- Ruchi Junnarkar
My family was never a big fan of Drive In cinemas. It’s not the best way to watch a movie, I admit. Not all the individual speakers work, kids run around yelling, and if people lose interest in the movie, they’d sit and chat loudly, oblivious to all the shushing. But I loved going to the Drive In. It was like watching a movie at a picnic, what’s not to like? And by virtue of being the youngest in the family, I was often indulged when we couldn’t come to a consensus on where to go.
A large part of the excitement was from the pre-movie preparations involved when going to the Drive In. Making piles and piles of butter and chutney sandwiches, popping corn on the stove and watching my mother give it her special tadka, peeling lots of oranges, and stuffing all the other packets of snacks we could find into the car. The amount of food one can run through while watching a Bollywood movie is quite remarkable indeed. Then of course, there was the process of loading all the folding chairs, picnic blankets and cushions. Going to the Drive In was always a community affair, with two or three families going together, so everyone brought along everything that would fit. By the time we all squeezed ourselves into the seats, I would be absolutely hyper.
There would be an hour-long queue to get tickets and to go through to the huge plot where all the cars would be parked facing the screen. We’d get there much before the movie started, as did everyone else, and start laying the sheets and chairs. By the time the movie began, we’d have made our way through half the food we’d packed. Watching movies in the Drive In offered us kids plenty of ways to entertain ourselves when the movie got boring. We would chase each other around the lawn, dance right in front of the screen when a good song came, or go up to random families and make friends with other kids. We would sneak up to the cars at the back of the parking lot, pull faces at the young couples looking for privacy and promptly get dragged off and yelled at by our mothers. No movie is good enough to grab your undivided attention when you’re seven years old, so the Drive In was perfect for us.
Sometime along the way though, as multiplexes began popping up all over the city, we stopped going to the Drive In. It wasn’t a conscious decision. The Drive In was just one of those things that fell by the wayside as times changed. Air conditioning became an indispensible need for watching movies, as did surround sound and cheese flavoured popcorn. There had to be a gaming console right outside the theatre. And of course, a great food court. Why pack sandwiches when you can buy nachos?
The Drive In just wouldn’t do anymore.
It’s still there, that Drive In. It even has one of the main arteries of the new city named after it. An iconic landmark that everyone’s heard of. And to my surprise, it still does very good business. Drive In road is often blocked on the Friday evenings of big banner releases because of the long queue. The place doesn’t seem to be ready to shut down yet, which is more than I can say for many of the multiplexes that popped up in the last few years.
For old times’ sake, my friends and I went there for a movie this summer when I went back home, more than a decade since I had last been. Nothing has changed. There are still families with their baskets full of food, sprawled out over mattresses and cushions. As the movie begins to drag, the chatter of conversation gets louder, and unrestrained laughter can be heard. There’s some shushing, but it doesn’t make any difference. There are still the shady cars, perhaps slightly more of them. The speakers are still bad, the kids are still loud. It all seems the same.
But somehow, it’s different.