When I first watched Cinema Paradiso as a ten year old boy, this much was clear: much like the chosen savior of a clan here, a princess there in the many martial arts movies that populated my VHS collection, I would have to save Cinema. Not in terms of making good cinema or acting in one, but in the presentation. It probably says something about me that even at that age, I was more enamored by Alfredo the projectionist's love for cinema than by the six year old Toto's sense of adventure; Alfredo's contentment in worshiping the art and making it accessible to as wide an audience as possible as opposed to Toto's ambitious experiments with his home movie camera.
Consequently, it was never enough for me to just watch a film. I had to experience the journey. And because Alfredo waged his war against censorship and a philistine government in post-World War II Italy while I lived in comfortably middle class, culturally vibrant 90s Trivandrum, I would often have to create my own excitement: I would accompany our driver on his designated Friday evening trip to the cinema hall to score us tickets for the latest blockbuster. My father's secretary would have called ahead to make the reservations, but I'd make believe we were on a race against time: the fate of all pop culture lay in the automated arms of the next traffic signal. And once at the ticket stall, getting pushed and pulled along by the suffocating long lines of Trivandrum's ardent film-goers, or better still, jumping headfirst into a crowd of Mohanlal fans getting lathi-charged by policemen, I could finally feel like I was part of a movement.
In time, I would make my peace with the fact that cinema, at least in Kerala, was in no grave danger I could rescue it from, but until well past high school, I would draw umpteen models of what my Archie comics-inspired drive-in cinema would like and plot impromptu screenings of If Lucy Fell projected on the walls of my house for the benefit of our neighbor, an American-returned girl who was a couple of years older than me and hopelessly out of sorts with the world and was also named Lucy. So while growing up perhaps took the romance out of cinema, cinema certainly put the romance in me- a sense of right and wrong, of some imagined utopia in which bureaucrats and their minions alike could escape from the tedium of real life for a while and roll up their sleeves and laugh heartily at Jagathy's mishaps or shed copious tears at the fate of star-crossed lovers on screen.
Fast forward to thirteen years later:
I'm raging. I'm hemorrhaging internally from all the rage because PVR Cinemas in Cochin has just short-changed me. Despite the fact that it's in a mall and everybody dresses like they're at a club, I'm here because tickets only cost an almost-reasonable hundred bucks, and thanks to the juggernaut-like growth of multiplexes, the grand tradition of independent cinema houses is in its last days. The last ones standing survive on regional blockbusters and sheer will power; they're certainly not going to screen Noah in 3D. Besides, PVR offers unlimited refills on Pepsi and we happen to be in ownership of a bottle of rum that will no doubt be consumed furtively and in full over the course of the movie with generous helpings of Pepsi. I'm not even drinking, but it feels like a victory.
Till this moron stepped up to the Pepsi counter a few seconds ago.
"What do you mean "no more re-fills"?", I say, "It says "unlimited re-fills" on the sign behind your head!"
"Yes, but the sign made a mistake," he tells me, "no re-fill today."
"The sign made a...Look, the movie's going to start in a minute; I don't have time for this nonsense."
"Sir, I will have to ask you to watch your language."
"Ok I was out of line. Please top up my drink like your sign promises you will, so I can go watch my movie."
"What? Why? Look, is there someone else I can talk to?"
"Sir, if you continue to behave in this fashion, I will be forced to call the manager."
"Why do you talk like a textbook? But yes, that'd be great. Please call your manager."
"That was not an empty threat, sir. I will call my manager."
"Yes, please call your manager. You understand he's not also my manager, right?"
"I'm warning you: The manager will not be pleased to be interrupted in the middle of dinner."
"Oh great. Your manager's at home while he lets you robots run the show here? Fine, call him."
"No, the manager is eating his dinner at the food court on the next floor."
At this point, my friend tells me the movie is only a couple of seconds from starting. "This is not over," I tell the Pepsi guy as I turn to leave, "I'll be back." "I look forward to it," he replies, "perhaps next time, I can introduce you to our loyalty programs."
Icy Highs's Music Recco : Asaf Avidan- One day we'll be old