Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Movie-hall rant, and Brokeback Mountain

“Why the f#$! did you dumbasses decide to see this film in the first place?”

…was the question I silently mouthed over and over and over again, until it attained the intensity of a hymn. This was at a Brokeback Mountain screening and it was directed at two girls sitting a couple of rows behind me, who kept up an unremitting flow of Idiot Talk throughout the film. They began exactly thirty seconds after the title sequence.

“Mujhe cowboy films achi nahin lagti,” says one of the creatures thoughtfully.

“Mujhe bhi nahin.”

(Noisy munching of popcorn occurs.)

I don’t know if this happens in movie theatres all over the world but it’s a common phenomenon in Delhi’s multiplexes: most people (at least the ones who decide to sit near me) never seem to have any clue about the film they’ve just paid hundreds of rupees to watch. (I’m not talking about plot specifics, just basic stuff like genre and broad tone.) Now you could argue that this approach has its virtues – maybe the whole idea is to not know: to enter PVR’s rich pageant blindfolded; to gleefully accept whatever surprises are flung their way. But the problem is, none of these people ever seems to be surprised in a good way. The adventure usually ends with sobbing conservative middle-class parents fleeing the hall with their teenage daughter who’s been despoiled for life by the unexpectedly graphic sex scene (a European film festival was on and no one warned them!). Or with a pot-bellied cretin who snored through two-and-a-half hours of Amistad standing up and loudly informing the entire hall that “movies were made for entertainment, not to show slavery and torture.” Or a girl squealing “You told me it wasn’t going to be science fiction!” at her boyfriend as they exit Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

The biggest irritants are the ones who stay for the whole film. Certain people, I’ve learnt, have the gift of a secret pathway that directly connects their eyes with their mouth, bypassing whatever small fragments of brain reside above those other organs. Their eyes see something --> send signal straight to mouth --> which promptly speaks out loud. Such people live among us. They nest in movie theatres.

Sample of comments from Brokeback screening:

Long shot of Jack and Ennis leading hundreds of sheep up Brokeback Mountain.


First shot of a sheepdog.


Jack and Ennis light a bonfire.

“They’re making a bonfire.”

Jack invites a shivering Ennis into his tent.

“He’s also going to sleep in the tent.”

Intimacy commences between Jack and Ennis; belts are hurriedly unbuckled, jeans loosened, but then censor board steps in and there’s a jerky cut.


I figured the two girls had been struck dumb (by this point, I knew they had no idea about the film’s gay theme and that it would come as a large surprise to them). But the truth was more charming. It turned out they simply hadn’t understood what had happened; it wasn’t until 5 minutes later, when the first kissing scene between the two men occurred, that a collective gasp went up. Shortly afterwards, the comments resumed:

Ennis and his bride-to-be in church, saying their vows.

“They’re getting married.”

Jack shows up sporting a moustache.

“He has a moustache now.”

And so on. Remember those tests we had to give as four-year-olds for school admission, where the examiner would point at things and we would identify items or colours? On the evidence of the observations they made through the movie, these girls would not have been welcomed into kindergarten at the school I went to.

Quick notes on the film: I loved it, despite all the white noise. Many people complain that it’s slow but I thought the pacing was just right – Ang Lee’s movies (I’m thinking of The Ice Storm in particular, and even Sense and Sensibility, which I didn’t like all that much) tend to be languid and drawn-out in a way I find very appealing. If you get involved with the story of Jack and Ennis, as I did, you can appreciate that Brokeback Mountain is more about the tension of unexpressed emotions than it is about the conventional forward movement of a plot. There’s a lot going on under the surface, and if you’re attuned to it you won’t think the film is slow-paced at all. (Similar movies that come to mind are The Remains of the Day, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout and Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence – all films about repressed love/repression, a subject that seems to demand a very specific kind of moviemaking.)

