These days, you have an assortment of entertainment options to choose from; you can now pick what you watch. Of late, I’ve met people who say that having choices is stressful in itself. I’m often asked: “Hey, I’ve got a subscription to Netflix but don’t know what to watch. Any suggestions?” There are those who like to control what they watch or listen and those who don’t. It’s a matter of temperament.

The former will subscribe to Netflix, watch documentaries on free sites like documentaryheaven.com, binge watch illegal downloads and surf YouTube. YouTube is interesting: it gives you a sense of randomness mixed with total control; you wade through the chaos, not knowing what you’ll find next, but ultimately it’s you doing the wading, so you feel you’re in control of your viewing destiny. Then there are those for whom entertainment is about sitting back and letting go. You spend the better part of your day in the driver’s seat; it’s the last thing you want to do on a Sunday, or at night, before you sink into sleep.

There are times when I like to control what I watch, but more often than not I’m quite happy to lean back and go with the flow. The joy of this is captured in the simple phrase, repeated in countless pop songs: “and the song comes on the radio”. In sweet surrender lies the simple pleasure of chancing upon something new or familiar—a song or TV show that you’d once loved, and long forgotten about.

I’m also an incorrigible flipper of channels—research shows that men tend to hog the remote and surf more while watching television. Choice means that we are multitasking even while watching TV. Thus, I could be watching a prime time news debate, a football match and Nashville all at the same time. I’m quite happy to let someone else curate the content, as long as I have the freedom to choose from within what’s been chosen for me. If I like independent music, I will listen to BBC Six Music. I trust those guys. I usually like whatever they play, and when a new track comes on that I really dig, I can always research the band later and follow up on what the radio played.

In all the choices available to us today, where does the movie theatre stand? Going to the movies is like going to the library to read a book. You give your full attention to what’s happening on the screen. At home, while watching a film, there will be distractions: the doorbell or the phone will ring, you might pause the film in order to dash off a quick email. In a movie hall, the film demands that you concentrate, which is the way it should be.

Cinema theatres are not new to us — they’ve been around for over a hundred years. There have been improvements in sound and picture quality, and the seats are more comfortable, but the experience itself is time-worn. And with the alternatives available now, less people are going to the movies. Karan Johar has spoken of “the crisis of losing footfalls and increasing budgets.” I recently had a never-before experience in a cinema hall. Nowadays, multiplexes have this rule that they won’t screen a film unless there is a minimum of ten people – they say they cannot recover the costs otherwise. In this particular case, I managed to convince the manager to screen the film for me and my mother. The manager warned us: most people, he said, feel spooked watching a film alone. I, on the contrary, thoroughly enjoyed the private auditorium experience without the distractions of the audience giggling, whispering, crunching and munching.

My mother, though, turned to me and said, “It does feel a bit weird.” I realised then that in the atomised world we live in, watching a film together is one of the few communal experiences we have left. This is the reason why Indians turn out in droves to watch Salman Khan during Eid and Aamir Khan during Christmas. There are times we want to lose ourselves in the crowd, and the movie hall is still the safest, cosiest place to do so.

Image Courtesy: Alamy