Watching movies has always been my most favourite pass time. Movies have the power to take you out of the daily grind and transport you to an altogether different, imaginary but so believable universe. As the pandemic hit the world, like most people, I switched to watching movies through streaming platforms like Netflix as going to movies became next to impossible with various forms of lockdowns that we have been through over the past year and a half. I wanted to watch last year's Oscar-winning movie "Parasite" at the theatres as it was released right at the beginning of the pandemic in Singapore. I thought through it and felt it would be too risky to go to a movie theatre and instead purchased the movie on Apple TV and enjoyed it at home. I was waiting for the right moment to come to be back to the movie theatre. Eighteen months and two vaccinations later I could master the courage to go to a movie theatre to be seated among the strangers to watch a movie, the way it was meant to be, with people in a theatrical environment.
When Marvel's "Black Widow" got released earlier this month, I thought this was the right movie to enjoy in the theatre though I could have streamed it using my Disney Plus subscription paying a premium to watch it at home. Marvel movies are cinematic experiences as the name Marvel Cinematic Universe justifies. So, I decided to take the plunge. There are so many good movies in the pipeline waiting to be released, I thought let's start with this one.
I had a unique experience. I purchased the ticket online using my mobile phone. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an option to watch the movie in a "fully vaxed" hall meaning only people who have taken two shots of their vaccination and fourteen days have gone by since vaccination can watch the movie in this hall. I thought this was a great idea. I purchased the ticket and a snack online to be pleasantly surprised that fully vaccinated movie-goers get a complimentary drink with the purchase of popcorn or a snack.
When I reached the movie hall, the staff asked me to show my vaccination record as I have chosen the "fully vaxed" hall. I showed them the record through an app in precise detail. I was ushered into a hall that could easily be hosting more than two hundred people. I was not surprised to find myself to be the first person to reach the hall as it has happened many times before when I am the first one to enter a hall and I see people forming a beeline to enter and most irritatingly, people who come after the movie has started and almost stamp on your feet as they try to find their seats in the pitch-black darkness of the hall. I always thought, "How could they miss the trailers? The trailers are sometimes better than the actual movie you are watching!"
I soon realised to my utter astonishment that no one else was coming into this huge hall. One after another trailer went by and I realised that I would have this unique and undesirable experience of watching a movie completely by myself in an empty hall. Over the last five decades of my life, I had many bizarre experiences at the movie halls but nothing like this. I remember more than 20 years ago, I read really good reviews about the movie, "The Bridges of Madison County" and then when I went to the hall and started watching the movie, I found surprisingly that I was the only male spectator in the entire the hall with every other viewer being women for that show! I remember going to see "Saving Private Ryan" and finding the entire hall full of people sobbing through the movie and I was sad but could not find any tears emanating from my eyes. I also landed up watching a movie, the name of which I cannot recall after so many years, where somehow it seemed to me that I was the only adult viewer for what turned out to be a great children's movie.
Here I was all alone by myself with a Marvel hit. In other times, I would have appreciated this 'Royal' treatment of getting a hall completely 'reserved' for myself but not at this time. We had an incident where an aircon overhead unit fell in a movie hall a few months back due to lack of usage. I constantly looked over my head as that seemed to be a bigger concern than the antics of Scarlett Johansson & Florence Pugh on the screen. I remembered years ago watching "Chokher Bali" at a Kolkata cinema hall with mice running around the theatre. I did not expect mickey and his friends here but who knows what if they made their home here taking advantage of the months of quarantine by the humans and after all this is a Marvel movie and MCU is now owned by Disney! I dreaded the dark background scenes with no one around, in front or behind me. It was spooky and not enjoyable. I thought of leaving a few times to just go back home and stream it on Disney Plus. I looked for my Apple TV remote to fast forward the movie and soon realises how hooked I have now become to streaming and real-life cannot be fast-forwarded!
Movies are to be enjoyed with people. I thought at the beginning of walking back and asking the staff to shut down the movie, why waste so much electricity for one viewer and why not just place me in some other hall with the "non-vaxed" people? That would have been the right thing to do as everyone is focused on ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) nowadays! Then I realised that it may be too difficult for the staff to move me to a different hall with their complex computer programmes just to cater to my wish to be surrounded by humans and decided to tolerate more than two hours of "torture" of being marooned at the hall only to be rescued at the end of the movie when the cleaner walked in to collect the garbage. I never recalled being so happy to see a cleaner in my life! I remember last year a lady passenger had taken selfies with the flight crew when she found out that she was the only passenger in the entire plane. I did not even have anyone to take a selfie in the empty, dark movie hall! I remembered the famous lines from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
"Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony".
(The "sea" should be replaced by the "movie hall" for my situation)
Like billions of people around the world, I do want to take my life back from this monstrous virus. I want to go back to the movie halls, go back to travelling and go back to the days of pre-pandemic days when so many of lives' precious mini pleasures we had simply taken for granted. Simple things like going to a mosque to say a prayer is now considered a privilege which was once just a routine or having a coffee with a friend at a café with some wholesome intellectual conversations as we famously call it ''adda" in Bengali.
While we now appreciate the simple gifts of life more than ever before, I do hope that the post-pandemic future is not a lonesome one for a few rather it is one where we are all together enjoying the future that unfolds for us. Let the future be full of people around the world enjoying the beauty of life while we pause to remember those that were snatched away so cruelly from us.
Like all others, I am also waiting for that day to arrive sooner rather than later.