Watch horror films in Indian theatres at your own peril
Yes, yes, a theatre is the best place to experience a film in, but they forgot to add the crucial bit, ‘unless it’s a horror film, and you’re watching it in India’. Annabelle: Creation at a popular multiplex felt like a carnival. If David Sandberg, the director of the film, had seen the ebullient atmosphere inside the theatre, he would have decided two things: 1. To stop making horror films, considering how seriously his confidence would have been dented, 2. Chennai people have nerves of steel. Each time a painstakingly created scene was leading to a scare, someone from the audience would howl, in loud mockery of the very heart and soul of a horror film. A couple of people began speaking on behalf of the characters on screen, and the audience members who were laughing in response only served to fuel such interruption. One person, meanwhile, was trying to execute his own version of the jump scare. Each time the film turned particularly quiet, he would let out a sudden, shrill cry. Such antics, unfortunately, weren’t from one person, or even one section of the audience. In fact, towards the end, the infection had spread across the entire cinema hall. Most of them were chatting along merrily.
Chennai audiences in Annabelle: Creation be like…
You could say it’s a unique part of our film-going process, this loudness in reaction. But think of this. In star vehicles like Velaiyilla Pattathari, such raucous cheering, I agree, abets the overall enjoyment of the film. In fact, the film itself, with its highs and lows, is calculatedly created to elicit such response. But films like Annabelle: Creation are not. It’s important, crucial even, that absolute quiet be maintained in the theatre to fully appreciate such films, which rely so much on mood and atmosphere to generate the scares. Annabelle: Creation, I can without doubt, say, is among the worst experiences I’ve ever had in an Indian theatre. And it is but an addition to the long series of horrible experiences, all concerning horror films.
It reminded me of a contrasting, more enjoyable time in a cinema hall about a couple of years ago. I was watching Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in a San Francisco theatre, and remember being almost enchanted by the silence observed inside. You were conscious of even munching your popcorn, for its sound would seem deafening, amid the dignified, all-consuming quiet. Yes, the audience, every now and then, expressed itself vocally. But these expressions were only responses to the film, and its events. When the animated baby dinosaur expressed its love, some let out an audible ‘aww’. It showed investment in the film. It’s the sort of reaction any director would dream of: a reaction because of the film, not despite it.
Audience members when a scene in Annabelle: Creation turned particularly quiet
I imagine it’s difficult for theatres to crack down on such unruly members. Where would they draw the line? What comments would be deemed acceptable? It’s a cultural thing, I dare say, and I’d even go as far as saying that our masala films have done their bit to aid the creation of this, shall we say, culture of restlessness inside a movie hall. Having grown up on a diet of fast-food films, our audiences, it seems, cannot tolerate too much silence in a film. That’s why every time a Malayalam film is being remade in Tamil, the director of the remake usually talks about how the script has been ‘adapted to suit our sensibilities’. What they mean is that they will be compromising on all the ‘slow development’ that they are worried will make our audiences restless. Like fidgety teenagers raised on fast food, we apparently lack the patience to wait while a wholesome meal is being cooked. We want to eat, and we want it fast… never mind if it’s healthy. Until we get it, we will howl.
This interview was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.