If you’re a resident of India, you don’t actually have to pay money to get terrified. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper, turn on the TV, or just take a walk down the road outside your gated community. This, in brief, is Father’s position on horror movies. As for going to the movies in general, there can ever be only one reason to do so: the opportunity to nap peacefully in a darkened, air-conditioned room in a snug, cushiony seat.
Though I follow some directors in the horror genre, I’m not a big fan of ‘ghost movies’ per se. But Wife is. And every new horror movie that releases, has to be ‘seen’.
I’ve put ‘seen’ within quotes because, as will soon become clear, there is a big difference between going to see a film and actually seeing it when you’re in front of a giant screen in a darkened theatre.
So last week when she began badgering me about going for Mama, Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering, I knew what was coming. But there was one complication: we were visiting my parents in Chennai after a long time, and as a model daughter-in-law, she wasn’t comfortable leaving her parents-in-law out of the ‘outing’. Mama, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead watching a film called Mama. But Father was persuaded to come along “for the experience”.
When it comes to movie reviews, Wife swears by the NYT critic Manohla Dargis, and this is what Dargis had to say about Mama: “Horror … rarely gets more enjoyable than Mama.”
Less than 10 minutes into the film, she was finding the film so enjoyable she couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to leave. “This is too scary, let’s go now,” the inevitable litany had started.
Father, on the other hand, was snoring so nicely in sync with the film’s scare moments that some in the front rows were turning around in wondrous confusion, trying to figure out the mechanics of the exceptionally good 3-D surround sound.
As always, I was the only one genuinely interested in getting my money’s worth of scares. But this time, over and above my usual challenge of paying attention to the film while keeping Wife in her seat, I had the additional one of not letting Father’s snores – which were gradually rising in volume, and establishing their own identity as a composition distinct from those approved by Mama’s sound designer – distract me.
I am not sure about the physiological rationale behind this, but I was amazed at how he slept through all the loudest scenes in the film – the sudden crashes, screams and clangs – but would wake up in the quietest moments, look around in surprise, and then gently close his eyes again.
Father’s longest and most lucid phase of wakefulness came just before the interval, by which time Wife was concentrating hard on her Blackberry. She had switched to her old tactic of screening out any sensory input from the film by clearing important official mail that would require her full attention.
In what I’m sure was the defining scene of the film, when the ghost seemed like winning, Father woke up. He woke up because his cell was playing Carnatic music at a decibel level higher than that of his snores. He then did something nobody – neither me nor Wife – expected: he took the call. And started saying things like, “I told that idiot not to get involved with that woman …no, no, I am in a cinema hall….HELLO….can you hear me? HELLO…HELLO?”
I tried to snatch the phone from him. But he turned away, signaling to me that it was an important call, and he kept talking, and wouldn’t go out of the hall. What was most bizarre — nobody objected. Even as I sank deeper into my seat in shame and mortification, our neighbours gave him indulgent glances. Perhaps they were shit scared by the movie and welcomed the intrusion of reality into the world of make-believe. Wife, who usually lost no time pouncing on any ‘cell phone loonies’ couldn’t stop grinning.
Well, it all seems so predictable now — but my eloquent appeals to reason and the logic of paisa vasool didn’t work. Wife didn’t want to go back after the interval: “Let’s watch it at home – you can mute it when it gets too much.” Father clearly saw no reason to go back. “Not a bad film,” he said, “but how can anyone sleep with all that noise?”
G Sampath is Executive Editor, People Matters. The views expressed are personal.