The Front Row

For Film Connoisseurs

Anupama Chopra is a film critic and author. She tweets @anupamachopra
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A new multiplex attempts to break out of the fast-food-joint-with-a-screen mould

PVR’s Director’s Cut, India’s first ultra-luxurious multiplex, was launched with a glitzy party last week. The cinema, located at Delhi’s Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj, is a Rs 20 crore passion project for the Bijli brothers—Ajay and Sanjeev.  It has four screens, each with a different décor but all resembling sumptuously furnished jazz clubs.  Only, these come with 180-degree reclining seats, tables, and blankets in case the air-conditioning interferes with your movie-watching experience. The lobby includes a wine bar, a patisserie, a fine dining restaurant and the country’s first bookshop devoted to cinema—I was thrilled to see my Shah Rukh Khan book displayed prominently alongside special edition DVD packs and kitschy Bollywood cushions.

The lounge has special seating pods where movie lovers can dissect films over cordon bleu cuisine.  Since Rascals or Azaan are unlikely to stir debate, PVR is introducing its Director’s Cut Rare programme, which will screen independent films that you wouldn’t regularly find in the theatres: Asif Kapadia’s acclaimed documentary Senna  as well as Johnny Depp’s The Rum Diary, based on the Hunter S Thompson novel.  “This is meant for the movie buff,” Ajay Bijli said. “The person who is looking for content, technology, comfort.  We want to create a serious cinema audience.”

So, Director’s Cut Rare movies will be screened without an interval.  Waiters serving food at your seat is one of the many amenities offered, but they might halt it during Rare screenings because you really can’t dig into your truffle pizza as Ryan Gosling stomps a man’s head to pulp in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.  All viewers will have the option of using a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sticker, which will ensure that no one interrupts you unless you want him or her to (many purists consider the idea of eating meals while watching a movie abhorrent; one writer said to me: “Multiplexes are essentially fast food joints with screens attached.  Mere aur audience ke beech mein yeh thaali kahan se aagayi.  Yeh toh badtameezi hai.”).

I didn’t have time to see a film, but we checked out a few trailers.  I have to admit it was great fun to sink into a big seat, get under a blanket and watch Tom Cruise save the world in Mission: Impossible IV while waiters hovered around—not unlike first class on a premier airline.  The trouble is that first class doesn’t come cheap and therein lies the rub.  Tickets at Director’s Cut range from Rs 500 to Rs 850 depending on the time of the day and week that you choose to see a film.  Which makes it the country’s most expensive cinema hall.  So yes, it is meant for the movie buff, but only from a certain demographic.

Is that problematic? Lyricist-writer Prasoon Joshi, who attended the launch, told me that such spaces worry him.  “This is a manifestation of the two Indias,” he said. “Bollywood was a great equaliser and the cinema was where everyone met.  The only difference was the stalls and balcony.  But now, instead of bridging the social divide, Bollywood is contributing to it.  Cinema is a business of art, so you have to raise these questions.”

I agree.  But for me, Director’s Cut is far less problematic than a Hermes store in which a sari costs Rs 4 lakh or a five-star hotel in which suites rent for more than Rs 1 lakh per night.  My hope is that Director’s Cut becomes a cultural hub and attracts so many footfalls that Ajay and Sanjeev put their next project on the fast-track—a cinema that routinely shows left-of-mainstream movies, hosts film festivals and also has a book store, café, knowledgeable ushers and affordable ticket prices (the inspiration is the wonderful Arc Light cinema in Los Angeles).  There won’t be any waiters or blankets, but my feeling is that we won’t miss them.