I’m not reviewing Brokeback here, but I have to say it’s a pity that a faux-revisionist attitude towards the film has already developed in some quarters (faux-revisionism usually takes at least a few years). It’s almost become fashionable to say that there’s nothing so special about this movie after all; that people have made a big deal about it only because it’s a gay love story. I don’t want to second-guess motives (it’s possible of course that some people genuinely didn’t think it was very good), but I get the feeling that some Indian “reviewers” have jumped onto this bandwagon, emboldened perhaps by the (completely irrelevant) fact that Brokeback missed the best picture Oscar.

I’ve read some observations like this one: “Substitute the gay love story with a heterosexual one, and this becomes just another unremarkable picture-postcard movie.” I don’t get that at all. You simply can’t make an isolated substitution like that, while keeping everything else unchanged. The emotional power of this story derives from the context – two people trying to deal with the fact that the most important relationship in their lives is a forbidden one. That edge wouldn’t have existed if this had been a heterosexual romance; in that case, the focus would have had to be elsewhere. Annie Proulx wouldn’t have written the story (in this form) in the first place.

Anyway, highly recommended and all that. Also, full-length reviews by Roger Ebert here, and by Falstaff here.


  1. If you get involved with the story of Jack and Ennis, as I did, you can appreciate that Brokeback Mountain is more about the tension of unexpressed emotions than it is about the conventional forward movement of a plot.

    From a friend's review of the film: the translation of that style into film through the use of silence. i'm sure lots of people found this movie excruciatingly boring. i've heard things like 'went on for too long', 'made me fall asleep'. but those long silences, the desolation, the sense of/desire for there being only the two of us in the wide world. i loved that. always have. i love movies where nothing happens, minimal action and awkward dialogue. nothing happens and everything happens. you write your own story in the spaces. you're not allowed easy access into their story, and that's right, because it's precious to them. it's all they've got. the shirts, the postcard, that's not emo collage, that's the skeleton of a story.

    As for annoying audiences, I think the worst experience I've had was when the woman next to me talked on her cellphone throughout, telling the person on the other end exactly what was going on.

  2. Well, I have reservations about many films where "nothing happens" - often, minimal dialogue and long, meaningful pauses can be very pretentious and (dare one say this about "serious" movies) very boring and eventually pointless. It depends on the treatment and I certainly wouldn't endorse just any film of that sort. But yes, Brokeback and the others I mentioned are examples of movies where the long silences don't interfere with the narrative flow - and where you're allowed to write your own story in the spaces.

  3. Read the story. It's much more fun and the little gurls won't interrupt.

  4. I am pretty sure the incessant talking is a delhi thing which got on my last nerve last month.

    No one turns their phones off, hell they have entire conversations, regale the entire theatre with their banal chit chat.

    and of course the faux pas is mine because I asked some idiots to Shut the hell up. I asked nicely too.

    Abt. Brokeback - yeah, I've heard the "its nothing special" reviews too, all accompanied by the accusation that I only SAY I like it because of the gay subject and want to prove my liberal-ness.

    And the other response is from straight guy friends who won't watch it, lest they magically transform into the gayest gays that ever gayed.

    whoa, long comment.

  5. it happened to me once at PVR bangalore - this guy was constantly on the phone - i walked out , spoke to the manager, who walked in with me and asked the man to either shut it off or walk out of the theatre and use is phone - it was peaceful from then on.

  6. Something about Delhi's movie growing crowd. They believe that with 150 rupees they also bought the rights over all the eardrums in the movie theatre.


  7. This happens all over the world man. But the only difference is now some people in the theater are tired of this shit and god help you if you dare to ruin our moviegoing experience. We shouldn't have to suffer because some people couldn't afford babysitters or didn't turn off their cellphones because they're on call 24/7.
    Seriously, if someone is that annoying throughout the entire film, give them some time and then just tell them to STFU and get out of the theater.
    Its worked everytime for me. No need for politeness. We came to watch a movie, not to watch their antics. This isn't the street where you can walk away from it. I paid 10 dollars to be there and for 10 dollars I better get a good moviegoing experience.
    And never expect help from the underpaid ushers.
    You should read the industry press where people wonder why theater attendance is down.
    For a $4 Netflix dvd who wouldn't prefer to go home and watch their movie in peace?

