In a first of its kind cinematic event, theatre chains in Mumbai have been adding shows for Avengers: Endgame around the clock over the last two days to meet the startling demands of fans. There are shows from the wee hours of the morning all the way up to 3 AM at night. This sort of mania really gives new meaning to terms like 'event film' and 'first day first show'.
I arrive at a suburban Andheri Multiplex, suitably caffeinated, at 4:30 AM for the 5 AM show – the earliest one I could get tickets for. I'm half expecting someone to come and tell me this was all some elaborate prank because there's no way people are actually turning up this early. I was wrong. Outside the multiplex, there are groups of eager fans taking pictures with the movie poster to mark their presence on social media, and mainly to show off what they're watching and more importantly, when.
It's a full house. There's already a good 20 people here half an hour before showtime. As we creep closer to showtime, 20 becomes 50 and before long the entire lounge area is bursting with life without a yawn in sight. As the numbers and commotion rises, another wave of phones start popping up through the crowd, capturing the scene around them. I'm sure many of them must have been told they are totally nuts for coming to a 5 AM show (I can relate). But this is a badge of honour they are proud to flaunt.
Scanning the crowd, that appears to be mostly below the age of 25, I count at least 20 MCU-themed T-shirts. From several of the standard designs like the Avengers 'A' and Captain America shield (not ashamed to admit I have one myself) to Thanos' gauntlet, it's a complete Marvel fashion show on display. My personal favourite was a simple black tee with the silver Black Panther necklace around the neckline.
While I expected a whole bunch of hooting from this crowd through the screening, the first cheer comes earlier than I expect – when the usher announces the screen doors are open. As I walk to my seat, 3D glasses in hand, the group next to me discuss their efforts to dodge spoilers so far. I imagine this will be a challenge for many of us till it's safe to publicly discuss the contents of this film.
As the hall fills up, the next wave of phones come up for the customary 'I've taken my seat and the hall is packed' selfie which is so sacred these days.
The trailers begin and we start with Bharat. Because sure, why not? This leads to another eruption of hoots and cheers – another one I didn't expect. I can't tell if these are actual Salman fans or everyone just responding to pure adrenaline. Either way, it proves to be a strangely effective energiser for what's to come.
The film begins and all of us entirely forget the audience around us. We become collectively transfixed, clinging onto every line, frame and scene unfolding on screen. We think and move in unison, the umms, aaahs and laughter come as one. I could argue that this is not only the best, but also the only way to watch this movie.
The interval comes and as I walk out to re-caffeinate, I begin to see tired faces and the odd yawn. The time of day is catching up with them, as is the 3-hour runtime. In the snacks queue, I hear people dismissively discuss how they're friends have a 7.30 AM show, as that is somehow lesser. We reconvene in our seats and get immediately thrown back into Endgame. The shared emotions remain.
When finally, the credits roll, nobody moves. Partly because of the anticipation of an end credits scene but also, I'd like to think, down to us sitting there, processing what we just experienced. The MCU has infused in us a stubbornness to remain seated. A great mark of respect for all those who've worked on the film but a nightmare, I imagine, for theatre staff waiting to prep for the next show.
As we walk out, a group next to me take turns in comparing how much each of them cried. Meanwhile, the lounge area remains packed with more eager fans. Different faces, same excitement. The usher announces the doors are open and there's another massive cheer from the crowd. A sound, I imagine, the multiplex will be hearing for days on end.
It's a strange feeling walking into a movie theatre in the black of night and coming out to broad daylight. It feels fitting somehow, mirroring the close of one chapter of the MCU and the start of a new dawn for this franchise, this universe and for us.