It’s not that I have not invested in experiences before. I hadn’t really given it much thought or importance, as I often used to do what I loved to do without worrying about materialism. It’s the reason why I recently spent a lot of energy and time to get an old wristwatch repaired even though I know most watches excel at their chief job. It’s why I printed my own set of Cards Against Humanity. It’s also why I frequently visit film festivals even though I’m just a cinema enthusiast. At these film festivals, people glare at me in disbelief when I tell them that I came all the way from Mumbai just to enjoy films.
But these days I have been forced to give it a thought. Maybe it comes with age. Maybe it comes with rising inflation. Maybe it comes with declining income. Maybe they’re all the same thing.
And a good example of a worthy experience is of watching Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion, a 2022 Indonesian gothic horror film directed by Joko Anwar. It was during the 2022 International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Trivandrum last December. I had never heard of Joko Anwar but I knew about Nishagandhi Auditorium, one of the largest open-air auditoriums in Kerala’s capital city.
The problem with Indian film festivals is that the schedule is released only a few days before the start of the festival. This makes planning your days difficult, especially if you’re travelling from another city or state.
Nonetheless, when I saw that a 120-minute horror movie was premiering at midnight on the fourth day of the festival in a large open-air auditorium, I booked a seat without even reading its synopsis or knowing what Satan’s Slaves 1 was about. Watching a movie in an open theatre at midnight in Kerala, where most stores shut by eight and local people go horizontal an hour later was an extraordinary novelty. I wouldn’t miss that chance. The fact that it had only one show in the festival’s eight-day schedule made it even more special. You see, some films have two or more shows in a festival so that viewers can avoid overlaps and have more options to watch them. Some films, often rare, only have a single show. As was the case here.
On 12 December 2022, first I spent two hours in a queue to watch the premiere of Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam (2023) at Tagore Theatre. Then I think I either walked or took a festival shuttle to Sree theatre to catch G Aravindan’s 1978 classic Thampu. I still had about three hours for Satan’s Salves 2. I don’t exactly remember what I did during those spare hours but I must have gotten some food. Then at around 10.30 PM, I walked to Nishagandhi from Thampanoor bus station, an easy three-kilometre tramp.
The novelty of seeing a huge crowd in Kerala at 11 PM shuffling, chitchatting, eating, sipping, and waiting hit me harder than I had thought it would. In my native Muvattupuzha, at 11 PM even a spat with a rickshaw driver would see only the driver and his shadow.
There are at least two narrow entrances to the expansive Nishagandhi auditorium. While it was originally a fully open playground, it now has a curved ceiling made of metal sheets. It’s almost like a Greek classical amphitheatre with elevated steps for the audience, with a capacity of 2,500 or more. I had already watched the opening film Tori and Lokita (2022), The Whale (2022), and Triangle of Sadness (2022) in the auditorium, so I found what I believed to be the best seat. See if you can spot me in the photo below. Mathrubhumi reported the turnout was a whopping 4,000, and you can see many sitting on the steps.
And then at 12 AM, it began. Lights out, waves of people around me, and a few whistles as the production logos began to appear. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t bothered to watch its trailer or watch its prequel. The opening sequence of a man being escorted by the police in a cramped state vehicle to an eerie place is a moving image I still remember. The biggest upside of attending film festivals is that the audience is mostly considerate and not irritating family guys with annoying toddlers at their toes. I can still sense the darkness and stillness around me at Nishagandhi as I stared into the screen oscillating between the subject in the middle of the screen and the subtitles below. I think the subtitles were yellow or they were white and the ambience somehow made them look yellow.
Because this was a film festival, the entire film ran without a break. If I had cried at the end of Tori and Lokita and The Whale or felt like I should crash land on a Thailand beach after watching Triangle of Sadness, Satan’s Slaves 2 gave me goosebumps. And it was not a climax-exclusive quality. I remember being blown away by the visuals quite a few times and I think it had a lot to do with the setting. The film itself is not extraordinary but for horror enthusiasts, it’s a treat. A guy fainted during the screening and he had to be rushed to the emergency room.
It was then the best cinema experience I had ever had and it still is. This is one reason why I believe that cinema screens will never go out of business.
More recently, something burned in me when a friend forwarded a tweet announcing that a few popular films by Christopher Nolan were to be screened in select PVR-Inox theatres across India in anticipation of his latest opus. My instant thought was about Inception, his 2010 mind-bending blockbuster that I had already watched three times. It didn’t take much for me to book a seat, travel all the way to the other side of the city on a Tuesday, and spend 3 hours in a closed theatre that gave me another experience worth cherishing.