Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hollywood Not Bollywood

If you go through any kind of cultural awareness training, you'll hear the stereotype that Indians love two things: movies and cricket. I still haven't been to a cricket match but after spending over a year here, today I finally made a trip to a movie theater. The movie that got me there was "127 Hours". While not an Indian movie, it had the same director and composer as "Slumdog Milllionaire", so I figured that was close enough connection.

For those unfamiliar with "127 Hours", it's a true story based on a first-account book I had read by Aron Ralston called "Between a Rock and a Hard Place". The title is in reference to the amount of time he spent pinned to a slot canyon wall, stuck by a falling rock, before resorting to cutting off his arm with a dull multi-purpose tool (that's not a spoiler, you know he survives because he wrote a book and that book's cover shows him with a metal prosthetic right arm). A harrowing story to say the least. It's set in Utah's red rock canyon country, one of my favorite places in the world. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the movie (and to see how you turn a movie about being stuck for five days into a full length film).

Mrs. Luth not pinned to the wall of a slot canyon in Canyonlands, October 2009
Much like the rest of Gurgaon on Republic Day, we headed to Ambience Mall. I'm not sure what it is about malls on holidays in India, but it seems to be where everybody heads. There was a fifteen minute traffic jam just to get dropped off at the back door. Once we navigated the crowd inside the mall to get to the theater, I found it to be a place not unlike any nameless theater in suburban Chicago. We went to a PVR Cinema Premiere Class showing which isn't the top level theater (that would be the plush Gold Class which we still need to experience at some point) but was still quite nice. The price, Rs. 250 (around $6), was even nicer.

While in a nice theater there are some differences with the Indian movie going experience. When you buy your ticket, you buy a ticket for an actual seat, much like you're going to a football game. Some theaters have tiered pricing. As a result, people often buy their tickets well in advance. I must admit, I sent my trusty driver Kailash to purchase our tickets on Tuesday. Purchasing food doesn't require taking out a loan. While still expensive by Indian standards, Rs. 150 seems a reasonable sum to pay for popcorn and a Diet Coke. There isn't a warning to tell movie-goers to turn their mobile phones to vibrate, and not that anyone would listen. The surprising thing I found was that phones ringing in theaters become far less annoying when it happens every couple minutes. Though I must admit when you see someone pull a ringing phone from their pocket and stare at the screen to see who's calling, you'd wish they hit the "ignore" button a little sooner. That is, if they hit the ignore button. It's not uncommon for people to answer the call. Halfway through the movie it just stopped, the lights came up, commercials starting rolling, and people left to use the rest room. This actually wasn't terribly annoying and is kind of a good idea. I hate going to movies, putting down a large Diet Coke, and uncomfortably sitting through the second half of a movie anxiously waiting to race to bathroom when it's over.

My favorite part of the experience was one of the jokes seemed to be tailor made for the Indian audience (believe it or not, there were a couple jokes in a survival movie about a guy that cuts off his own arm). There's a scene where James Franco is videotaping himself while stuck. He makes a comment regarding the multi-purpose tool that he uses to cut off his arm that he received as a gift as a lesson to "not buy the cheapest Chinese made piece of crap" (I'm paraphrasing there). At any rate, the place exploded with laughter. Apparently, making light of cheap Chinese goods of poor quality goes over well with the Indian crowd.

For a first experience, I have no complaints. To be honest, I was surprised the ringing phones didn't bother me. I'd love to see a Bollywood film in a theater at some point but I'm not sure I could sit through 3+ hours of a movie in Hindi (so I may have to save those for subtitled DVD's). And no, there aren't subtitles at the theater nor should there be. Regardless, I can see going to the movies a more routine activity, especially since there are usually three or four American films at any given time.


  1. I love it! They have intermission! I'm also interested in the movie now. I can't imagine cutting through your own bone.

  2. You could try Dhobi's a 95 minute movie which released recently.

  3. oh wow! sounds like such a very different experience than going to the movie theatre in north america - i can't wait.

    and i'm so glad to hear that you don't have to wait too long to see new releases in india...i think 127 Hours was just released here in December-ish.

  4. Try Gold Class too! We like the regular ole' theatres too, but Gold Class is worth the experience at least once :)

  5. kay*, sometimes movies come out same day (I think there may even be times when released before) and sometimes they're delayed a bit. There are also ways to see new releases in the comfort of your own home, that is, if you know the right market (i.e., Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place).

    DelhiBound, definitely still need to try Gold Class; have heard that it's worth going at least once.