A good horror movie demands pin drop silence during its most terrifying moments. When the protagonist tiptoes down the dark hallway to investigate the strange gargling sound coming from her daughter's bedroom, the last thing the director intended you to hear is the R2-D2 sound bank of noises emanating from some idiot's cell phone.
Likewise, as you careen along through the woods with an angst-ridden teen as he searches in vain for his demonic glowing-eyed girlfriend, who leaped from the third storey window like an Olympic hurdler moments before, chances are good that the the director didn't provide a contingency plan to remotely electrocute the annoying group of people four rows back who've been incessantly yapping throughout much of the film.
Moments like these have spread like zombie plague wildfire in the prevailing cell phone culture the world over. India is no exception, but the subcontinent must surely be the epicentre of a particularly nasty outbreak of cell phone abuse, judging by the inability of the "infected" in keeping their zombie mussitations suppressed for a couple of precious hours at the cinema.
"Does art not deserve the same silence, and dare I suggest, respect, as state-mandated patriotism?"
There's a distinction to be made here between just plain rude people who converse during movies and those who are talking and texting or otherwise engaged with their cell phones, though the lines are often blurred. One group has been present since the beginning of cinematic history. A few hissing rounds of "shushes" usually suffice in silencing these offenders. The latter group, however, was spawned by a recent technological revolution that produced indispensable gadgets of mass distraction. Cell phones, computer notepads, iPads, iWhatevers. And in the hands of the enemy - the rude-talkers - a new breed of cinema-going terrorists who sit among the uninfected members of the audience, tainting the darkness with polluted light, breaking the silence like a monk with a case of spontaneous Tourette's syndrome.
"[W]hy should we go out and spend our money on a painfully mediocre, KFC-quality viewing experience?"
How outlandish, that many of these same people - the rude-talkers and the cell phone abusers - are often capable of summoning silent respect for their national anthem prior to the trailers and the credits rolling. Ideally, this kind reverence should be reserved for the movie itself - the one they've paid good money to watch. Does art not deserve the same silence, and dare I suggest, respect, as state-mandated patriotism? The answer seems to be a ringtone-resounding no.
Some would probably disagree with me on this point, but I think that the general population receives more than their fair share of flag-waving and jingoistic propaganda in school, from the media, and from politicians, to last a lifetime. Peer pressure and tradition have prevailed widely, in most nations, in producing a Pavlovian response in people in the name of national inferiority complexes. How different the world would be if the arts were taken as seriously, or propagandised as sweetly to heighten our affections for the craft. One just might be able to watch a movie without being interrupted in the name of profits and discourtesy.
The intermission plays a negative role in the whole affair. It hoarsely whispers to us, like a monster under the bed, that the cell phone terror is to begin again, shortly. Cell phone batteries mysteriously recharge in the supernatural glow of the lobby. The rude-talkers and the digitally infected zombie hordes co-mingle in the snack queues, sugar-up, and file back to their seats with subconscious plans to disrupt the next hour of entertainment with more banter, with more audio-visual, finger-tapping dynamite.
Unlike screenings of comedy or action-adventure films, during which marginal audience noise somehow isn't so menacing, horror movies die grisly deaths in Indian cinemas. There's too much dissonance destroying key moments of fear which define this fragile genre. Adding to the misery, the intermission - a near-extinct global practice of bilking people for a few extra bucks - has fulfilled the industry's desire for more revenue at the expense of a peaceful, uninterrupted movie-going experience.
"Unlike screenings of comedy or action-adventure films, during which marginal audience noise somehow isn't so menacing, horror movies die grisly deaths in Indian cinemas."
Stopping the movie half-way through is ridiculous enough. But the failure on behalf of a manager to reprimand or remove people, during the intermission (if not sooner), who've already proven themselves as violators of the peace, sets the entire dysfunctional business model up for long-term failure. Public service messages reminding audiences to shut off their devices are not enough. Movie industry leaders need to meaningfully address cell phone abuse, among other major complaints, like increased ticket and concession stand prices.
Otherwise, why should we go out and spend our money on a painfully mediocre, KFC-quality viewing experience? Where's the care, concern, motivation, and innovation to reinvent movie-going? Why not upgrade the theatre experience in such a fantastic way as to make watching movies at home feel like banging two rocks together by comparison? Any efforts in this direction would have to tackle the cell phone dilemma. Because people aren't happy. Years of declining ticket sales is an indicator that the movie barons haven't kept up with the times and technological challenges - nor have they lived up to their customer expectations. They've failed. They've chosen instead to dodge these issues and pursue copyright infringement cases, and to wage losing battles against websites like The Pirate Bay, which responded to their "customers" immediately by launching six new domains when the Swedish authorities seized and shut down two Sweden-based pirate sites.
It's scary, because there's a lot more effort being expended to please non-paying customers, the millions illegally downloading and streaming movies, than there is by a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations and their subsidiaries, to please their paying customers. Until this bizarre dichotomy is reversed, I'm watching my horror movies with the pirates.
Article originally appeared in DailyO.