127 Hours is a true-life story of mountain-climber, Aron Ralston. On one of his adventure bike rides in Utah, USA, Aron falls into a deep crack in the arid, desert land and doesn't see his way out for 127 Hours. As you see him stuck for about 60 minutes or so of screen time, you can barely make yourself watch the plight he has gone through - the hunger, the thirst, the bladder control, the hallucinations, the helplessness, and the desperation. Then, he finally comes out. You breathe fresh air with him. That's the power of James Franco's performance and Danny Boyle's direction. The first thing he looks about hysterically for is that mirage in a desert - water. Miraculously there's a small puddle of stagnant water. He makes his way through to it. "Drink, drink, scoundrel drink. Drink the damn water and let us go!", says the guy sitting next to me in Hindi to his girlfriend.
Now, who hasn't had a couple sit next to them in a theater and cootchie-coo in that dark, cool place on a hot summer day outside? We've all surely had experiences with gangs of boys who find their own wisecracks funnier than an unintentionally funny film they are watching; or those giggly girls who just won't stop to well, giggle at the sight of an Imran Khan or a Ranbir Kapoor. But this experience during 127 Hours has registered too well with me. It told me how insensitive people could be to someone's true-life experience, let alone years of hard work in getting a film made. Aron Ralson's inspiring story and the film itself stayed with me for days later. Unfortunately, so did the thoughtless comment - maybe for a little longer.
It can be argued that hooting and smart-Aleckery is reasonably acceptable at times. For of course, we have in some film or the other enjoyed a snide remark coming from the audience, as a spontaneous reaction to what was on screen. It is a part of the experience called movie-watching, many say. Does this then, make passing loud comments, less of an offence if the movie is less worthy of our attention? Whose attention should be the benchmark for deciding the acceptable level of buffoonery when in a public place, consuming a product you have paid for individually, but are enjoying collectively? My 127 Hours couple for sure wasn't enjoying the film as was evident from the girl's constant bickering during the film, which I managed to ignore until they drew the last straw.
I've heard way too often, that the experience of watching one film or the other was made more fun by the comments coming from the audience. In fact, I'm told Salman Khan and Rajnikant films are made keeping the audience's in-theater experience in mind, rather than narrating a story. My Dabangg experience was certainly more entertaining than the film. There were teenage girls dancing to the background music of the climax action sequence - in a multiplex! The crowd had gone berserk in the single screen theater in a little town in Maharashtra, where I watched Golmaal 3. There's no delight greater than vicariously living through people who can let their hair down in public. I admire them for their 'live in the moment' attitude.
But that is beside the point, of course. It still does displace 'moments' for at least, some other people. I might not have been bothered by it, but it is likely that there was someone else, in those 600-seater theaters, who was appalled by such behavior and its interference with the film, they too had paid to watch the film, after all. In this context, isn't it intriguing then that, movie-watching, all over the world is a group activity? Watching a film is a very subjective and individual experience, but rarely do you see a person watching a film alone in a theater. In fact, more often than not, you hear people say they missed out on watching one film or the other because they didn't have 'company'. When, in fact, if all you care about is the film, you should be experiencing it alone.
What do you do then, as a person who is also out there to have a good time? Personally, I avoid even shushhhing people who might be 'whispering', unless I'm finding it really difficult to ignore the distraction. For me, my shushhh is as much a noise to another person as it is to me, in my head. Aren't I distracting myself from the film by making a sound?
There's a basic lack of sensitivity to the requirements or even existence of others in a public environment - a basic lack of civic sense. From driving sense to business deals being closed on mobiles in theaters - the 'me' and 'my' is of over-powering importance compared to the inconvenience being caused to others. In fact, there is a very bright chance that you'll be yelled at for asking someone to put their phone on silent in a movie hall.
