By Kausambhi Majumdar
It is a general perception that watching a movie in the theatre should be a collective experience—you go with your friends or family. After all, a theatre hall is a community space. And if you don’t have the necessary “company”, you jugaado-fy the movie from somewhere online and watch it in the comfort of your home.
But what if I want to watch a movie on the big screen with its amplified surround sound effect, like it ought to be? What if I don’t find the requisite chaperone or company for the said movie, because they don’t have the time or are simply not interested in my choice of movie? I’m in my twenties. I’m more than old enough to get married, have a kid, vote, drive, drink, make financial investments, buy a car, buy a house (not necessarily in this particular order). So what makes me deny myself this simple pleasure of watching a movie in a theatre simply because there is no one to accompany me?
A couple of months ago, I undertook a small experiment to face my inhibitions and understand the anxieties associated with sitting in a movie theatre without any company for two straight hours. Honestly, it was driven by a stubborn will. I was looking forward to watching Suicide Squad since I caught the trailer a year before. It was quite difficult to resist slow-mo trailer with Panic at the Disco’s rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ playing in the backdrop. It’s a different story that the movie was an utter disappointment—the trailer turned out to be cooler than the movie. From the (misleading) trailer, I gathered that this was a movie with special effects and a heart-thumping background score that you would only experience in a theatre and not on your laptop. Watching it on a lesser-sized screen would kill the entire essence of the movie.
As luck would have been, I could not find anyone to go along with me. I had the option of taking my parents, but I was not very keen on having Harley Quinn strut about in her flashy hot pants and go “Puddin’!” on the big screen with them sitting next to me.
I came up with three obvious problems that may/will arise if I decided to watch the movie alone in the theatre:
1. Uncomfortable loneliness that will hit me in a dark theatre with strangers around me.
2. Intimidated by the crowd of strangers.
3. Fear of my safety reinforced by stories and news reports that bad things happen in the dark.
The first one could be a problem only during the interval. I had my phone to keep me company for that. Having been used to travelling through public transport (read: Mumbai local trains), I won’t say I’m comfortable, but I can put up with sitting for two hours among a crowd of strangers. The third problem was trickier to deal with than I anticipated. More so, because it was a point of contention between me and my folks at home when I told them about my plan.
To my parents, the probability of being subjected to unpleasant instances was quite high as the dark enclosed space and the close physical proximity would act as enablers for a potential perpetrator. Also, in the dark, it would be hard for me know who the trouble makers are. For me, the way to handle the third problem was to bring the experience of going to the theatre alone within the same scope of travelling in public transport or walking on the streets alone. The probability of perceived danger was, in all these cases, almost equal. The hazards of physical proximity and the enclosed space of a multiplex theatre were somewhat similar to being at the receiving end of someone getting too handsy in an overcrowded bus and not knowing who the culprit is. I was as vulnerable in that theatre as I was on the streets. I would take care of myself the same way I did whenever I stepped out of the house. The counterargument was this: Going out of the house was unavoidable whereas going to the multiplex alone was something that can be done without. One less hazard. Why add one more scenario where I have to always watch my back? Why make myself more vulnerable?
I was careful in selecting my seat away from the shadowy corner seats and somewhere near the open areas and with fewer people surrounding me. However, this did not help me much as I put forward my case. Despite everything, I went ahead with my plan.
On that weekend, I was the solitary woman in the dark multiplex hall. A bit of anxiety popped in my head when the security at the entrance looked at me and asked, “Single ticket?” I appeared to be nonchalant and went right inside. The conversation at home had pumped me enough to be overly cautious of everything I did. The hall was crowded with college-going kids and families with bawling babies. It was not fun watching a movie with my mind on the edge. I was overtly careful not to bump my elbows and knees against the person sitting next to me, lest I had to get into an unwarranted conversation with them. I was unable to disengage myself from my combative state of mind. The movie turned out to be terrible and did not help in distracting me. The interval was more awkward. I ran out of things to do on my phone. Instead of feeling gratified, I came out of the hall feeling more aggravated than I had anticipated.
As it turns out, the experience became a one-off instance. My choice of movie was enough to detract me from going on another solo expedition to the multiplex. Also, it is annoying to watch a movie when you are anxious and imagining defensive and offensive manoeuvres to tackle a hand sneaking up to you from somewhere or if someone tries to get overtly friendly and cross over to your personal space. It is enough to say everyone at home was quite relieved to hear me say this out loud once I got back from the movie.
However, at the end of that day, I had a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. Irrespective of a movie being good or bad, I would have still liked the option of going out to see a movie alone. I found it stifling, the pervading sense of paranoia associated with being alone, especially as a woman. It is a turn off to be constantly on the lookout for some impending doom on my “modesty.” It is tiring to fight this fight every time I decide to go out alone. To be constantly anxious about my safety is exhausting, to me as well as to the people who care about me. My own anxiety had turned into fear, which then morphed into paranoia and got the better of me. I wanted to stop counting the odds that were against my safety. But I was finding it quite hard to do so. All these took the fun out of the whole venture.
I have wondered, after all these months, whether the anxieties that crept in my mind while watching the movie were part of the process of dislodging myself from my comfort zone. It was my first time watching a movie alone in the theatre, and how often have our first attempts lived up to our high expectations? Quite rarely.
I shared my experience with a couple of my girlfriends, who then directed me to their other female friends who have been going to the movies alone. The initial motivator for them was the same as mine: We were all very keen on watching a particular movie and could not get someone to go along. Their very first experience was similar to mine, although not to the same heightened intensity as mine was. One of them, Aditi (24), started going on solo movie trips after a disappointing experience of watching Black Swan with her friends—it was not exactly their genre of movie. When she told me about her initial apprehensions, they sounded quite familiar to me: her major concerns were about safety and “untoward advances which people tend to offer to single women”. Also, I found out that I was not alone in feeling awkward during the intermission and in general during the entire duration of the movie. Another friend, Rohini (26), admitted that it does “get a little weird during the intermission as there is nobody to talk to”. Given the initial jitters, I asked them both whether they would go out again to watch a movie by themselves. They both agreed that given similar circumstances, they would not mind doing it again.
It then hit me. Won’t taking the easier way out be a precursor for everything I do? This would mean that I would have to be dependent on family and friends whenever I wanted to go out. Every time I wanted to do something, I would have to wait for someone to clear up their calendar for me or think whether this particular person would be interested. How would I ever get a chance to do something on my own? What about going to the bookstore or going to the cafe just because I wanted to be by myself? What if I wanted to have some alone time? What if I wanted to temporarily get away from everything and everyone, maybe just for a couple of hours?
If I had thought along these lines before, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy my experience while watching Suicide Squad. Maybe then I would have let myself settle in and savour the feeling of not being tethered to another person and their whims and moods, which was my initial intention. Although, I haven’t found a movie enticing enough to compel me to go to the multiplex alone again, I have gone out to the neighbourhood cafe on my own (with a book in hand), to the mall, and to the other end of the city to an indie bookstore because I wanted a specific book that was available only at that particular place. All this while, I have not stopped being cautious. However, I’m slowly learning to balance the anxiety with the joy that comes with being on my own. With each successive outing, it has become a little bit easier.