December 18, 2022

Cinema, TV viewing habits changed during to the lockdown

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he return to normalcy after the coronavirus scare has affected many aspects of life and one wonders whether the impact will be of a permanent nature or just a temporary one.

It will be some time before a proper understanding of its consequences on human expression can be fully comprehended. The way it affected human behaviour and the life’s normal pattern has come more to the fore than the deeper impact on the way we look and perceive our experiences and the totality of life in general.

If one has to look for illustrative examples, probably the Indian films industry, one of the biggest, has been struggling to come out of the phase and regain its usual momentum. The blockbusters have been struggling more than the other production units or releases because of the huge costs. The scale itself is so big that variation in even a single factor dramatises the impact and one is forced to take notice of it.

The bigger screens, the bigger projections have been the signature impression of cinema. It has always been large than life and the impact of it on the audiences, too, has been overwhelming because of its scale. It overawes and makes one feel its impact even before one is able to analyse what happens in the darkness of the cinema hall. The privacy, if it can be called so, is huge. It is created by the magic of the cinema and the spell that it casts, guaranteeing an absolute and willing suspension of disbelief.

The biggest challenge for cinema has always been to pull people out of the comfort of their homes and make them pay for the show. The twin challenges were more than neutralised by the ever growing influence and scope of television. Now the digital means have made the visual-ware available in the palm of one’s hand, making it even more immediate and lazily convenient than the comfort of the bedroom.

It is being said that the days of beaming are also over. This is being replaced totally by streaming. Whatever little that television controlled, like timing of programmes, and its scheduling will also go away as the streaming of it will make it possible for the people to view it according to their convenience.

This convenience was thought to be offset by the more wholesome impact through the bigger screen and the lack of any distraction augmented by the coldness and darkness of the hall. It was all geared to one end and the many distractions as in a home viewing were not there to imperil the purity of viewing. The cinema also was in full control as the audiences were at the mercy of the scope of the film. There were no means to control the pace and the movement of what was happening on the screen as it started to happen in the comfort of the home.

The small gadget of stop, play at will, slow motion, rewind and fast forward put all the controls in the viewer’s hand, thus revamping the helplessness, the alluring helplessness or the abandon to swing with the tide back in your hands.

This lack of control had the magic and the lure of being led away to ease into the experience of cinema but the always-in-control syndrome has empowered the audience while lessening the impact of the experience. This makes it totally different in terms of the curve of experience of the artistic response in the two areas that are being considered. One wonders what is that is being placed above the other.

The greatest cinema viewing public is in China. The largest number of cinema halls and the huge numbers who saw the films, either local or foreign - probably dubbed or sub-titled - till the beginning of the pandemic were still a communal experience. The Covid-19 changed all that as the Chinese were more particular about the Covid safety rules and imposed those strictly. The zero-Covid tolerance forced many people to protest against it. It appears that some of the most stringent measures have now been scaled back.

What happened to cinema in these months and years is not known - or not known to the outside world - but it must have resulted in the closure of public spaces. It matters to cinema because the Chinese being the largest viewing number, any change will have a huge reaction to the cinema industry itself. In the face of a shrinking economy and viewing numbers, the wisdom of incurring huge costs will be reviewed many times over. One has to wait a little longer to fully assess the more permanent nature of the change.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

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