Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The travails of the projector operator

Any conversation about a movie inevitably veers towards its cast and crew, in addition to scenes/sequences that have either bowled over or frustrated the viewer (that is, if you are not associated with the technical know how of the film). Surprising as it may seem, the projector operator present in the theatre, who is largely responsible for the hassle-free screening of a movie, isn't someone who would be instantly recognised or associated with one's cinematic viewing experiences. The projector operator (henceforth referred to as the PO in short), can at best be described as someone who has the gumption to watch every single genre of cinema, day after day, week after week, until the movie is finally removed from screens.
Viewers to a theatre are generally informed in advance about the particulars of any movie, usually by word of mouth, with added particulars such as 'don't miss the scene where the hero smashes a band of goons, single-handedly' or 'the heroine's size-zero bikini intro'. He/she may also take refuge from online or print reviews of the same. However, our beloved PO cannot indulge in any such luxury. Whether the movie has been panned or glorified by critics, it makes no difference to him. He will have to sit through three-four shows a day, all days of the week, until the film is finally removed from the screen and a new movie comes in its place, setting the stage for an assembly line-like industrial process, where the viewers are the batch products and the PO, the machinery operator.
Our humble PO practices renunciation, or the highest form of spiritual enlightenment, as prescribed in most religious texts. For how else can one explain the actions performed by our humble PO, that characterises servitude at the highest level. Talking about philosophy, it is said that the Buddha was confronted by an assailant in the midst of a forest that he was travelling across who wanted to chop-off his fingers. The Buddha merely extended his palm forward towards his assailant, melting his heart like a dollop of butter on a frying pan. This reformed the assailant in an instant, but the point to be noted is that our PO makes a similar gesture on a daily basis. After all, scenes or sequences, for which we do not even battle an eyelid before bolting for the remote control to completely avoid or fast-forward, float in an altogether different plane of time for the PO, producing the agony equivalent to a complex medical surgery performed with no anasthesia and drugs that make one stay awake, forcing him/her to watch the catharsis going on, being performed by first-time junior doctor-interns and nurses, who cannot distinguish between scalp and scalpel! Peace at work is always a conundrum, where the PO may derive succour only during the interval break that is snatched away just as a mirage deceives the weary desert traveller, when the second half of the movie resumes.
Cinema history has it that the PO hasn't always been the unfortunate, almost insect-like unimportant entity, far away from all the glory and glamour. During the era of touring-talkies and later the spool-projector movie-halls, the projector operator was someone to behold with utmost reverence and dignity. For many assumed that the movie, or whatever appeared on screen, was entirely improvised by the operator himself. Hence the air of dignity and at times, utmost arrogance that carried him around. Any commotion from the audience was simply not acceptable to him as he could just turn off and walk away with his contraptions and the viewers were denied what they had thought to be an ocular spectacle. This was at a time when technological limitations permitted the projectors and other equipment to produce the noise equivalent to a hundred coal-mines operating in tandem. (No wonder that this age of cinema is also referred to as the 'silent' era of movies!). With the advent of colour pictures, or Eastman Colour, as they were popularly known, the PO was no longer the impresario that he was made out to be. As like many other nostalgic artifacts consigned into oblivion due to advances in technology, the PO now became just another museum edifice. Movies could now be played at just the push of a button. Someone was needed to just ensure that the switches were turned on and off at appropriate instants.
Have a heart viewers. The least that we as individuals could do to ensure a footnote in eternity for the beleaguered PO is by observing silence for a minute or two, just before the screening of the movie starts, as during the recital of an elegy at a funeral. After all, silence can be the apt tribute for silent suffering!