The Shatterers of Illusions

I wrote a blog post recently about my moviegoing rules. I’m not a particularly disciplined person with a strict regimen that I follow everyday, but I’m quite anal when it comes to cinema and going to the theatre.

If there is one thing I truly believe in, it is the power of cinema. I know this sounds contrived and high-handed, but it is true. I’ve always loved movies since I was three and get super duper hyper when I hear of a new blockbuster or a new film from a favorite director. I always sit in front of the screen, immersed in stories that make me laugh and cry and scared and thrilled. No other artform does that for me.

When I go to the theatre these days, I find myself a soldier in a losing battle against the shatterers of illusions. These are the people who make my fantastical trips substandard and disappointing. I’m talking about the loudmouthed uncle who yaps with his client about settling on a price for something, the romantic couple making fun of the characters onscreen as they make out, the baby who can never shut up and the fat kid with a bright new phone tweeting away about how cool the movie he isn’t watching is.

David Edelstein ranted about this problem on Vulture a couple of days ago, but I wonder why he’s complaining about it now. The devolution of film audiences around the world has happened for a while now, especially after the entry of smartphones, which ensure that even if you keep your phone on silent, you can still be a bloody nuisance. How has this happened? Why don’t we value a break from reality through the movies anymore?

Flavorwire responded to Edelstein’s rant by saying that my generation has grown up with screens in their hands all the time and that they’re used to multi-tasking between different things. I agree to this and the whole lowered attention span syndrome (which I admit to having, although I can still read books unlike a lot of my peers) aspect of it, but there’s something else that I want to bring up. Today’s audiences don’t respect movies anymore.

The generation that grew up on Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Brazil, adult films (a label since attributed to porno flicks), are the parents of my generation. What that means is that most of the movies they go to are with their families, which is why most of today’s blockbusters are PG-13 and targeted more at children (and the children of today are the parents of tomorrow. Sigh).

Today’s generation on the other hand go for the blockbusters because of the gee-whiz action sequences which every bona fide summer movie has to have. Any other scene which involves character development, story and relationships bores them. So they whip out that device which instantly gratifies them with constant entertainment no matter where they are.

The other contribution to this loss of respect lies with the cross platform availability of movies. Up till the 1950s, movies were limited to theatres. Then the television arrived, and then in the late 1990s the PC was born. And then came smartphones, and now streaming and Smart TVs and VOD are available. When you can watch Ben-Hur on your 4-inch screen and are comfortable with it, why would you think that watching World War Z on a forty foot screen is extra special, especially when you can stream it in a couple of months on that 4-inch screen? The value of the big screen spectacle has certainly diminished as a result.

What about talking during a movie? I don’t really have an answer to that one, except the people who do it are a bunch of assholes who have lost the senses of wonder and consideration that make them human. I combat these miscreants with my shushes and shut UPs, but how much more can I wage such a war on my own.

And babies? Keep them at home will you.

I must confess though that I’m no text-free saint myself. I can empathize with people who take a peek at their phones – when your phone buzzes in your pocket, your attention is immediately split between the movie and the possibilities as to who might have messaged you. And you cannot ignore this split mind until you attend to the phone, which you must do so that you don’t miss out on the movie. But that is still no excuse for doing it.

Theatre chains like the Alamo Drafthouse are extremely rare, but they have the right concept about changing moviegoing culture. If you have an experience where you are unceremoniously thrown out in front of dozens of people for using your phone in a dark hall, you’re bound never to do it again. Additionally, I propose a solution that could benefit audiences around the world: the interval.

The interval is a break during movies to allow for audiences to use the restroom or get snacks or whatever they want. It exists in India and used to be present in the US. Yes, it goes against my fundamental principle of watching movies in one go, but it is a way for the audience as a whole to have their cake and eat it too. Ignore your phone until the interval, then use those fifteen minutes to deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.

