After writing yesterday’s post, I wondered if I should have avoided that last comment about Siri Fort Auditorium. Well, those conscience pangs have been dispelled now. Will try to keep the ranting short but here’s a rough list of the things that happened to me and my friend Shougat at Cinefan today:
- Reached the venue to discover that, predictably, they were disallowing people from carrying cellphones into the auditorium (this happens practically every time there’s a big event on at Siri Fort, though the security is never as strict as it appears to be when they’re haranguing you; there are always a few people who somehow do manage to smuggle their phones in, and these phones invariably ring very loudly while the event is on). We were tersely, and cryptically, told that the “last few bomb incidents have been caused by cellphones”.
- Now this cellphone rule is a severe inconvenience for people who don’t have their own vehicles to leave the things in, and who don’t have the option of leaving the phones at home (because they have to go straight to office after the screening, or because they are coming to the screening straight from office). No arrangement is made for phones to be left with security or at a reception (not that that would be a very practical arrangement when there are thousands of people in attendance); in fact the organisers are downright rude and spare no opportunity to wash their hands of all responsibility.
- Even those who have vehicles are given no assurance. After leaving my phone in my car, I went up to one of the many guards posted in the car park, and asked if someone would be keeping watch over the cars at all times. The guy went on the defensive immediately. “Haan, guards yahan honge toh, par aapka personal samaan aapka hi responsibility hai.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, apparently my question had convinced him I was an Al-Qaida recruitee myself: he walked purposefully to my car, circled it a few times, stuck numerous mirrors under it, looked suspiciously at the two Harry Potters lying in the backseat (which Shougat and I had picked up from the Penguin office en route to the fest) and then waved us on patronisingly.
- Anyway, we made it inside, fuming, and finally reached the auditorium entrance, where we met the Dirty Harry of the Delhi police squad. “Arre, body search theek se karo,” this rogue screamed while his subordinate molested my friend, “trouser ko full upar kar ke dekho. Joote kholo.” He then objected – you have to believe this – to our carrying a pen into the auditorium. “Isse kya karoge? Yahan phillum dekhne aaye ho ya paath likhne?” he asked with a leer, as we attempted to tell him we were journos and would die if left alone for a few hours without a writing instrument in our possession.
I’ve been attending Cinefan for five years now – four of those as a journalist – and each time there have been problems of this sort when it comes to the screenings held at Siri Fort. I’m familiar by now with most of the organisers and the promotions people, and have the option of calling one of them up if things get too troublesome; I have a press card to flash too; but despite these advantages I still find the whole thing so bureaucratic, cumbersome, even hostile, that it sometimes makes sense just to stay away. I imagine it’s much worse for regular movie-lovers who don’t have any sort of clout. Given all this, it’s laughable when one hears all the tut-tutting about how enough people don’t come for these festivals.