A lot has changed in the entertainment industry, especially for those who like watching movies.
Recently a friend of mine who understands my painful transformational journey from the slopes of Matimbei Village to the leafy suburbs of Nairobi offered to take me to watch a movie. It is a new release featuring a popular Kenyan actress, and I thought I should go and support the industry even if I have just a fleeting interest in movies.
A LOT HAS CHANGED
I was mesmerised by the transformation that the movie theatres have undergone. As my friend left me gawking at the screens showing the upcoming releases, I had this feeling of being in a surreal situation. He seemed well versed with the admission procedures, and I could see him paying for and picking the tickets, getting soft drinks and popcorn like someone who regularly visits Hollywood.
He also handed me what he explained are 3D glasses. Later as the movie started, I sat mesmerised by the effects of the glasses as the actors seemed to speak in my face. On more than one occasion, I had to duck as the cars seemed to be headed towards me. At one point I stifled a scream as a missile ‘missed’ my face by inches, but I quickly composed myself and shifted uneasily in the well cushioned seats.
It reminded me of my first experience in a movie theatre. I had just moved from the village to a local prestigious university located along Uhuru Highway for my first year. We did not have much to read for the first few weeks apart from the dictionary and logarithm tables, therefore we had plenty of time to get ourselves oriented with the big city.
My arrival in the city coincided with the release of a movie that claimed to define the art of eroticism. This is not something that my catechist back in the village would have approved of. Wa Hellen would not have sanctioned it either, although I was well past my eighteenth birthday. I therefore arrived in the theatre at dusk using a back street lest someone who knew me from the village went and reported about the ‘dangerous’ content I was watching.
The entry procedure was a sheer nightmare. I paid for the ticket through a tiny peephole where I could not see the cashier. After taking his sweet time to process the ticket and give me my change, I was allowed to proceed. The theatre was dark and stuffy, and almost full. Most of the revellers seemed to be residents in the theatre, and many of them were asleep.
I located an empty seat, but as I made my way towards it, someone seated nearby indicated that it was already booked. I made several unsuccessful attempts until I found an empty seat at a corner. A fat rat was occupying the seat, and it looked like it was not in the mood to give it up. When I waved my hand, it reluctantly moved under the seat. Soon, the movie was screening from a noisy projector at a booth in the back. I leaned back and looked forward to enjoying it.
But instead, the place degenerated into chaos. Food and snacks hawkers moved along the isles selling their wares; and some would linger in front of people, blocking their view of the screen. The victims would loudly ask the vendor to move and this commotion would distract viewers, wasting a whole minute of their movie time.
Some people chewed noisily and discussed the movie loudly like it was an interesting thesis. There was also a lot of unnecessary movement and side shows, including couples who cuddled and were on the verge of being carried away in the heat of the moment. The rats that were now forced out of their seats seemed to enjoy the movie more than the viewers, as they excitedly ran around our feet, making soft noises.
At one point there was what we thought was a technical issue in the projection room, and people rose angrily from their seats amid loud protests and demands for refunds. By a stroke of luck the projector resumed, and we watched the rest of the movie. But there was nothing much to enjoy from the much-hyped movie and I went home feeling cheated.
A few years later the movie theatre was converted into a church, and then into a busy shoes and clothes trading fair – what we fondly call exhibitions.