Or maybe this is a problem that should be dealt in different ways across different cultures. In Indian societies, being derided for one’s behavior in a crowd is quite embarrassing and can shut people up straight away. Maybe that’s why the Alamo simply throws out its irritating customers, because Americans are okay with being shouted at and not caring about it (“It’s a free country!”). Why not simply ensure audiences have their phones switched off as they enter the theatre, just like an airplane? Oh right, it’s kind of extreme isn’t it? What if it’s only temporary? Such repeated behavior can become habitual. Or not.

When I grow up, and if I can afford it, I will build my own private movie theatre with a huge screen and fifty to seventy seats. And I will sit wherever I want, and eat whatever I want, and be immersed completely, without the glow of a smartphone or the echo of a whisper of the person sitting next to me. That would be true bliss.

Slightly edited for grammar because of the Freshly Pressed highlight!

Godzilla Texting

Attribution: GODZILLA BY ~AKMCCLELLAND-JR, CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0

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My Moviegoing Rules

Attribution: We watch only the most popular movies… by ecastro, CC-BY-2.0

I love watching movies, whether on my laptop, television, or the theatre. I don’t visit the theatre often, because of a small alternative called the Internet, but when I do go to the theatre, I follow a set of rules that give me the best moviegoing experience every single time.

I went to Iron Man 3 with a friend a couple of weeks ago and he pointed out that these rules are particularly irritating for anyone who decides to go for a movie with me, which is probably why I watch most movies alone or with people who don’t mind my rules (a select few). Here they are:

  1. It starts with selecting which theatre I want to go to in the city. Chennai has several theatres, but the only one that is worth going to is Sathyam Cinemas, in the Royapettah and Thiruvanmiyur areas of Chennai. I could go into a whole explanation of why they’re the best theatre chain in the city, but that’s bound to bore you. It works for me because of its access, ambience and atmosphere. Oh, and their popcorn is pretty good too. 
  2. I always select my theatre seats in either the second or third rows of any screen and always in the middle or next to the centre aisle. It doesn’t matter whether the movie is in 3D or not, I find that being as up close as possible to the screen is important for the immersive experience that the big screen offers. I find it quite odd that most people jump for the last row in theatres, why would anyone want to be away from the movie? In fact, when I went to Life of Pi with a couple of my friends, I traded a ticket my friend had bought (in the last row, damn him) for a ticket five rows ahead. Yes, I’m that anal about it.
  3. I leave from my place an hour before the movie’s show time because I generally get there by the bus. Because of this inbuilt timing mechanism, if I go with a friend who has a car, or if I go there myself in a car, then I’m always early by at least half an hour. It’s better to go early than to be late; I hate missing any part of a movie, especially its opening scenes.
  4. Putting my cellphone on Silent Mode before the movie starts. Obviously.
  5. Not stepping out of the theatre during the interval if I’m watching the movie for the first time. I always end up coming back too late and the movie starts and like I said, I hate missing any part of it.
  6. I hate people who talk on their phones or amongst themselves or even look at their phones during a movie. I’m the kind of guy who shushes people and tells people to put their phones away.
  7. I only get popcorn for a movie. And Coke if someone else wants it.
  8. I hate watching English movies with subtitles. Not a rule, but a common gripe I guess.

So those are my moviegoing rules, at least habits that I’ve cultivated over the years of watching movies in the theatre. What rules or habits do you have for going to the movies?

My First Blogging Award: The Liebster

Liebster Award

Today I’m extremely excited to announce that I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award, my first blogging award since I started Realiction in 2009, by Julian Froment. The Liebster Award is an unofficial award that is passed through the blogging community from bloggers to bloggers. There is no overseeing authority who doles out prize money or certification and it’s basically a way of highlighting the blogs that you like and that you think have some good writing. Thanks Julian!

Here are the rules for the Liebster Award (I think it’s in that order):

  1. List 11 random facts about you.
  2. Answer the questions that were asked of you (by the blogger that nominated you).
  3. Nominate 11 other blogs for the Liebster Blog Award and link to their blogs.
  4. Notify the bloggers of their award.
  5. Ask the award winners 11 questions to answer once they accept the award.

