Sunday, Nov 15, 2009

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Where art thou, the Frontbencher?

One of the greatest characteristics of the Indian audience when watching a movie is the complete involvement with the story, and openly reacting to the scenes. In the traditional theatres, the front seats used to be priced the cheapest, and the crowd there distinguished itself by dancing with the hero, shooting paper rockets, hooting and whistling. With the more controlled environment in the multiplexes, does this category still exist?

Going to a movie used to be an adventure in itself. If it is a superstar movie, or 'captain', one could expect the reaction from the front benches easily. There would be catcalls when the villain walked in. Superstar running his fingers through his hair, or a punch dialogue would drive the front benchers into a frenzy. Power cuts meant destruction of theatre property. Too enthusiastic crowds could also pose a danger for the rest of the audiences.

That was then.

Now, with the more swanky theatres in malls and multiplexes, the nature of audiences has changed. Does one still encounter such behaviour? Is the fun lost as all sit in a polished manner?

Aditya Gopalan, IT professional says that in his student days, he has bought the Rs.10 ticket at Satyam and been a front-bencher. "There is a thrill in watching up so close to the screen. In fact, there are times when I have bought Rs.10 tickets for three different movies, three shows, on the same day. Imagine watching Spiderman jump from building to building so close! It is a different experience altogether. I wouldn't mind doing it again if I get a chance."

"When we were children, the movie would last three hours but the excitement before and after would last a few weeks. What I really miss about the days gone by was when you sat on the front rows and watched Dev Anand wooing Waheeda Rehman in Guide. Today, even the multiplex frontbenchers shell out a very significant sum. Consequently, the 'class' difference has vanished. On the other hand, you have fairly antiseptic audiences from upwardly mobile families who don't want to be seen 'behaving like the frontbenchers' in the front bench. The fun quotient has lessened but the redeeming fact is that everybody has the same amount of fun in the theatre. There is probably something to be said for democracy," opines L. Subramanyan, Director India Syndicate and a media professional of over 25 years.

Agrees Sudarshan Narayanan, IT Professional, "My friends and I went to see Vettaiyadu Vilayadu, first day first show, bunking college for the first time, with all intentions of having fun. We went to a theatre that is still like the 80s-90s with old popcorn machines, hard wooden seats with coir padding, most of them torn. We even took stuff like foam, jigna for Kamal's entry. We cried our hearts out when moved. You cannot do that in a multiplex, mainly because of the amenities. The crowd that comes pays more and is so more polished, you have to maintain some level of decorum. You will think twice before standing on the seat."

With changing times, it is inevitable that the fun quotient too should undergo a change. And, with time, new definitions of front-benchers will evolve.


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