An Ode to the Maroon Curtain

A personal essay on going to the cinema in the '90s and how that experience will have changed in a post-pandemic world
An Ode to the Maroon Curtain

It's the '90s. I'm at a single screen cinema with my parents. I'm eating popcorn out of a conical paper cup. It has more flavor than caramel/cheese/salt options available today.

There are no recliner seats but I cannot miss something I have yet to experience.

So, I'm scarfing down my spicy, tangy popcorn waiting for the movie to begin. I don't even know what film I am about to watch, because my parents bought the tickets. I'm just happy to go along for the ride. If I'm lucky I may get to see Karisma Kapoor in some fantastic outfit (she was a fashion influencer before there was Instagram).

I will wait until the car ride home to decide whether the movie was a good one or not. I always overhear my parents discuss the film on the ride home, and their opinions become my own. I haven't learnt to think for myself yet.

The best part about the movie was the beginning. I'd wait to see the lights go dim. Through the glass window in the wall over the seats, a kind man would set reel to frame, a picture in motion.

"Look ahead!" my Mum would say, and I'd turn just in time to see the scalloped curtain. Heavy velvet and gold trimmings, it was the grandest thing. Watching that maroon curtain roll up prepared me for the story about to begin. We didn't have to rise for the national anthem, but the title of the film would appear in three different languages. That felt patriotic too.

I'd usually get cotton candy or ice cream at interval (or both if my father could sneak that past my mother: a real-life Mission Impossible).

I've watched countless movies like this. Sticky fingers, balcony seats, and the curtain rising.


Now it's 2020. My parents ask me to give them Netflix recommendations. Amazon and Hotstar options work just as fine, now that they've figured out how to work a firestick.

Microwaved popcorn and dark chocolate are the snacks we have stocked at all times. These are our new film companions. We are watching movies in our own rooms. Sometimes it takes me three nights to watch one movie. I've watched countless over these last six months. Usually a FaceTime call or an Instagram notification distracts me.

Most of the movies I want to watch aren't even on OTT platforms. I miss the industrious young men of Akbar Ally's in Colaba, National Library in Lokhandwala and Readsure in Juhu Market. They found a questionable copy of any film I could think of.

This month the cinemas halls will slowly reopen. I will sanitize my hands and sanitize my news feed frequently. I might not buy food at the concession stand, I have a mask to wear. I might not go to the movies with anyone, I have physical distance to maintain. I will rise for the anthem, because the cocktail of Hindi-Urdu-English dialogue still await me.

Previews and advertisements may have replaced the curtain, and the diligent gentlemen  (or gentlewomen) handling the reels in the projection room are barely visible. But I will still take my seat, and I won't forget to look ahead!

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