11 Random Facts

  1. I watch movies in the first five rows of any theatre. I hate sitting at the far back because movies don’t envelop you in their magic when you can see the four corners of the movie screen clearly.  
  2. I have a sporadic gum addiction. I can go for periods of time without gum or consume a pack of gum a day.
  3. My desk is always cluttered with stuff – books, magazines, CDs, gum wrappers, stray papers – until my mother cleans my desk and throws all that stuff into places of her choosing. I hate it when that happens.
  4. I can listen to one song continuously for several days and then just stop listening to that song. I don’t know why that happens.
  5. I can only read poetry, and relish it properly, by reading poems aloud, even when I’m alone.
  6. I eat dinners in front of the TV (yes, I know, it’s a bad habit).
  7. I have an agile dog called Aura that can snatch food off the dining table if left unattended. She’s even eaten two whole blocks of cooking butter and she prowls through the trash sometimes.
  8. I can’t sleep for more than five to six hours because I feel that I’ll be wasting time otherwise.
  9. I recently adopted ebooks as my chosen form of reading.
  10. I haven’t learned to shave yet because I see it as a sign of adulthood.
  11. I arrive at least thirty minutes early for any appointments that I have. I’ve tried to reduce that to five to ten minutes, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far.

The Liebster Q & A

1. What is your favorite book?
Right now, Cloud Atlas, written by David Mitchell.

2. Do you play an instrument? If so, which one?
I play the piano on and off.

3. What is your ideal holiday?
My ideal holiday would be by myself, exploring places on my own, just walking through the streets and taking in the culture with my camera.

4. Which author would you most like to meet (they do not need to be currently alive)?
Ray Bradbury. He’s just the most inspiring writer I know.

5. What is your favourite genre to write in?
I haven’t written enough fiction to have a favorite genre honestly. Every time I try writing in a genre, I get frustrated that I recycle all the tropes of that genre and ditch the piece before it’s done.

6. What is your least favourite book?
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. I’ve tried reading it four times and can’t get past the first chapter. It’s a good book, but we just can’t seem to connect.

7. Do you have siblings, if so which?
I have a younger sister.

8. PC or Mac?
MAC MAC MAC. Every time I come in contact with a PC I’m so irritated by the clutter of the Windows OS and it’s SO SLOW.

9. Do you eat meat?
Yes, I eat all kinds of meat, except for seafood. Seafood’s got too many bones to contend with; one of my grandfather’s friends died because he choked on a fishbone.

10. What is your favourite sport?
I’m not really a sporty person, but I do love table tennis.

11. Do you have a day job?
No day job yet. I’m going to college this Fall.

11 Questions For My Nominees

  1. What’s the worst nightmare you’ve had? 
  2. What time of the day do you prefer to write?
  3. Ebooks or Paperbacks?
  4. Do you follow the news and current affairs closely?
  5. Keyboard or Pen and Paper?
  6. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
  7. What is one movie you can watch throughout a single day over and over again?
  8. When it’s raining, would you run through it or stand and enjoy it?
  9. Do you cook?
  10. How many drafts are stuck in creative procrastination on your blog?
  11. Has blogging made you a better person somehow?

My Nominees

The Award asks you to nominate 11 blogs, but unfortunately I don’t follow so many that have less than 200 followers (I’m not even sure some of them qualify by that standard because I couldn’t find out how many they had). These blogs though inspire me to continue blogging and I’m glad to pass this award on to them. Congratulations!!!

Flying Horizons

Dryad’s Peak

Rockabye Creature

Random Scribblings

filmschoolthrucommentaries

Enchanted pen

With A Side Of Serendipity…

Get Excited And Make Things

Calliopes Lyre

I hope the nine of you accept this award. Thanks again Julian for this delightful honor! It’s a reinforcement that I’m doing something right with Realiction. Here’s to many more enriching posts for me as a writer and for my readers and followers!

