Press shows are a matter of great pride and excitement for those not in film journalism. For one, they are usually organised the day before the actual release, and for another, the stars of the film are present at the venue. So, you can see why starry-eyed Joe Public will likely consider it to be an Alice-in-Wonderlandesque experience. For those of us who write about films though, that excitement is a faded memory.
A press show comes with its share of challenges. The idea that we are watching a film on a weekday afternoon isn’t ever lost on us. Preview theatres, thankfully, are a better place to watch films on a weekday, for those of us who wear formal clothes to work. In theatres such as Devi and Sathyam, you always have that one attendant who glares at you suspiciously as he’s punching the ticket, almost as though he were fighting the temptation to tell you, “Dude, go to work. You have a family to feed.” It’s also a bit embarrassing to be the lone man amid a sea of excitable college students.
After my first few press shows, I realised that it isn’t so easy to just walk into a preview theatre and take your seat because… there is no ‘your seat’. You aren’t given tickets, and so, must occupy whatever empty seats you can find. It’s a lot trickier than that though, as I soon realised. You see, there are those from the press who have attended so many preview shows in the theatre over the years that certain seats have now become ‘theirs’. So, you could find an empty seat and occupy it in all innocence, only for the film to begin and for the ‘veteran’ to arrive and ask you to vacate the seat. And make no mistake, you are expected to get up. Think of it as a permanent handkerchief on the seat. Politicians would be proud. Identifying an uncontroversial seat is an exercise in itself — one I’m afraid I haven’t quite figured out yet.
Members of the cast and crew of a film are usually present at these preview shows, waiting to ambush you at the end, to ask you about your thoughts, in the hope that you’ll have some laudatory words to offer. These meetings can be quite awkward, especially if you’re just coming out after a particularly sub-standard film — and there are a lot of such films out there. While I usually try and slither out — like a robber out of a bank — it doesn’t always work out, and sometimes, I find myself standing in front of a rather vulnerable-looking actor. And you thought an accidental meeting with your ex-girlfriend was awkward.
While some journalists escape with a few words of insincere flattery, some others like yours truly aren’t quite comfortable doing it. And so, I offer a genial smile instead and walk away. At least a few actors out there must think I have some speech impairment issues. There was this one actor at a press screening who wouldn’t have it, and insisted that I discuss the film. About half hour later, he looked crestfallen. The film was that bad, and as he discovered that weekend, it bombed at the box office too. A few days later, I got a note from him, through a friend, asking if there was something he could do to get kinder words next time. Making better films could be a start, no?