that I always loved, I was able to watch way more films than I ever would have otherwise, so I never complained.
Then my college happened and I had to move out of Chennai. My college is in the outskirts of Coimbatore in a small village and they said it would take about an hour to reach the city. One of the first questions I asked my seniors in college was “Is there a Theater nearby?”. My college happened to have a lot of multilingual people and not everyone knew Tamil so they always traveled to the city once in a while to watch their multilingual content in multiplexes and malls. So no one really knew of a theater that was local or close by. Now I was worried as to how I was going to keep up with the new releases or go to theaters in general. Luckily for me, I came across someone who knew about a particular single screen local theater that screened Tamil films alone. I was really happy to hear that, so my friend and I set out on an adventure to find this place.
This was the time when Tamil Padam 2 released and both of us loved the first one so we really wanted to watch the sequel. We found the theater but it turned out that they had some other film screening then. They told us about another theater at a km’s distance which was to screen Tamil Padam 2 in 15 mins. Since we wanted to watch it from the beginning and could not find appropriate transport,, we kind of speed walked a km in search of the 2nd single screen theater in that village. We somehow managed to find that theater and watched the film from the start in spite of the eventful evening.
Those two theaters have been an important part of my college experience. It was the only two theaters for the surrounding 4 to 5 villages. It was a 10 min, 7 Rs bus ride from my college which was perfect. They didn’t exactly have an established online ticket platform so we used to just go directly 20 min prior to the screening and get the 100 Rs tickets and watch the film and come back in the same bus. It was all new. The theater was small but nice, it had everything that was needed but without all the fancy interiors and the mouth watering food bar. But I loved it just the way it was as it was such an affordable easy way to watch films.
Just when I was enjoying all this, Quarantine happened and all the theaters shut down. Even though I really miss going to the theaters to watch films every week, now I have all the time in the world to catch up on content that I have missed for so long.This kind of a shift to not watching in theaters at all for such a long period is definitely not something that was easy for me. I can only hope everything gets back to normal soon.
This is a very personal story about me growing up with cinema and the experiences that went with it. Even then, I know that for most people in our country a major source of entertainment has been cinema. All of us use so many film references on an everyday basis in normal conversations and with such ease. This is simply because we all grew up consuming this beautiful art form called Cinema. For me, it was a lot about the film as well as the medium it was told in that shaped me as a person. I’ll always hold this art close to my heart with an undying eagerness to watch it explore different perspectives, teach me about life, and help me grow into a better person.
- Sharmila GM