My friend, who lives on the 21st floor, and owns cinema theatres in 40 cities across India, was telling me this morning of the elaborate precautions he had been taking for the release this Friday of Deepika Padukone’s new film, Chhapaak.
“We will be showing the film at all our theatres,” he said, sipping Chivas Regal whisky.
“That is very thoughtful of you,” I said, drinking my fresh lime soda.
“You see, we are taking no chances. We understand many people are buying the ticket and then not coming for the film because they are upset with Ms Padukone,” he said, rolling his Havana cigar which he gets flown in every morning via Madrid.
“Naturally, you have to play it safe,” I said, holding the lighter for him.
“There has been some glitch in the computers, because thousands of people seem to have bought the same ticket, for the 6.50 pm show on Friday in Vadodara, but my engineers are looking into it,” he said, while responding to a message on his phone from one of his software engineers.
“That must be a printing error,” I replied.
“Even if hundreds of people come to see the film and demand the same seats, we can make alternative arrangements,” he said. “We can invite them to the lounge where we will live-stream the film. But if they want to boycott it, they can go to the lounge on the right side, where we will be showing Omung Kumar’s PM Narendra Modi on a loop. You see, that film has no plot line, as it is like a new wave film where the beginning, the middle, and the end are not necessarily in that order. So we will also offer free dhokla and chai to the audience.” He said offered me some pakodas.
“That’s wise thinking,” I said, dipping the pakoda in sweet tamarind chutney.
“We are aware that some people may want to see Chhapaak and are sitting right behind seats A8, A9 and A10, which so many people seem to have bought for the same show. It is a remarkable coincidence, but when Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, and PV Sidhu watch the same speech by the honourable prime minister at the same time and they express identical tweets, it is indeed possible for many people to buy the same seats at the same time. But we are Indians, and we have to adjust if more people have the same tickets; they should stand in the queue, like they did during demonetisation, and they shouldn’t complain while our soldiers are dying on the border,” he said, sipping the adrak chai.
“Indeed, our younger people no longer understand patriotism,” I said, waiting for my cup of tea to cool down.
“Those who go in and out of the film will have missed the first few minutes when the national anthem is played. But we are giving them the opportunity to sing the national anthem outside the hall, as they wait to enter after others have left the three seats,” he said, pointing out the foyer where there would be a real national flag on display.
“You have left nothing to chance,” I said, saluting the flag.
“Those who don’t want to sing the national anthem would be allowed to sing Vande Mataram instead. Since most people don’t know the words, we will have the lyrics shown on the screen, like sub-titled. Unfortunately, we can’t cater for those who can’t read, which would leave out many of them,” he said, “but I hope you understand.”
“You are being very considerate,” I said, taking another pakoda from the plate before it turned cold.
“Another thing we have taken into account of is crowd control. You see, many people are sharing these three tickets, but how do we know if the next lot of people entering are not the same as the first lot? So many are waiting to enter and leave to register their protest, no? So we are going to have those who leave wear wrist bands, like at rock concerts,” he said, showing the tamper-proof wrist bands piled neatly. “They are made in China, top quality.”
“Just like at U2 concerts,” I said, gently touching the wrist-bands.
“You will see, we have thoughtfully colour-coded them – they are all in saffron, and we made sure there was no green band. We have to think of protecting the theatre; business is business,” he said as he unwrapped the bands for me to try out.
“You have to think of the safety of your staff,” I said, nodding.
“The people with multiple bookings are also being careful and complying with the law, as you must have noticed, since they have three tickets with the same number. Had it been five or more, Section 144 would have applied and it would have become a police matter, and we did not want to deal with that,” he said, showing me the note from his lawyer.
“They have thought of everything,” I said.
“But we have to be flexible. If 50 people come carrying rods, cricket bats, hockey sticks, and lathis, and if they want to see the same screening at the same time, even if they do not have valid tickets, we will let them enter and we will close the doors so that other people cannot enter at that time. Even off-duty chowkidars should be able to enjoy films. They can come and go as they want, and we will turn off security cameras at that time. We have to think of their privacy rights, you see. When they leave, we will offer them pakodas and chai, because they work so hard,” he said.
“Indeed, you are following the best practices of Delhi Police, after all,” I said, eating the last pakoda.