Amid the staircase drama of Friday afternoon, Purvashri and I agreed to meet up over the weekend to catch a movie and do lunch afterward. I also wanted to shop for some casual pants for the weekend, something in between jeans and my work pants, so we plotted out a classic girls’ day. She would buy the movie tickets online and I would meet her at the theater, which I can see from my hotel room. It’s where the red square is in the picture below, bottom left corner.
Sidenote: If I have given you the impression that the Mumbai populace generally annoys me then I’ll take this moment to apologize to them and course correct. Overall, the people here are so kind, incredibly hospitable, and go out of their way to please. Extending on that, my coworkers are crazy protective of me and manage my food intake like I’m an infant coming off rice cereal and moving on to the exciting world of pureed vegetables and fruits. I’ll detail this further when we review the lunch hour but just know that this protective behavior manifested itself in Purvashri insisting she walk me from the hotel lobby to the theater. In broad daylight. On Mumbai Marathon Sunday, where there were tons of police officers milling about to monitor the route. The route that passed right in front of the hotel. I told her not to be absurd and that I’d meet her there. Sometimes exchanges like this just need to be blunt or I will find myself literally being spoon-fed.
Alright, so we’re at the movie theater and the remainder of this post will lack pictures because this Cineplex looks like any other AMC or Regal Cinema you’d see in America. (And really, who takes pictures in a movie theater? People looking to cause a stir, that's who.) But the similarities end there.
First we enter the building and go through some metal detectors. Then you step into a curtained booth and pull open your bag for inspection. Lastly, a handheld metal detection wand gets swiped all over your body. Closely.
Then you take the escalators up two flights to the movie complex proper. The first two floors of this place consist of small shops and a food court, complete with a Ruby Tuesday. Given that Ruby’s claim to fame is a salad bar and hamburgers, I may have to go into this establishment to see what the hell they’re left serving in a country that doesn’t eat beef and eschews raw vegetables, particularly the leafy variety.
Anyway, after you reach the movie complex you go through more metal detectors, more bag inspections, and more body swiping. Then you select your snacks of choice and contemplate ordering a full plate of curry, a stick of kebabs, or maybe just some naan. Traditional Indian delights abound. Pick your poison then stand outside the theater waiting for showtime.
The theater doors will open and you walk inside to find your seat. Purvashri tells me that she’s reserved seats for us online and we’re in the middle of the stadium seating. Nice! Someone actually verifies our seats on the ticket stubs and I feel like I’m going to the ballet rather than watching Sherlock Holmes. We are given the go ahead and so we climb the stairs and promptly sit down. I remark that this assigned seating business is nifty and ask if it’s this way in all theaters because in Chicago, only the super fancy complexes do this and even then it’s not for every show.
Purvashri: Oh yes, you do this for every movie. This is India. If there wasn’t assigned seating people would line up for the show three hours in advance and the lines would be madness. We have to be organized about some things.
Me: Well, okay then!
Purvashri: The other thing you need to know is we stand for the national anthem at the beginning of every movie. You’ll know when it’s time. Just stand and be quiet.
Sure enough, two minutes later the Indian flag is waving on screen and everyone stands at attention. There is no singing along or hands over hearts but the atmosphere is stoic nonetheless. And then we’re done with that and we return to our regularly scheduled program.
We don’t have to endure thirty minutes of previews. There are a few quick commercials, though, and buried within them is a still shot of a yellowed piece of paper with blotching typewriter font. It looks like an official form of some sort.
Me: Hey Purvashri, what is that?
Purvashri: Oh, that’s the cinema’s license. They have to show it at the beginning of every film. It lets you know that you’re watching a legal movie. You know, that the film they are screening came from the actual movie house and isn’t some pirated copy.
Me: Oh, okay. But of course.
Sherlock Holmes begins.
And then it stops.
We’re about halfway through the movie and in the middle of the most action-packed scene and the screen goes dark. Snidely, I think to myself, “Projector defaulted? Why am I not totally surprised? But darn, I wanted to see the rest of the movie!” As I look around, though, no one else seems disappointed or concerned. The house lights come up and everyone begins filing out of the theater.
Me: Wait! What’s happening? Did the projector die?
Purvashri: No, it’s intermission.
Me: Intermission? At a movie?
Purvashri: Yes. You guys don’t do that, right?
Me: No. Why is there an intermission? And more to the point, did they mean to cut the show right in the middle of the big scene?
Purvashri: They do this for every movie. Sometimes the timing sucks.
Me: But why an intermission? It’s just a movie!
Purvashri: So we can go get more snacks! We get hungry so you can go out and get snacks and order something if you’d like. They have house boys who will then bring you your curry or whatever.
(At this point I’m clearly wearing a “WTF” expression on my face and not trying to hide it.)
Purvashri: I know, it’s funny. Really it started because Hindi films are typically 3 or more hours long so they put intermissions in those movies. Then it just carried over to the other films, too.
Me: Got it.
Another 5 minutes pass and we see the cinema license pop up again. I’m informed it has to be shown once more since there was a break in the film. Who knows if an evil-doer got up to the projector room and swapped out the reel?
The rest of the movie continues on in standard fashion. The movie ends and we all file out rather orderly through the theater’s back door. You continue down an outdoor staircase unless you need to stop off at the restroom. In that case, hang a left, snake your way through a few of the food court kitchens (no joke) and then reach the public restrooms somewhere on the right. Eventually reach daylight.
And that is the movie-going experience here in Mumbai. The office crowd insists I must go to a Bollywood flick next and, as luck would have it, a highly anticipated title is coming to theaters before I return home.