My wife and I were sitting one day, quite recently, and commenting on how we hadn’t been to the theatre to watch a film in a long, long time. In fact, since our daughter was born two years earlier, we hadn’t ventured to watch a film. When we tried to recollect when, before Krisha’s birth we had been to the theatre, we couldn’t recollect that either! Perhaps our absence from cinema halls had nothing to do with being preoccupied with our child in the first place! We decided to delve further.
The more we thought about it and discussed it, the more it dawned on us that the entire cinema-going experience, at least for us, had been replaced by a number of alternatives that were more accessible, more affordable, more pleasing, more entertaining, and just more convenient. First amongst these was the slew of online content options – what is technically known as OTT Platforms – Over The Top content that is streamed using high-speed internet through applications such as Netflix and Prime. Not only do these great content-providers offer a slew of brilliant series & films of varying genres and nationalities, they are accessible all the time, anywhere, with viewing possible on the largest of home-theatre screens, or on the go on one’s mobile, laptop and tablet devices. With India’s smartphone base having increased to a sizeable 250 million people in 2017 itself, and internet users poised at between 450-600 million people, we are part of a larger mass who is starting to consume entertainment at home, not at the cinema halls!
Another reason for our long disappearance from cinema halls, we felt, was a result of not having a great experience at the theatre itself. For my wife and I, we felt that many cinema halls attracted unsavory, rowdy crowd that we did not want to be in such close proximity of. At the other end of the spectrum, if we went to a high-end cinema hall with fancy seats and other amenities, a single movie experience for the two of us could end up costing over fifteen-hundred rupees, an amount not necessarily large in itself but compared with annual subscription costs of OTT platforms, a lot to pay for a single film.
Ultimately though, we concluded that the chief reason for our growing disenchantment with the Indian cinema experience is just the quality of films. Most content on OTT platforms is simply of a much higher quality, at least to the two of us. I appreciate that taste is subjective, it changes from person to person; but even if there are Hindi movies that are interesting and well-made, they are available soon after theatrical-release, on one OTT platform or another. So unless one’s a die-hard fan of a specific actor or director and must absolutely watch a new release at the earliest, the cinema-going experience has become redundant.
It so happens that one of my best friends from boarding school is an old-school, single-screen theatre owner in Dehra Dun. At his theatre Prabhat Cinema, I have had some of my best childhood memories. He would organize special movie screenings for the entire school sometimes, and regularly for our smaller group of friends. Those shared viewing experiences were always special, they made us bond. To that end, I understand the allure of a theatrical experience, and miss it even. But with screening technology having come a long way since, with our homes being turned into mini-theatres now, that ‘shared viewing’ experience too, can be had, at the click of a button, without ever leaving one’s homely-comfort.
I’m not entirely sure how cinema-halls are going to reinvent themselves in the face of such growing competition and with people going less and less to the theatres. I suppose a section of society will still want that as their familial weekend experience and activity. But to my mind, the cinema experience today has become irrelevant in the face of too many luring alternatives.