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  9. I have stopped going to PVRs because of these nincompoops and their hormone-tank boyfriends. I have a great home theatre and I buy the DVDs.

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  11. One thing's obvious: the jerks who love to talk their way through movies sure don't read our blogs. It's a pity, would love to have them know how an entire community feels about them, not just me. It might not do them much good but I'll feel heaps better!

  12. Havent seen Brokeback so wont be able to talk about it but after reading yourthoughts on it I would surely watch it.
    Besides the irritants you have listed, the omnipresent cellphones with obnoxious ringtones, ppl jabbing nonsense on phone, laughing and what not. Cant they put it on silent and keep their conversations short and hushed?
    If its so imp call why dont u go out and complete. u r not watching the movie anyways...
    Another clan of movie goers that bug me are ...the couples who have no other place in the world to make out. Please spare me I dont want to hear you both oohing and aahing. Ysterday I was watching Being Cyrus and the couple in front were obviously busy with something else. OK you cant keep your hands off each other fine but pls cut the noise arrrrrrrrggggggggh

  13. hey man just read your piece in CITY LIMITS on delhi's love affair with architect-designed homes.
    But while the article was fine - there were no photos of the homes, just of the architects themselves.


  14. okay, you could NOT have had a worse time than I did, when, with every kissing scene there was a loud outburst of giggles. All the time. Grarh.

  15. Either you're exxagurating, or you were really unlucky to get stuck with the wrong kinda crowd in a theatre.

  16. Jai: Thanks for linking. Though would rather have had a review of the movie by you than been fobbed off on my own :-).

    Am (obviously) totally with you on the anti-revisionist brigade - saying Brokeback is like any other love story only gay is like saying Jaws is about any other small seaside town, only with a shark. One wishes people would apply the same logic to the question of gay marriages - what's the big deal? It's just like a heterosexual marriage, except the two participants are gay.

    I do think the fact that the love between Jack and Ennis so closely parallels heterosexual desire is an important part of the film though - I think a big part of the point is precisely that love is love, even when the two people in it are the same gender. That recognition is a big part of where the movie's emotional impact comes from. Plus come to think of it, when was the last time we saw a heterosexual love story that was that carefully, beautifully made?

    Re: Brown Magic's comment (well, the final line of it) the other thing I've heard a lot is how male friends of mine refuse to watch the movie with another guy - they say it makes them too uncomfortable. I think that's just hilarious (statutory disclosure: Okay, so I watched the film alone as well, but that's because I almost always watch films alone). I mean, would they not watch a romantic / drama type film with a woman, even if they weren't interested in her? You begin to wonder how insecure about their sexuality guys truly are.

  17. First time commenting, but i've reading ur blog for long. Love your movie reviews.

    Bangalore multiplex crowd is alright most of the time. But for Brokeback Mountain, a few people found the guys kissing amusing.

  18. Falstaff: was hoping you'd weigh in. Post was written largely for fun, and most of the comments just got too serious.

    Ditto on the male insecurity thing.

    Venkatesh: I know - we had many house pics on CD but apparently they weren't good enough. And there were also a couple of shifts in the story's focus - was meant to focus on the architects originally, then shifted to houses, then reverted to architects.

    (Btw, would prefer it if you mailed me rather than put up a comment on an unrelated post.)

    eM: one advantage of there being only 8 people in the hall (two of whom were struck dumb anyway) was that the giggle outburst was at a tolerable decibel level. I had a slightly hard time though understanding why some people giggled when Jack died.

    Rohit: to be honest, there is an element of exaggeration in the post - but then, much worse things than I described here have happened in PVRs on other occasions. Btw, aren't you one of those "hormone-tank" guys who walk in with their girlfriends 20 minutes after the film's started? :)

  19. 'Post was written largely for fun, and most of the comments just got too serious.'

    Well then let me say when I first read your post, I was laughing my ass off.

