Master FDFS: The new normal in theatres
The writer shares his first day, first show experience of the most-awaited Vijay-starrer Master, during the times of COVID
Festivals in Tamil Nadu are incomplete without the release of star films. But when the entire world is dealing with a pandemic, are such mass gatherings, especially for films, still relevant? With a big-ticket film like Vijay's Master releasing today, this is the inevitable question. However, Master is no ordinary release. It has been billed as the messiah that will bring audiences back to the theatres. Though the 100% occupancy permit of the state government went through scrutiny and got revised to 50% again, the excitement of the audience remained intact. Even the shocking footage leaks from the film, a day before the release, had no effect on the ticket bookings. All eyes were on January 13.
Unlike the majority, who paid manifold the maximum retail price for tickets, I managed to get a seat for the prised FDFS show at the quoted rate through some contacts. Though I was quite sceptical about the COVID safety measures being followed, the sights at Kamala theatre this morning were encouraging. I was pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of people wearing masks and maintaining social distancing as much as possible. It was interesting to note that the usual celebrations in the form of band music, crackers and paal abishegams were replaced with Master-printed face masks. Fans were now fashionistas!
Dhilip, an IT professional from Ramapuram, revealed that it was only for Vijay that he had stepped into a theatre for the first time this pandemic. "This is my first time in a theatre in a year. I was so excited to watch the show that I didn't even get a wink of sleep last night," said the self-confessed Vijay fanatic, who was pleased the theatre management did the best they could to enforce the rules and ensure the safety of their patrons. "There is space between seats and hand sanitisers are in place," he added.
The absence of the mandatory screaming fans upon entering the hall made me wonder whether if the pandemic had drained our audience's josh. But a wild shout from a patron just then left the theatre in splits. "Unakaaga corona ward la irundhu vandhu iruken thalaivaa!" cried that raucous voice to remind everyone that nothing can quell the spirit of a pumped-up fan.
The social distancing, which was followed to well up to that point, did slightly go for a toss when the much-hyped Vaathi Coming song popped up. Fans rushed in front of the screen and transformed that space into a temporary dance floor. I watched with mixed emotions, but have to admit I was mildly relieved that they didn't throw the masks in the air in their enthusiasm. Small mercies!
Santhosh, a final year engineering student from Jafferkhanpet, shared that he definitely missed the euphoria of a full house. "I'm excited to catch Master on the big screen instead of on a laptop. However, the energy you get in a fully occupied hall is definitely missing," he told me ahead of the show. Asked if he had any qualms about sitting in a closed space with strangers during a pandemic, he replied with a wide smile, "I was tested COVID positive two months ago, so I am hopeful that my antibodies will save me. I believe many others in the theatre will also have a similar story."
A certain section of fans wasn't pleased that the pandemic had forced them to leave behind their families. "I usually watch Vijay's films on the first day along with my father. This has been a ritual for the past five years. But this time I didn't want to risk his health as he is a senior citizen. Vijay's films are meant to entertain the entire family, and it is sad that I am unable to bring them along this year," shared Muthu, a mechanical engineer and an ardent fan of Vijay. Family sentiments hold offscreen too!
As the end credits rolled and Vijay bid farewell to his fans until the next festival, I heard chatters of the audience happily planning to bring their dear ones to see the film in the upcoming days. I am not sure how long this virus will stay alive, but I am confident that cinema and theatres are immortal. Masks on and fingers crossed!