India Features

How I Got A Movie Hall In Chennai To Screen A Film I Wanted To Watch; And You Can Too

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Young Dhunu asks her mother, “Why do you work on the farms when the floods keep coming back every year to destroy everything you have grown?”.

Dhunu’s mother replies, “Hard work is my dharma.”

This exchange between a mother and daughter in the movie Village Rockstars made me ask myself, “What is my dharma? What would I keep doing if my work gets washed away every year?”

Well I have the answer now. Movies are my dharma. (I know some of you are nodding as you read this.) And I am here to tell you how we, as moviegoers, can exercise our privileges to support independent cinema (or any other kind of cinema) through personal or public screenings…. It’s time to put your distributor hats on.

Theatre-on-demand service vkaao.com (a joint venture between PVR and Bookmyshow) lets you set up a screening in a theatre near you, invite friends or strangers to buy tickets. If you get a minimum number of seats filled, you have made the screening possible.

Sounds too easy? Turns out it is with a few ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. I accomplished this feat by screening Village Rockstars on October 13, 2018 in Chennai. The directorial debut by Rima Das from Assam got a limited release as no big production house was backing the movie. It was being distributed by Rima and her small team.

The experience of setting up a screening and then having 130+ people turn up for the show was surreal. Plus, I got my 15 seconds of fame by having my name published in “The Hindu” newspaper for this effort. Made my emotional mother (imagine Nirupa Roy of today) proud.

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How did I do it? Can anyone and everyone really do it? What do you need to do to get it right on the first attempt? Is it worth all the effort? If these are some questions, you have, then I recommend you embark on a journey with me and relive the experience.

It was a day devoid of life’s energy. Keyboards in the office were crying out collectively. I was reading an article that had announced Village Rockstars as India’s official selection to Oscars. This piqued my interest. I checked if the movie had released in Chennai. It hadn’t. Disappointed, I was returning to the excel sheet with 2,456 rows of data that were itching to become insights for a manager.

And out of the blue (literally the blue screen of Twitter) I found out about Vkaao.com and checked if there were screenings for Village Rockstars created by some thoughtful soul. There wasn’t one. And so I decided to do something for movies. My dharma. I created a screening. I spoke to my friends who were equally passionate about movies. One of them agreed quickly. There was nothing to lose. I needed to buy one seat to set up a screening. And if I couldn’t get the minimum required seats filled, then I would get a refund. So I would lose nothing and have everything to gain.

I chose Saturday evening as the day and time of the screening. I also consciously selected a multiplex that was closer to the centre of the city. I live in the IT corridor of Chennai, outside the city. So if you’re planning to set up a screening think of these things. It wouldn’t hurt to know your city’s geography.

Think like a businessman. What’s the ideal day and time for this screening to have maximum capacity filled? Is the multiplex famous where people of your city usually go? Do not look to satisfy your comfort but see what will work for a lot of people. Definitely choose an evening slot for the show. We are a lazy generation. The romantics who get up early in the morning to watch a movie are far and few. (I know you are, I am talking about others!)

I picked up the screening URL from Vkaao and pinged my friends, tweeted to my followers, and put it up on my Instagram feed. That should have done the trick right? Wrong. I got five seats filled in as many days. I needed 125 more. Where would I find people who wanted to watch a movie like Village Rockstars on a Saturday evening at 5 pm?

I started retweeting my own tweets every day. And with every ‘RT’ my hope dwindled. Then I did the most unusual thing that a man can do – ask for help. Shedding my towering ego and the burden of inherited patriarchy, I started tagging famous personalities of Chennai in my RTs. I tagged Siddharth (actor), Baradwaj Rangan (film critic) and RS Prasanna (director). They were kind enough to retweet and then the masses flocked to my tweet. Over 1 lakh people eventually saw my tweet. When I saw the engagement numbers of my tweet, the keys on my keyboard broke scene and did a Macarena dance for a few seconds before escaping into reality.

Choose a social media site of your choice. I recommend choosing one you are most comfortable with. You are the campaign manager of this small project and you need to know the arsenal you have at your disposal. I use Twitter profusely and hence chose it. It can be Facebook for you or Snapchat or YouTube or TikTok or LinkedIn (yeah even that). Be shameless in plugging the same content everyday till you get traction. And once you get the initial set of views build on it by talking to every one who supported you. Ask them to tell their friends.

I got close to 80% of the seats filled. Thanks to Twitter. The last 20% though, was hard. And the deadline was fast approaching. My patriarchal mindset kicked in accompanied by my childhood companions – hopelessness and pessimism. I thought of rigging it by buying the rest of the seats. My monthly salary didn’t agree. I kept asking friends and acquaintances but to no avail. And just when I thought the screening would get cancelled, the seats started miraculously filling. I wish I could tell you why this happened but whatever I say will be hogwash. So let’s put it on karma and come to terms with it.

Don’t lose hope, especially when you do not see the possibility of making it happen. Cling onto the last thread of optimism and keep sharing the post everywhere. You will not see results immediately, but you will eventually cross the line.

On October 13, 2018, I watched the movie with 130 strangers. It was a surreal experience to take a pause and realise that I had made this possible. This was my way of supporting independent, quality cinema. Bringing it to the audience. I will admit that there was pressure to like the movie. It was India’s official entry to the Oscars and the critics wrote rave reviews about it. The urge to conform was difficult to tame. So I went inside the theatre wanting to like the movie. I didn’t have to make much effort. It was a very likeable movie.

Pat yourself on the back for making it happen. And on the day of screening go to the movies and fall in love with the world of cinema, again.

Validation from the official movie handle:

Aditya likes to call himself a professional moviegoer. He loves stories, writing and hunting for tech products. You will find him  @_adipatil on Twitter which he calls home. 

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