No viewing conditions can match the community experience and shared feeling of watching a movie in a picture house, as cinephiles have been reminded in 2020. More so if the movie theatre is Gaiety-Galaxy (or G7 Multiplex as it listed on ticket booking platforms), and the movie Salman Khan fare. I have watched six Salman movies, first-day-first-show, at Gaiety: Kick, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Sultan, Tubelight and Tiger Zinda Hai. Holding these films to Salman-starrer standards, not all of them are good movies per se, and not all of them are blockbusters either. Yet the experience of watching each is surreal and bonkers.
There is a motley crew of people to greet you at the gates of the theatre ranging from hawkers to ticket peddlers. Posters of a wide variety of films adorn the front of the building so that a bona fide megastar is standing next to a B-grade performer, both equally proud, equally righteous, competing for the same eyeballs. You stand in line until the doors open and once inside, you are in Bhai world. There is no place here for half-heartedness or a tongue-in-cheek know-it-all; it is best you allow yourself to enjoy the experience and accept the Bhaigiri in store.
The number of loose-fitting bracelets embedded with a blue stone grows exponentially as you go from floor to floor in search of your seats (the best of which are in the stall, contrary to popular opinion). You can never be the first to your seat because some super-fans will always be found already seated, as if they haven’t left the theatre since the previous movie. Similarly, you can never be the last because the inflow of people is seemingly ceaseless. And then, the cacophony stops. The projector has thrown its first image on the screen. It is usually the advisory notices that are played before the film starts, but even that is enough to temporarily silence the awed onlookers. I say temporarily because eventually, five minutes into the film, Salman Khan graces the screen. Cue bells and whistles. Literally.
It would be a weak crowd if you can hear anything the movie has to tell you – music, fights, or even dialogue – for about ten minutes after Khan first appears. The several different kinds of sounds that can be produced by whistling theatre-goers at Gaiety can put the best flautists and mouth-organists to shame. The jubilance never calms down entirely although Khan and his co-actors are allowed to convey their message more clearly thereafter. The whole picture house is abuzz. If you don’t feel the urge to whistle yourself at every kick, punch and punchline Khan throws, you will at least marvel at the indefatigable enthusiasm of those around you. Once you witness this coming together of the multitude you will not question how Khan can outfight hundreds of goons; it is clear his audience has played a part. They fight with him, they dance with him, they laugh with him, and in the case of Bajrangi or Tubelight, they even cry with him.
Come the interval, you may choose to be seated or experience the magic world of the canteen, for nothing here is ordinary; it is all designed to reel you in as if it were some desi Disneyland. The canteen has no banalities like cheese and caramel popcorn or nachos and fries. It serves cola. And samosas come in crisp paper bags. Most interesting, however, is the creation that you will not find anywhere else on God’s green earth: the ‘cone’dy. The proprietors of the canteen seem to have done fusion food before Heston Blumenthal. They take a choco-bar, remove the stick from it and drop it into a cone. And you thought the films were fantastical.
The second half of the film is much the same as the first, only with more silences since the second half usually has the more tedious bits. Nonetheless, those moments allow the crowd to realise that they are the first show on the first day and that therefore among them could be the star or the stars of the movie. Eager glances are thrown around, excitement is in the air. Goosebumps can be felt as they realise Salman Khan might be sitting behind, in front of, or even beside them. I have never talked to Patrick Stewart or Paul McCartney, but I doubt the experience of being knighted by the Queen is any more surreal than that.
As a matter of course, the second half does not end on the high of the first because the movie has ended and it is time to leave. The fair that is set up outside, however, re-energises the crowd. There are news channel correspondents waiting to swarm the first viewers to step out of the auditorium. Every viewer has the chance, if they be so willing, to give their verdict on the film. It is hard to not say ‘picture hit hai’ after this experience. Perhaps that is the reason for the sharp contrast between reviews of Salman Khan films and their business – reviews must needs stick to the film while the viewers flock to theatres (Gaiety and other similar ones) for the experience.
Once the interview is done one can have a look around the fair. During Bajrangi, small stalls had been set up outside the theatre selling Hanuman pendants like the one Khan wears in the film, ‘holy’ threads, t-shirts, and other knick-knacks related to the film. From entrance to exit, therefore, there is a small industry that has taken birth for the duration of the film’s theatrical run: Bandra’s own Crystal Palace. And it doesn’t go away forever. It is back the next time a Salman Khan film is. And they are there because they know you will be too. Because no movie-watching experience can beat this.
As Khan says, it’s too much fun.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.