Two weeks ago, Jenny and I attended the local premiere of Rajinikanth’s spectacular and ridiculous new movie, Endhiran. This was our first Rajinikanth experience, but we were quickly initiated into the ritual: cheering and confetti when Rajini makes his entrance, whistles and hoots when the leading lady appears, and applause and shouting and screaming in direct proportion to the creativity of the violence of each scene.
Jenny and I attended this showing because we’re exceedingly nostalgic for India right now. And our experience with Endhiran did indeed bring back memories of good old Saket PVR, where we saw Om Shanti Om, Jab We Met, and, alas, Marigold, that east-meets-west, Salman-Khan-meets-the-blond-from-Heroes flop that is easily one of the worst movies ever made.
The audience at our Denver showing of Endhiran was as participatory as they are in Delhi. And the intermission was similarly jarring. But one significant aspect of Delhi movie-going did not make it across the Atlantic: the theater security. Here, the usher simply took our ticket and let us pass, as they do in most American theaters.
In Delhi, the ushers search you before letting you in. And they search you good.
We assume that Delhi’s ushers were originally deputized with patron-groping powers in order to prevent cinemaphobic terrorists from recreating scenes from Inglourious Basterds. But it seems that their mission has crept from stopping bombs to stopping bon-bons: while Delhi’s theater ushers may be protecting their patrons, they’re equally aggressive in protecting their snack bars’ bottom lines.
In America, Jenny and I usually attend movies with sandwiches, sodas, and bags of already-microwaved popcorn stuffed into her purse. That’s because theaters here believe it’s a battle not worth fighting: anyone cheap enough to sneak food into a theater would never pay five dollars for thirty cents’ worth of carbonated corn syrup anyway.
But in Delhi, anything entering a theater was deemed game for inspection. First they ran their hands up and down the contours of our bodies; then they manhandled the contents of our pockets; and then, having violating our persons, it was time for our possessions. And when they opened Jenny’s purse on that lamentable Delhi evening when we decided to subject ourselves to Marigold—our first visit to a movie theater in India—they immediately spotted our digital camera.
The men who craft security policy for PVR have determined that cameras are just as forbidden as bombs.
And though no rational human would ever want to pirate Marigold, rules are rules, and the busy hands guarding Saket PVR would not let us proceed with a camera in our possession. Our only option was to avail the services of the vendors selling water bottles and mobile phone talk time outside of the theater. We handed one our camera and he handed us a claim receipt, which is how our camera was spared the wretchedness of enduring Marigold.
We walked back into the theater. The ushers repeated their desecration of our bodies and Jenny’s purse. But this time they dug deeper and discovered what had been hidden beneath our camera: a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate, and a bag of Haldiram’s roasted chickpeas.
The ushers looked up at us from our cache of culinary contraband. Their faces showed neither anger nor disdain, but bewilderment: why would we even attempt to bring food into a theater? Didn’t we know we’d be searched? Didn’t we know we’d be discovered? Didn’t we know that the same rules empowering ushers to save lives also extend to preventing unauthorized snacking?
And so we were again turned away. And while we should have realized that Fate was trying to tell us something (specifically, that Fate was shouting at us in 48-point type: “DON’T SEE THIS AWFUL MOVIE!”), we’d paid our money, and we were going to see all the movie.
But we’d also paid for these chickpeas. And we thought we could still salvage them. As I abandoned our chocolate and our water in the market, Jenny surreptitiously folded the Haldiram’s bag and hid it in the sleeve of her sweatshirt. And then she folded her sweatshirt into a ball. And then we approached the ushers once more.
They found the chickpeas immediately. This time, as they looked up at us, I’m pretty sure they were trying not to laugh.
Jenny guiltily handed over the bag. Only then were we finally allowed to proceed into the theater—where, for the next two hours, Jenny and I endured Ali Larter overacting an affirmation of every conceivable negative American stereotype. She was immoral, hyper-sexual, rude, uncultured, uncouth, uneducated, underdressed, loud, loutish, lewd, and capable of downing an entire bottle of vodka in a single night—which she did. Which caused her to pass out on Chowpatty Beach. Good thing for her that Salman Khan had convinced himself that she was a diamond hidden under all that make-up and loose morality. He decided to stand guard over her until morning, presumably not to protect her honor so much as to protect Mumbai from being wantonly ravaged by this insatiable American caricature. And when the sun rose, he began to transform her into a proper and honorable woman.
We emerged from the theater almost grateful for the nausea the movie left us with, because at least it masked our hunger. We’d refused to buy concessions, of course. Which was too bad, because it would have been great to have had popcorn to throw at the screen.