My Two Hours With KAL

On Tuesday, April 16th, as I was lazily scrolling through my Twitter feed, this tweet caught my eye:

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 8.40.13 PM

My heart leapt, I couldn’t believe it. KAL, that witty, incisive, magical artist, was descending from his throne up above and interacting with us mortals! This was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. I promptly clicked the link and filled out the Google Form that The Economist had provided. In the space that asked for a single question that I wished to ask, I typed out three:

  1. Over the course of your illustrious career, which of your caricatures has been your favorite?
  2. What’s the most controversial cartoon you’ve ever drawn?
  3. As the world has shifted through various paradigms, how have your caricatures evolved?

And I clicked Submit.

What Happened Next…

Some of you may not know who KAL is, and I feel obligated to introduce you to one of the world’s finest visual satirists. Kevin Kallaugher is a political and editorial cartoonist who has been with The Economist for almost 35 years. His work has also been featured in many other publications, including The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Le Monde. I have always known him by his pseudonym KAL, and I first encountered his work around 8 or 9 years ago, when my dad showed me one of his cartoons in the edition of The Economist that he was reading. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it’s the first thing I turn to with every issue I read. It never occurred to me to find out who KAL was before the Hangout, because I always imagined KAL to be a team of cartoonists who pumped out illustrations every week and since The Economist doesn’t name its journalists and artists, it would be pointless.

A couple of hours after I submitted my questions, I received an email from the Social Media Team at The Economist:

Email

Now, in full disclosure, I didn’t expect this to happen. I thought that my question would be thrown into a long pile of questions that an interviewer would pick at random to ask KAL (yeah, I didn’t realize that these kinds of Hangouts were more than just interviews). But this was something else, I was going to speak to KAL himself, face to face. I was pretty excited. The Social Media Team wanted to chat to run me through what I had to do on the day (two days later, on April 18th). Thanks to the time difference, I would have to chat with them at 1 in the morning.

I start the Hangout with the Team, and I see a brunette on the other side of the chat with a headset in a bright office in New York, but she doesn’t see me, she doesn’t know that the call has started. So I sit there, waiting for her to acknowledge me, while she goes about her work, occasionally looking at the computer screen. I’m afraid to say something at this point, because then she would know that I’ve been spying on her for a bit, and that isn’t a great first impression.

It felt a bit like this…

I close the link and rejoin the Hangout. This time it works and she says, “Hi there, I thought you already joined the Hangout and were secretly watching me work.”

Ha, ha, thought I. Close call. I didn’t say anything in response to that fatuous idea. Her name was Michelle and she ran me through what I had to do on the big day and guided me through setting up what millions of people would see on my screen apart from my face. And that was it.

Preparing for the Hangout

I couldn’t twiddle my thumbs for a couple of days until Thursday, April 18th, 8:00 pm. I had to do some reading up on KAL, get some more varied and interesting questions. The ones that I had submitted were fairly generic and bland. The first thing I saw was KAL’s TEDx talk at Warwick in 2011:

KAL did another TED talk at Jacksonhole, but it’s a more concise version of the above talk (in fact, that talk is actually a rehash of a video he did for The Economist). I then read an interview KAL did with a Warwick student website called The Student Journals. The interview had an Indian kid asking KAL most of the questions I had prepared, so I ditched them. After more “research”, these are the questions I ended up with:

  • If you’ve seen the above video, you’ll know that KAL mentions that Johns Hopkins University scientists wanted to study his brain as he drew his caricatures. I wanted to ask him what they revealed.
  • What other artistic styles does he dabble in (painting, sculpture etc), and how does that influence his cartooning?
  • What does he feel about current online visual satire like memes?
  • Hypothetically, would he program a robot to continue drawing his sketches and congruent images after he passes on, or would he like people to look at his past body of work as moments in time?
  • In January, KAL started a Kickstarter campaign for his latest project Daggers Drawn. His initial funding goal was $20,000, and he received five times that amount. I wanted to ask him what his reaction was to that flood of support, and did he expect that to happen.

The Big Night

On the night of the Hangout, I double checked with Michelle whether I would be able to ask a different question instead of the one of the earlier ones I had submitted. She told me to send in my other questions so that she could give them to KAL, and told me that KAL would probably not be able to answer all of them, which I expected. I also made sure that no one disturbed me during my international broadcast: I switched off my phone, closed all my Internet windows, locked my door, and instructed my sister to make sure Aura, my dog, wouldn’t bark her head off.

