Redemption for the annoyed Indian moviegoer

Sathyam Cinemas’ DND initiative is targetted at eliminating every distraction that interferes with your suspension of disbelief

It’s hard not to feel a surge of affection for Sathyam Cinemas. Leaving aside the incurable addiction that is its popcorn, what when it shows that a hugely successful chain can actually pay attention to complaints and come up with solutions that are purely in the interest of elevating the theatre experience? Many of us have forever lamented the curse that is the Indian theatre experience which has generally been marred by babies that have the ability to let out shrill cries at ultrasonic frequencies, latecomers who like to test your retina with their torch lights, corporate employees who confuse the theatre for their company’s conference halls… you get the idea. Occasionally, we have even pondered why we spend hundreds only to inflict self-harm.

This Wednesday, however, could well turn out to be a defining moment in the city’s theatre scene. I had the opportunity of being part of what Sathyam Cinemas called ‘Asia’s first-ever DND (Do Not Disturb) screening’. The film played was Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It all began with a quick presentation by an emcee who sought to familiarise the audience with the rules of the show. All phones will be switched off/on silent mode. They cannot be used while the film is playing. No conversations will be allowed. Littering is prohibited. Latecomers will not be allowed inside. People from some other societies may wonder what the big fuss is. After all, this is theatre etiquette 101, no? Not for many here though. In such a situation, the onus then falls on the host, the theatre, to actively step up measures to curb unruly behaviour. Oh, and in case people disobey, the theatre’s got two bouncers happy to escort them out.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle may have been a barely all right film, but the DND experience was absolutely memorable and absorbing. In such a distraction-free environment, it was easier than ever to strike a relationship with the characters of the film, to be invested in its world. Sure, initially, I found it rather difficult to realise rather discomfitingly that I couldn’t utter a single word to my companion. After all, as Rajini says in Baasha, “Indian, pesalanaa sethuduvaan.” But once you get used to it, you discover the novelty of the whole exercise. The all-consuming quiet is new. The distinct absence of small pockets of light from mobile phones is new. The total lack of latecomers is new. It’s immersion as filmmakers envision it. The theatre wasn’t always silent, of course, but the only sound that broke it was of the audience vocally responding to the film. Every time there was a joke on screen, the audience, as a family, would break into laughter and promptly go back to being silent. You can picture filmmakers shedding tears of joy.

I imagine that there will be a few hiccups initially as Sathyam Cinemas figures out a way to deal with unique problems, including the often-uncontrollable restlessness of the audience when watching horrible films. Perhaps some of you are wondering if the Indian masala film experience will be ruined. However, as I understand DND, it is merely an attempt to crack down on noise… not voice. But having experienced it, I can tell you it is how films are meant to be experienced. I understand that the theatre wants to eventually scale up and run only DND shows on Wednesday. The dream, for some of us, is that this expansion not get restricted only to Wednesdays.

This column was originally written for Cinema Express, the cinema division of The New Indian Express.  All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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