    Instead of worrying about the idioticity of dillibilli or dillibellas i was just focusing on how you narrated the whole thing--your style, and how fucking hilarious it was. Had me in stiches. (or may be i was just too caffeinated, no seriously).
    Loved the point about the connection between eyes and, sheep, haha.
    On the same note--here is something i stumbled upon:

    That said, i was happy to read the serious points as well. Its an important film. And the great thing is it manages to focus on love and I think that fire did not acheive that. In 'fire' i did not realise when and how they fell in love. it was all too rapid like fire. and gay love seemed to have been sanctified or justified on the basis of the fact that they both were in bad marriages!(saw it many yrs ago though so dunno if i will look at it differently now). Anyhow, after that long comment, feel like admitting something: I havn't actually watched brokeback yet.(embarassed yet loud laughter)
    But i have watched trailers and have talked to friends abt it, hope to see it sometime soon though.

  20. About movie going crowd... My experience in Pune has been that the more expensive the ticket is, the worse the crowd gets. So if you go to Vijay or Alka (Rs 30 & 25 respectively) - single movie theatres there are no cell phones, no chit chats.. hell there aren't even people.

    Wonder if the same is true for Delhi or other parts of the country too.

  21. Hey, enjoy reading your blog. Just a few random comments: in my opinion Sense and Sensibility was the better movie by the director, I rate that as one of my all-time favorites. I liked Brokeback but it did inevitably get a little overhyped. Undoubtedly, a very professional job, both in terms of acting and directing, but I find it hard to passionately recommend it to anybody. I think the `meeting the parents' part towards the end was the best part of the movie---very authentic, very touching. The few minutes after that seemed pointless to me and somewhat of a drag.

  22. When Brokeback Mountain ran here in Trinidad, many people had no idea what they were in for when they went to see it. Audience members would get up and leave in the middle of the film (well, by and large after the love scene) and in some instances demand their money back. It got to the point where cinema management began instructing staff to ask patrons before buying tickets if they knew what the film was about.

    As for the movie itself, I thought it was excellent, though I think Ice Storm remains Ang Lee's masterpiece.

  23. Why can't you watch a movie, what where you doing eavesdropping or listening with ears WIDE OPEN on conversations that went around in a movie hall...People come there, spend their money and some also have a habit of talking like Sidhu all the way.

    Does that mean that your ears work the same way in office too? Must get smart when you are around.


  24. On audiences... Delhi by far has the worst of them. No manners, talking away, eating noisily, pretending everyone around wants to know your agenda ('arre mujhe yeh bhi film dehknee hai' is something I hear for every single trailer that is shown) and I dont think most of them know how to turn off their cells or switch them to a silent mode.. In fact just rowdy(if I may use the term) behaviour is something I have seen for plays too..

    skipped the movie.. thanks to the hype.. because Crash did not live up to it.. Oscar or no Oscar..

  25. I could totally relate to those comments from the crowd..At PVR Bangalore, when Jack and Ennis lock their lips the entire hall broke into laughter when one wise ass shouted out "yuck...thuuu" ..!!
    The line i found which best sums the tone of the movie -" It is not about Gays or about cowboys, but about Love under suppression".

  26. Jai, I have sympathy for the girls and their "ocular --> verbal" response to the film. The Texan drawl (esp Ennis') must have really made it difficult for them. So the moment they see sheep, up the go: "Sheep!" So, now we know the "visual --> auditory --> cerebral" mode is not the only way of absorbing cinema! ;-)

  27. No I am not. I usually go for movies alone, and I hate missing any part of a movie.
    In fact I love the trailors, so I'm usually much before time.

  28. you remember the song "it happens only in india" ...well yeah what u r sayin here happens only in india.....i was watching "being cyrus" on sunday at a good multiplex in madras...a woman had a crisis bout having all her family (8 of em) to sit together and we were on her way...mfing bitch called eveybody from the theatre boy to the manager to make sure that they get it done right...fuking bitch screwed us for like half hour of the movie and the movie aint even long...
    another time i had a bastard who was snoring throught "crash" because (i am guessing here) he probably doesn't have an AC back home. i guess he took the movie name literally. ...this shud be made a crime....issue death penalty for crackheads like these.....