Then I joined the Hangout Group Prep where there were five of us privileged fans: a creative consultant, two cartoonists, a management exec, and me. We adjusted our video, audio and even clothes (in my case, because I forgot that you can’t wear your night clothes in front of millions of people).

And then KAL himself joined the Hangout. I had a huge grin on my face. We introduced ourselves to him and informed him about the questions we were going to ask. I had selected the artistic styles question simply because I was interested to know how other art influenced his own, an esoteric question that pertained specifically to him. But really, did the question matter more than me asking it?

Five minutes before we were scheduled to go On Air, the community editor of The Economist, Mark Johnson, joined us and ran through our names. And before I knew it, we were Live, streaming to millions of people around the world (or so I hoped). Here it is:

Now you might notice that during the Hangout, I occasionally shift around and even move uncomfortably off screen at one point, changing the lighting in my room. At the start of the Hangout, I noticed the battery on my laptop read 25%, and Murphy’s Law had prevailed yet again. The lamp that I had connected to the socket had to be removed to charge my laptop, and everyone saw me in, literally, a different light.

Ben Franklin

Backstage Extras

My time with KAL didn’t end with the hour long Hangout; he spent another half an hour with us Off Air to answer some of our other questions, and we spoke about many things, including Daggers Drawn, how to deal with being a political cartoonist while looking at so much chaos, the dichotomy between a cartoonist’s work and his audience, and even an anecdote involving KAL’s time with Dik Browne (creator of Hagar The Horrible). I wish we had more time so that he could’ve answered the remaining questions I had, but I also held back on them because I didn’t think they were serious enough to ask.

The End

And then suddenly, it had to end. I had to say goodbye to a man who makes the world a better place by looking at the cruelties people inflict on others a bit differently. In his words, he’s like a person at a funeral who makes a joke and laughs, and so gets people to smile. Thank you KAL, those two hours were inspiring.

KAL’s website is here. You can check out some of his Economist art here.

Attributions: 

  1. untitled by Dave & Bry, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0
  2. Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis.jpg , PD-US

  3. Kevin Kallaugher.jpg by Nick50000, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Lifecycle of a WordPress Blogger

1. You’re walking on the street, minding your own business, one half conscious of your surroundings, the other following weird trains of thought. And then suddenly you get an idea for a great blog post. You started thinking about that, and a feeling of satisfaction hits your brain.

2. You’re back home, you start up the computer and start typing away. Forget finesse, this is typed up in a mad frenzy, mostly because you’re glad you got the idea because your blog’s been inactive for quite a while. You don’t remember the last time you posted, but that doesn’t matter, you get back into the groove of things.

3. The post is done in its first and final draft. Forget rewriting, you wrote from your heart and you want to get that post out there already! You click ‘Publish’.

4. And then you close the tab and go to Facebook, as if you were uninterested in whether the post gets any responses or not. Five minutes later, the suspense is killing you, and you go back to the Reader. You stare at the blue header line, at the ‘Comments’ icon that’s still blue and white. And then suddenly, it morphs into an orange box with a white star! 1 Like, good for you! You check your Stats, and you’ve got 3 views! Nice!

5. You close the tab again and check your email, where the notification from WordPress is waiting for you. You’re pretty pleased with yourself.

6. The next 24 hours are spent constantly checking those Stats. You want to see if your post is THAT good, which it turns out to be, because you’re followed by two bloggers.

7. Now, once the views have plateaued, you need a new blog post to sustain the new interest in your site. Another 24 hours goes in thinking. But what could it be? None of the ideas you get stand up to the last one you had, and they’re all pretty boring, or they require intense research, something you’re not prepared to do.

8. A week goes by in creative procrastination. No more ‘Likes’ or ‘Comments’ for the old post now. And nothing new yet. You’re desperate, but that only makes things even more difficult. You’re a perfectionist, you can’t just make a haphazard random post for your followers! And so you wait for the right idea…and wait…and wait…

9. A month later, a new idea. And the cycle starts all over again.