Kids! That's another one. I have two of my own, but if they aren't enjoying a film and creating a ruckus, I'd rather have them outside the theater than inside. Isn't it our duty as a parent to teach our child to recognize they are being a nuisance and how best to keep themselves from being so? Be it restaurants or theaters. I shudder at the thought of disturbing the cast of a theater group performing a play. Is it not our responsibility that our children grow up, to be better at realizing their duty as a citizen, to be civic in public places?
Why only unto each other? What about complete disregard to the hard work of years that film-makers put in in getting that film to us? Many of us, if not most, have performed in public at some time or the other - a speech, a dance, a presentation to a group of prospective clients/investors. But for a minute, when we take that phone call in a cinema hall, do we consider how we reacted and felt when we saw two people whispering when we were performing or when someone even checked the time? Empathy, a tiny bit of it too, will go a long way in this thing we choose to do, absolutely voluntarily - watch a movie.
Should we even begin the discussion about the etiquette we follow while regarding another person's work when we watch a film at home? Only the really, really serious cinema watcher in us would take the effort to create an environment at home that would minimize distractions from the film - even for our own sake, if not for respect towards the filmmakers.
It may be another matter that some filmmakers look like or make films as if they do not wish to be taken so seriously. Not to mention, the commercial needs of having breaks for advertisements during the film. It is as amazing as it is annoying at how these breaks get longer as the more interesting parts, the climax of a film approaches. Fortunately, TRAI is soon going to put a law in place that has strict time and content rules on the amount and types of ads that can be shown during ad breaks on TV.
Can such laws not be in place for behavior in public places? Can it not be legal to have a person leave a theater if they are creating nuisance by their words and/or behavior? We do indeed have laws against, (and enforcement too!) loud noises beyond a certain time at night. Isn't there a parallel with the topic at hand? Some people like to enjoy a public place in a particular way, which could be of inconvenience to other few; so a law is made to restrict the enjoyment of the former group such that the inconvenience to the latter is brought to a tolerable level.
Or should it be the hand of majority? When at any given point only one or two people are creating an environment, which the rest of the people, in that public place, think is inappropriate or is taking away from their experience, then some action be taken against those those one or two. As a converse, if most people are enjoying the in-house entertainment created by the audience itself rather than what is on screen - a la my Golmaal 3 or Dabangg experience, (or any Rajnikant film, I'm told) - than let the majority enjoy and the rest can hold their peace.
And peace, people like me will have to hold, stronger and longer before others realize that a pop-corn crunch is a sound that distracts; a munch on the potato wafers, a slurp of coke/coffee, is something one should be careful of while watching a film. One visit to any screening of a film festival (in the same theaters!) will show how true that is.
I'd also have loved to shift the onus to the filmmakers. "Please, make your film so interesting, that not one person feels like moving a muscle," I'd have loved to say to the directors and actors. But clearly, there is a two-fold contradiction to this belief of mine. As noted, no matter how serious a film, there are going to be people who have to have their say while the film is on. And conversely, some films are made with the very intention of making people hoot and cheer. The very entry of the concept of 'item number' in our mainstream cinema seems to be to engage the audience into dancing in the theater and/or passing lewd remarks. That people danced on the seats in the theater and threw money at the dancer on the screen, seems to be a benchmark for the success of these songs. So what, if it is damage to theater property?
Thankfully, within the multiplexes at least, people have grown a little more courteous to their environment. The paan stains, the trash on the steps, the torn seats are at least on the decline. Though, I doubt the same can be said about the single screen theaters or the theaters where plays are performed.
While theaters do reserve rights to restrain nuisance makers from entering the premises, the main concern is with a whole lot of offences that aren't necessarily legally tenable. They are mere small courtesies that one human ought to accord to another. That the person in the neighbouring seat might be more interested in the dialogue that their favourite actor is saying rather than their commentary - is something that one should consider for themselves. Won't it be a shame if there had to be a law to keep us from doing that? My worry is that even a law will not keep people from being themselves.
What is required then, is an urgent need for each citizen to look within, to go back to the age-old adage - "do unto others as you'd have others do unto you."