If the crowd doesn’t throw popcorn at the cinema screen or loudly cheers the protagonist for getting the villain to eat some dust, it’s not really Bollywood – and I’m not interested. Some two weeks ago, a bunch of friends and I went to the movies, full of hopes that we’d have a real Indian viewing. Watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan at Gandhi Vihar’s Batra Theatre left us on our appetite. Don’t get me wrong, the movie had all a Bollywood production should have: a love story, Shahrukh Khan, awesome dances with unbelievable moves and clothes colourful to oblivion. The problem was that our fellow viewers had been turned completely lethargic by a potent sedative: western movie theatre etiquette. How in this world was I supposed to feel comfortable yelling at actress Katrina Kaif to prevent her from stepping on a bomb when the rest audience was so deeply absorbed into texting that they kept quiet, mmmhh? Uneasy with the thought rowdy film watching might have completely vanished from Delhi, I set out to find a real Bollywood theatre.
As soon as I made it to the entrance of Shiela cinema, I knew I was in for a blast. 30 minutes before the screening of Khiladi 786 was to start, a frenetic crowd had already gathered. A kid sat close to me, staring in awe. Then another one. And a third… a fourth… a fifth one. Their uncles and friends also joined, culminating in about 35 people surrounding me. I’m not sure if it’s me speaking in Hindi with my friends that bewildered them or if it’s merely that a foreigner had decided to join in for the movie that got them so excited. At any rate, this was going to be a truly desi experience (Indian experience). A lineup formed two minutes before the door opened. So stoked were they all to go in that absolutely no space was left between any of them. Only in India can you see this. When the doors opened, an expected frenzy ensued.
Pushing, a bit of fighting, laughing, screaming here and there, hasty and absolutely useless security screening… and we’re inside! With seats comfortably warming our rears, we were all now completely gung-ho for that movie to start! While the ticket is relatively inexpensive at 100 Rs., the excitement floating in the room tells me most people sharing the theatre with me can’t afford this luxury very often. Every one here is wearing their nicest outfit for the occasion. And it happens. Lights go down. The screen illuminates. Everyone is whistling and yelling like mad! Here’s a short audio recording I was able to snatch of that:
Yes. That’s in the movie theatre. Just when I think cheering has reached its peak, Akshay Kumar appears on screen… The crowd is absolutely ecstatic now! It takes me back to the electrifying moment when Madonna walked in on stage when I attended her concert in Montreal! It truly feels like a live performer has just entered the room. But no, that’s just how infatuated with the actor this crowd is! And you bet their love for this man means they’ll root him on every single time he superman punches his opponents or sends them flying with an “epic bitch slap”, as my friend Rachael calls it. Unrestricted laughter is amazingly loud throughout the movie and I’m loving it! All occasions are good to whistle, and I shout at the screen whenever given the opportunity.
This crowd composed of rickshaw wallahs, underpaid service workers and other impoverished lads has truly turned this place into a party hall. They are the best group to watch a movie with, ever. Even someone who doesn’t understand a single word of Hindi would have a stellar time! In fact, I’m having more fun being part of this fired up, mob-like 300 people strong audience than watching the actual movie. And it goes on and on. People picking up calls on their mobile also adds to the greatness of the combo. This is supplemented by the occasional glare caused by staff periodically pointing a flashlight at you for no apparent reason. And coming and going remains unfettering. All I can say is that Shiela is real masala (mixed Indian spices)! Experiencing a Bollywood movie in a typical Indian movie theatre is an experience any foreigner should have while in this wonderful country!
I’m still on the hunt for more such experiences. Where’s the most intense movie theatre you’ve watched a film at? Whether it’s in India or elsewhere in the world, I want to hear about it!
Practical Information about Shiela Cinema
Located in Pahar Ganj, Shiela Cinema is easily accessible by cyclerickshaw from New Delhi metro station (or a 10 minutes walk, if you’re up for it). See map here. The theatre still proudly displays being India’s first 70 mm threatre and it’s comforting to know little has changed apart from their seats since they put up that sign. At 100 Rs., you get a solid bang for your buck. Getting tickets the day before is highly advisable since you’ll most likely end up paying triple the regular price if you get them from a reseller the day of. The movie on show is screened at 12:30 PM, 3:30 PM, 6:30 PM and 9:30 PM during the winter season. No women were part of the audience when I went, leading me to recommend ladies not to go unaccompanied.