When movies were larger than life
I remember an age when, as a kid, going to watch a movie was a big deal. In every sense of the term. I got to see the ‘big picture’. Larger than life. Nothing could be more exciting than sitting in a darkened theatre, watching magnified, magnificent characters. Some theatres had larger screens than others; I used to look forward to watching cinema in those particular halls. The bigger, the better.
There used to also be talk about “certain” movies being enjoyed better in a larger frame. Sholay, for instance. Action sequences of Gabbar, Veeru and Jai had to be on an inflated scale for maximum impact to be derived. Of course, I never watched it in a theatre, saw it much later on DVD, and was told I’d never “get” Sholay because I’d not been part of the generation that watched it on 70mm, in a hall named Jyoti, where it ran (to packed houses) for more than a year.
Jaws was one film that I was actually allowed to watch in a theatre despite being underage: the boosted killer shark and amplified music struck terror in my being while the rest of the family argued how totally worth our while it had been making a trek to the other side of town — where the movie was being screened… in one of the halls with a bigger screen than most others.
Back in those days, watching a movie was a monthly treat. Rest of the time, I had to be content watching strictly-controlled television capsules on a standard-sized Weston black-and-white set, with a 22-inch screen. Once, I had visited rich relatives, who had a B/W TV, but it was one with a much larger screen. “Imported,” I was told. “They got it from abroad.” I remember being insanely jealous.
The telly world of black and white subsequently got colourised, and a little later, the size of television screens started getting bigger and bigger, their edges got contoured, controls panels started receding into remote terrain… soon, what you were left with was just a giant screen. Not a patch on the 70mm obviously, but home theatre became a buzzword nevertheless.
Simultaneously, the big-screen experience ceased to be cinematic with the advent of the multiplexes; it became about ambience: reclining seats, surround sound, better-quality snacks, general hygiene (including souped up washrooms), and yes, BIG screens all around, they’d become the rule, not an exception.
So, I find it rather appalling that despite such large-scale efforts, size has almost become a casualty: we have now taken to watching movies and television shows, basically anything to do with the audio-visual media, on our phones and laptops and iPads.
Sure, there are giant-screen television sets, but looks like most of us don’t have time to congregate around structures anymore. We prefer watching movies on our own time, at will. It’s not unusual to find households where no one really watches the ‘big TV’ in the living room, preferring to watch them piecemeal on respective “gadgets”.
A few years ago, when I was raving about The Good Wife to a friend, she told me she would get a Netflix connection and watch it pronto. “But I don’t have a smart TV, so I’ll watch it on my phone.”
And she did.
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“You get used to it.”
“All seven seasons?”
Another friend told me he’d taken a day off from work, and watched three movies “on the trot”.
In the theatre?
“Mad or what — who wants to make such an effort? I watched them on my phone.”
At a time when everything is getting bigger and, therefore, better, it makes me wonder why we are willingly shrinking the cinema space. “It’s not about experience anymore,” the same friend (who watched three movies on the trot) explained. It’s about control. “You get cinema at the push of an individual will.”
These days, I find myself fairly content watching movies on my laptop; a year ago, I’d have scoffed at the idea. When I got my UAE Netflix account after I moved here, I was even asked (on auto-prompt) if I’d like to binge on my phone as well, and I said yes.
But I freaked out when someone told me the other day that, at times, he watches movie clips and videos on a ‘smart watch’. Literally on a 1.5-inch screen.