[2010-03-17] On Watching Films

Like many people, I like watching films for entertainment. Unfortunately for me, it seems that the film industry is hell-bent on making this as difficult as possible. They have succeeded to a large extent - I now watch far fewer films than I used to a little over a decade ago.

Look at the ticket prices: at the beginning of 1997, a "balcony ticket" for a weekend show in one of the theatres located in central Bangalore cost Rs 40; at the beginning of 2010, the same ticket now costs Rs 170. That corresponds to roughly 12% year-on-year increase in ticket prices over the 13-year period, far more than what could be justified by general inflation or better amenities. In the multiplexes, the ticket prices many a time go even higher - it seems that one of them was even charging Rs 1,000 for Avatar 3D in its premium class. When you factor in the charges for parking your vehicle and captive consumption of over-priced snacks and beverages, watching a film in a theatre becomes quite an expensive deal. What is worse is that so many people are apparently willing to pay these prices.

In many ways, I find watching a film in a theatre an irritating experience. Watching a bright screen in a dark room for a couple of hours or more gives me a headache. For some weird reason, either Indian films have a very loud soundtrack or theatres like to increase the volume unnecessarily high for such films - it is even more mystifying when you notice that the actors in such films generally shout to each other instead of talking like ordinary humans. I don't like having to sit through several advertisements before I can see a film nor do I like the forced patriotism in one of the multiplexes here that plays the national anthem before every show. Fellow viewers constantly remind you of their presence by chattering on their mobiles, talking to each other, yelling out during songs or scenes, taking their smelly feet out of their shoes and by blocking your view as they look for their seat, having walked in well past the show-time.

I therefore like to watch a film on DVD. To their credit, the film industry now releases a DVD for a film closer to its theatrical release than before and the discs are fairly affordable (especially those released by Moser Baer). Of course, their hand has been forced in this matter by the ready availability of unauthorised copies of films on almost every street corner. But even here they try to irritate viewers as much as possible. They try to limit the availability of DVDs by putting in a region code and forcing manufacturers of DVD players to honour it. Many DVDs are stuffed with advertisements and trailers that cannot generally be skipped due to a mis-feature that is arrogantly named "user operation prohibition". These can get really irritating really quickly - I once was forced to watch the entire set of advertisements and trailers in the DVD for The Blue Umbrella six times as there were three power-cuts during the time I was trying to watch it (and the back-up power-supply kicked in and shut off each time); I would not have bothered were it not such a good film.

Buying the DVD of every film I want to watch is quite wasteful in my opinion, so I try to rent as many of them as possible (via Mothay DVD, who provide free delivery and pick-up of discs). Even this option has several problems though. The DVDs for many of the popular films are quite difficult to get hold of and when you do get them they are scratched so badly that you wonder if people confuse them with vinyl records or tea coasters. Both the film industry and the Indian government conspire to severely limit the number of DVDs that can legally be rented here in India. The Motion Pictures Association (MPA) of India wants every rental shop to get a licence and the Censor Board wants only certified films to be rented out. The film studios release very few films here from outside India, generally citing poor demand that does not justify the trouble of applying for a censor-certificate.

Watching films on television might have been a viable alternative, but for the irritatingly large number of long commercial breaks. The broadcasters are also extremely coy about even the slightest hint of sex and aggressively edit out potentially offensive scenes, having been threatened by the over-zealous Information and Broadcasting Ministry (which has a warped view of morality quite out of touch with the times). This leads to some crucial scenes being cut from many a film, making it a frustrating experience.

It should not then be surprising that a large number of people resort to getting unauthorised copies of films from street-corners or from the Internet (so-called "pirated" copies), even putting up with reduced audio and video quality. Instead of trying to understand the reasons for this behaviour and tapping into this obvious demand, the film industry has responded by increasing ticket prices even further and putting even greater restrictions on films.

I find it surprising and sad that the entertainment industries in general treat their customers like idiots and criminals, and manage to get away with it.

(Originally posted on Blogspot.)

Other Posts from 2010