One reason I've been blogging about films so much is that I've seen many more movies in the past couple of months than I usually do. There's a simple reason for this: PVR Phoenix, the seven-screen multiplex next door that opened around the time I inaugurated this blog. OK, it is next door only by Bombay standards, but, before it opened, the closest multi-screen options for me lay in Juhu and VT, an hour's drive from my home in Dadar. I refuse to count in the list of multiplexes that haven of black marketeers, the erstwhile Gaiety / Galaxy / Gemini in Khar, though it now calls itself G7 and has converted its preview theatres into ticketed auditoriums.
PVR Phoenix offers some great deals. Monday to Thursday, tickets are priced at 100 / 150 rupees, and the cheaper of these is perfectly adequate, since there are always back row seats available. If I'm interested in seeing a blockbuster on opening day, I can book online, a facility unavailable for single screeners in my extended neighbourhood like Star City, Suburbia and Globus. I'm so glad I never again have to travel to INOX, with its overpriced tickets and veggie-only food options.
Not everything about Phoenix PVR is great, it has to be said. There are problems with projector callibration, resulting in the frame being cut in some of the auditoriums. As Jabeen said while we sat through a crop-top screening of Gulaal, what's the point of spending crores on state of the art equipment and viewing facilities, if you're going to mess up this simple but crucial step?
Another bad experience I had involved a chicken tikka sandwich I bought before a screening of The Reader. I hit a huge sharp bone, about two centimetres square, in my second bite: luckily, I didn't lose any teeth to it. Afterwards, I went to the counter to show them the bone, expecting nothing, but demanding a refund. A manager was called in, who said, "Sir, since you have eaten the sandwich, I cannot offer you a refund". I replied, "If this was a restaurant, I'd have immediately asked for a replacement or my money back. But I'm watching a film. I can't leave the hall for an hour, and I'm desperately hungry. What d'you expect me to do?" He listened sympathetically enough, but maintained, "If you had even left half the sandwich...". I wonder what leaving the sandwich uneaten is really meant to accomplish? Prove that I didn't get my money's worth? Hitting a bone in a boneless snack is not proof enough, apparently.
Yes, I do hear herbivores chortling it serves me right for knocking the veggie menu at INOX.
The reason food becomes important in multiplexes is the weird timings of shows, without which far fewer patrons would buy the overpriced, calorie dense, flavour-free stuff on offer. In the old days, you had four shows per day in each large hall, usually starting at 12.30, 3.30. 6.30 and 9.30. Late eaters could come out of the penultimate screening and head for dinner, while those who preferred an early meal could finish up and catch the last show. This changed with the coming of late, late shows targetting affluent clients not dependent on public transport. The calculation then began to be made backwards. How late can we expect patrons to be willing to leave the final show? The answer was about 1 to 1.30am. This meant the last show would start somewhere between 10.30 and 11pm, and the penultimate screening, the one with the highest demand, would be scheduled for around 8pm. This shift has seriously messed up moviegoers' meal schedules. Few are willing to dine and get to the theatre by eight. Conversely, even in a late eating city like Bombay, most would want to have a proper bite before 10.30. This means people consume nachos or popcorn and a Coke inside the hall, ingesting at least 500 calories in the process, and then have a meal afterwards, often in a food court within the same mall that houses the multiplex. Absolute disaster for waistlines.
Right now, with exhibitors and distributors locked in one of their periodic battles over revenue sharing, it looks like I might have to take a break from the Phoenix routine. If that's the case, then, so be it, Jai Ho Piratebay.