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Losing it at the movies – Exclusive column by filmmaker Sriram Raghavan

Sriram Raghavan – The director of films like Badlapur and Andhadhun, writes a piece on movies straight from his heart

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I got a kick when Ramesh Sippy called me saying he couldn’t get tickets for my movie. Others would text me saying that ‘xyz’ hall is full in spite of it being a Tuesday afternoon. When Andhadhun completed 50 days at the cinemas, we were super happy. The movie got overwhelming love from audiences and critics, and is clear proof that word-of-mouth beats all marketing. What was most assuring is that people encouraged their friends to watch it in the cinema. Over the last couple of years, we have multiple releases every week, but footfalls are decreasing. Are people going lesser and lesser to the movies?

The reasons are many. The price of the ticket, the traffic en route to the theatre, and the assurance that the film will be available on the digital media very soon. But once we brave all that and are inside the hall, are we in for a great cinema experience? Of course, it depends on the movie… but I have a few cribs about the movie-viewing experience.

The interval is an integral part of Indian movies. It’s a forced break in the middle of Act Two. Film writers take special care to interrupt the narrative at a crucial, interesting point. OMG, what’s going to happen now? And INTERVAL flashes on the screen. Leaving me, the viewer, in delicious anticipation. ‘The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder’, said Alfred Hitchcock. Ok, I’ve used the loo, got my eatables, checked my phone and settled down in the seat. The lights dim and I am getting back into the movie’s universe, wondering what happens next.

Critics often talk about the second-half curse. Many films according to them, collapse post interval. But a movie is one entity, the interval an artificial break. I have an idea for a feature film that would work best without an interval. My producer tells me that exhibitors will force an interval anyway, like they do with Hollywood films shown here. And don’t we all hate that! They do it to sell their snacks, but I’m sure viewers will happily stock up before the movie begins. Much before Aamir Khan did it with Delhi Belly, Gulzar had done it with Achanak, starring an in-form Vinod Khanna. The film was less than 100 minutes and played without interval.

For audiences that came in early, they had ads, trailers, a happy documentary on penguins, followed by INTERVAL. And 10 minutes later, the film begins. Uninterrupted. Achanak is a riveting slow-burn thriller that’s best experienced at a go.

The last shot of a film is often of vital importance in a thriller. It was especially so, for Andhadhun. The design was like this: the last shot (no spoilers) of Andhadhun will fade to black after which the main credits will play on a specially composed piece of music. I want the viewer to sit in the dark, reflect for a moment on what he or she just saw, as the thumping music adds to your thrill and confusion. It’s for moments like this that we make movies. BUT in three of the four theatres I saw the film in with a packed audience, the moment the last shot happens… THEY TURN ON THE LIGHTS…..it’s a cue for viewers to get up. I wanted to scream in agony, all the more because we had a lovely montage of piano songs during the end titles. And 99 percent of the audience missed it.

At the FTII, we have a tradition of being seated till the last title and logos flash on screen. Only then do we get up. That may be too much to expect, but at least, the lights can come on a bit later. Of course, I hate loud conversations, flashing cellphones, and elaborate food items being served whilst the movie is on. These matters of etiquette are beyond control. We can only hope our film is gripping enough to grab the viewer by the throat. And not let go.

sriram-raghavan-andhadhun-set

Director Sriram Raghavan on the sets of Andhadhun with producer Sanjay Routray

Pauline Kael collected her writings on cinema in a book I Lost It At The Movies. When asked what she ‘lost’ at the movies, she said there are many kinds of innocence that we can lose at the movies. Here’s a story that actually happened when I was in college.

SOLVA SAAL AT AN OLD THEATRE IN POONA

Poona. 1979. No satellite TV or even VHS. But there were the matinee shows at reduced rates. Often, an obscure classic would turn up in an equally obscure hall. This happened to a friend of mine though some- times, I wish it had happened to me.

He was a student from Mauritius and a huge fan of Dev Anand, which is why I guess we became friends. One Friday morning, he excitedly told me that Solva Saal was playing at an old cinema hall in Poona in the noon show.

I’d already seen the 1958 Raj Khosla directed romantic thriller, set in one night. I gave him directions to the theatre and warned him that it’s a run-down hall in the red light district of the city. Mostly frequented by the working girls from the area.

Distance or a decrepit hall won’t stop a Dev Anand fan. He got a balcony seat and looked around. Yes, there were many garishly dressed ladies all around. Just as the newsreel got over and the theatre went dark, he saw a pretty woman enter the hall. She entered his row… and sat down right next to him. He got a whiff of her perfume. The movie began….

Hai apna dil to awara... Dev Anand singing in a local train (RD Burman played the mouth organ for the Hemant Kumar number). My friend was hooked on the film, but equally distracted by the girl sitting next to him. Their elbows touched on the arm rest. He politely removed his hand.

A dramatic scene… b/w Waheeda Rehman is attempting suicide…. And then he felt her hand on his thigh. He dared not look down. He very casually glanced at her, but her eyes were focused on the screen. And then she started moving her hand up his thigh. She was feeling him up. Hell, or was it heaven? He sat frozen. Should he reciprocate? Would she demand money later? His mind was a whirl and the movie a blur as she slowly settled her hand on his crotch.

Interval. The lights came on. He looks at her. She was beautiful. And then without even a glance at him, she got up and out. But her hand was still on his crotch. And then he looked down. There was a large rat sleeping on his maroon corduroy trousers.

– Sriram Raghavan

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