How Watching a Movie Online Turned Into a Cultural Experience For Me

The Lunchbox

I just watched a Bollywood flick online. It was a theater quality print (as the elders and authority figures of our generation are so fond of calling it). Meaning, some guy running a video CD parlor somewhere in Mumbai secretly filmed the movie as it ran First Day First Show in some single-screen cinema hall. The picture was punctuated with peals of laughter, definitely not what the film director intended for such a moving romantic drama. The silhouettes of popcorn totting lads and regional accented conversations on cellphones added the much needed gravitas to an already somber film.

But half-an-hour into the viewing, I realized that far from disturbing the proceedings, the studio-like canned laughter recorded by default by the video CD guy – pirate, if you prefer the euphemism – lent me an element of comfort.

Let me provide you with some background. As is the norm in my life, weekends are reserved for movie watching with the husband. We have our own schedules through the week and weekend, but like clockwork we take out time over a Saturday or Sunday to watch a couple of movies. In fact, I maintain an Excel sheet with a list of movies I have watched: the lead stars, genre, and my primary reaction to the film. Yes, I am a through-and-through movie buff and love my 90-, 120-, 180-minutes of love, tragedy, comedy, suspense, thriller, and horror.

Unlike my husband who has stringent requirements for the quality of print, I am an easy person to please. It’s too expensive to head to the theater every week and neither do I have the patience to wait a full 6 months before a movie appears on DVD or satellite TV. So, if something’s available online, I play it. During the weekdays, after a stressful day at work, I turn to books to help me relax. However, if time permits, I do sneak in a movie! Tonight was just one of those nights where I was on speed-dial with office updates and decided to watch an independent, small-budget romantic-drama that has received unanimously glowing reviews from the critics and public alike.

And so, half-and-hour into the movie, lounging on the couch, I felt a sense of comfort as I listened to the laughter and ambient sounds recorded into the online print. It felt like I wasn’t alone and that I was drawing in from the common pool of the people’s reactions: their laughter, their snigger, their gasp, their pin drop silence in a particularly poignant scene. I felt connected to the audience, even though we haven’t shared physical space. It might appear as a lonely movie watcher’s moment of validation but it also hit home that partaking of pop culture can never be an isolated experience. Culture is immersive, experiential and participative, and it can only thrive when allowed to be reviewed, remixed and recalibrated.

***  ***

You remember the unexpected joy of borrowing a book from the school library or paying 30 rupees for a second-hand book and then finding notes on the margins? I have had the pleasure of experiencing several such moments. The dedication on the flap of old books would feature a birthday / graduation / season’s greeting, along with the name of the “gifted” and the year, and I would scour telephone directories to see if any matches turned up. It was a thrill to hold books that was read, felt and experienced by someone else, and then be privy to their thoughts as they jotted down notes in the margins.

Me writing this post as a means of stretching that singular experience, in this case, watching a film that was available online – and waiting for my readers to share their thoughts on my experience tonight, is just another example of this principle of culture.

Over to you, now.


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