The evolution of movie watching

There used to be a time, a few decades ago, when most people saw a movie three or four times a year. This was because choice was very limited. ­People saw mostly movies with top class stars in them, never mind how bad those films were. But, on the plus side, going to the movies then was neither very expensive nor time ­consuming. Then in the 1990s came the multiplexes. The idea had been pioneered in Chennai as far back as the mid-1960s when Sapphire theatre had three halls — one for Tamil, the biggest; one for English, slightly smaller; and one — Blue Diamond — for miscellaneous films from elsewhere. This one was the smallest. You bought a ticket and stayed on for the whole day in it if you liked. It was very nice for young boys and girls looking for a bit of off-­college romance — less public than the Marina beach but public nevertheless. As in thousands of theatres all over the country, the ­ushers’ torches set the limits of romantic endeavour. The model was confined to Chennai as far as I know.

The advent of multiplexes made going to movies costly. One visit would set you back by anything between ₹1,000–1,500, depending on what all you ate while watching the film. So movie watching was a luxury. A family would usually see not more than half a dozen films a year, even though the choice had expanded hugely. Individuals might see a dozen but that was all. Each one paid for his or her ticket.

Multiplexes made going to movies costly. One visit would set you back by ₹1,000–1,500, depending on what you ate!

Then, around 2000, came the satellite TV era and suddenly you could sit at home and watch a film at a much lower cost. But the channels were few in number, only a dozen or so. Most of them were free, which means very soon they had pretty much shown everything they had. If you watched three films a week, it meant 156 films. No channel had that many, and would rarely acquire new films. So in a few years the attractiveness of watching films on satellite TV also diminished. Even the huge explosion of movies-only regional language channels didn’t help. So for about a decade from 2010, after the boom of 2000–10, we were back to where we had started from because the demand for films outstripped supply by a factor of 1,000. In any case, even though the films were nearly free, a TV set and a satellite dish were needed.

The whole game changed from around 2015. The coming of cheap smartphones and virtually free access to digital content had, by 2020, improved access in an unimaginable way, dropped costs and expanded supply to nearly infinity because you could watch subtitled films from all over the world. The rigours of the lockdown were greatly eased by the likes of Netflix, Disney-Hotstar and Amazon Prime. You could, if you so wished, watch 10 films a day even if in a fast forward mode that reduced the duration from an average of 100 minutes to just 60.

But a new problem has arisen. I forget what I had watched very quickly, within a month in fact, because I haven’t watched the whole film and even if I have, it is between doing other things, including watching a Test match, writing an article, talking on the phone, zooming and,  very rarely, doing some housework. You may well ask, so what does your wife do? Well, she does exactly what I do — she watches the half that I have not watched. Try it, folks, it works as perfectly as the running between the wickets when Dhoni and Jadeja are at the crease.

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