Have you ever been alone in a cinema theatre? I don't mean the seat next to me is empty alone. I mean I'm-the-only-living-thing-in-this-entire-hall alone?
I've come close a couple of times - I remember one wintry Delhi morning some 6-7 years back when I and a friend went to see Carlos Saura's Carmen (it was playing as part of some film festival or the other) and ended up being the only people in the balcony. Or more recently, going to watch Herzog's Grizzly Man and being one of two people in the theatre.
Then yesterday I finally managed it. Went for an afternoon matinee show of Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (see my review here) and was the ONLY person in the entire hall (and yes, I was watching a 4 pm show of a movie on a Wednesday - weep, ye corporate types!). I have to say it's quite a surreal experience. You sit there thinking "Oh, come on, this has to be a dream, worse, a cliched dream! Oh well, at least I still have all my clothes on". You have this strange nagging urge to make noise. To stand up and move around. To jump up and down waving your hands at the screen. (Is a ringing cell phone in an empty movie theatre still an annoyance, even though there's no one there to annoy?). You wonder what would have happened if you weren't here either. Would they still run the film even if the theatre was completely empty? Is there a projectionist sitting back there watching you intently from his little window? Could you ask him to fast forward the bits you don't care for?
The worst is when you laugh out loud. There you'll be chuckling away, then you realise that no one else is laughing. Of course, that's because there's no one else there, but that doesn't matter. You can still hear your laugh echoing in the pin-drop silence of the hall. You feel deeply embarassed. You feel indignant. What is it with all these other people? Why aren't they in here and laughing at this joke with you? The cretins.
Finally the movie's over. By instinct, you think you'll just sit and read the credits, let the other people file out. Then you remember that there are no other people. All the time you're walking out, you can feel the credits watching you, following you as you leave. You feel guilty. You feel you should apologise to all those people whose names are going to roll through after you've left. As you shut the door to the auditorium behind you, you have the impression of leaving a tomb, a temple. You feel like a criminal. You worry that you may have left some traces of your presence behind, you imagine them (whoever they might be) dusting all the seats until they find your fingerprints.
It's only when you're finally on your way back home that it finally sinks in. You just watched a movie on a thirty foot high screen in what was effectively a monstrously over-sized living room. Heh.