Sunday, August 15, 2010

a taste of indianness

BIG Cinemas USA decided to do something special this year to celebrate Indian Independence. They decided to run something called Spirit of my Tirangaa: free movies screened all week from August 07, 2010 to August 15, 2010. All you had to do was go online to their site, "purchase" tickets (use a credit card and be charged $0.0) and then show up at the chosen theatre on the chosen date near the chosen time, present the same credit card and get your tickets.

Based on the calendar, the only thing I could manage was a screening of Dasavatharam at 1900. I really wish they had put Rock On in a weekend slot, but some accountant was surely in charge of this.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at BIG Cinemas Peachtree 8 (earlier Galaxy Funplex 8) was that they had a spelling mistaken on the marquee: it was Tere Ben Laden when it should have been Tere Bin Laden. The second thing I noticed was that there was no sign of any Spirit or any Tirangaa. It was just another evening in another upcoming desii ghetto (what with the Palace in the next block).

Saying the magic words at the concession stand and producing the right credit card got me the tickets and a survey form that the person at the stand requested be filled out before the movie. The survey included: which movie(s) did you watch as part of this free movie celebration? which was the last movie you saw at this theatre? The survey also asked you to tick the things that you thought the festival achieved for you (something about meeting other Indians and experiencing a sense of solidarity: left unticked; free movies: ticked).

The celebrations began after I started walking to the designated theatre. Number 5 was officially screening "Once upon a time in Mumbai"; unofficially, it was going to be the screening room for "Dasavatharam" (I am sure this and some other halls had been hijacked from the regular screening schedule to accommodate the Festival of Freedom). There was but a handful of people in the theatre. Not surprising, really. No, I don't think it was because why would you want to watch Dasavatharam even for free?. It's just that I don't think the Indian population in Atlanta and its 'burbs can hold a candle to other Indian-laden cities in the USA in such matters. But I digress. The air conditioning in this room was dead. The room was already warm and would surely get uncomfortable later. Some people were already joking that the air conditioning might cost extra since it was a free screening.

The first signs of the film were purely aural. All we heard was a background cue for the opening credits. Then silence. Someone in the projection room was trying hard to fix whatever had gone wrong. Some black and white footage -- despite being squished away in the right corner of the screen -- represented a sign of progress along with a background cue. Then silence. Finally, sound and picture united and we started getting title cards.

But something was wrong. The actor was right (Kamal Haasan) but the film was wrong. Indian!!?? That's the 10:30pm show people. Thankfully, a couple of people went out to notify the hapless people managing the place. Then, someone came back to tell us all that we had to move to theatre number 6 right across. This was when I was glad it was not a full house. We had a mini stampede from number 5 to number 6.

Number 6 was mercifully embellished with functional air conditioning. The loud end credits of Tere Bin Laden continued to roll by and the people in that show were surely surprised that so many Indians had arrived so early for the next screening. Then there was silence and a blank screen. More help arrived but it was helpless as well. It was unclear whether number 5 would be the screening hall with the correct film or number 6 would be the new location. The screen in number 5 flickered to life with sounds of a voice telling you about the Ayngaran strain of DVDs and then vanished to be replaced by a full spread of a screen from a Samsung Blu-Ray player. Number 6 remained blank. Eventually, Dasavatharam unrolled in number 6.

Since this was a free screening, the management of this BIG Cinemas franchise probably did not consider issuing an apology to the audience with free passes for a visit in future. Or was it because this theatre, like the old Galaxy Cinema on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, subscribed to the desii ethic: no matter how shoddy your theatre and management are, the Indians crazy for their Bollyfix (or Kollyfix or Tollyfix) will flock to hurl their dollars at you. Even if your projector goes tipsy. Even if the seats have seen better days. They will also keep their cellphones with their annoying ringtones on and at the highest possible volume during the screening and also quite often conduct telephonic conversations during the film. Happy Independence Day people. You can talk the desii out of desiland but you can't take the desii-ness out of him/her. It's too BIG to handle.

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