Yesterday I saw a movie called 'Seven Pounds' on DVD which is one of the most pointless and depressing movies I have ever seen. Seriously, Hollywood seems to have lost it.
Of course I have not seen either Kambakht Ishq or Luck (and do not plan to) but even those cannot beat the sheer lack of colour, sense or style in 'Seven Pounds'. Will Smith, what were you thinking??
But this is not a lament on a specific movie, rather the whole DVD rental experience. A couple of months ago I joined Bigflix 6 month 'unlimited rental' plan. Which basically means you can keep 2 DVDs for as long as you like; or rotate them every day. Why Bigflix?
Well, their selection is not all that hot. Most of the movies they stock keep playing out on TV but this way you can watch at your convenience, and without ads. But the biggest point in Bigflix's favour is they actually have a store which is 5 minutes away from my house.
This is of course, a Reliance mobile showroom whose primary job is to sell SIM cards and collect bills. But, it also has a (mostly empty) cybercafe and small area devoted to BigFlix. Which means I can actually go across and pick up a movie - if I feel like.
I can also queue up movies and have them delivered but I like having the option of acting on impulse.
And being Reliance ADAG you have some surety that they won't just pull down the shutter one fine morning. Like clixflix.com did in New Bombay without bothering to inform customers. (reminder to self: must write a separate blog on that someday!)
My grouse with Bigflix - the corporate DVD rental experience - is that the folks who man the store are just doing a job. They don't really care about movies. Or wouldn't one of them have warned me: "Seven Pounds is absolutely avoidable!"
And my point of comparison of course is the one and only "Teenage video library". The folks who literally took me through my teens.
In 1983 my dad went to Japan and brought back a Hitachi VCR. Clunky by today's standards but an object of extreme beauty - and desire - back then. Promptly, we joined 'Teenage video library' in Colaba and began our romance with renting films.
The chief attraction at "Teenage" was a guy called Asif who was extremely cheerful and appeared to have seen every movie ever released. You just had to mention the name and he had an opinion for you. Or you said "I want a comedy" and he would recommend a few.
Asif must have been in his early 20s but for some reason did not have much hair on his head. I might have had a small crush on the guy, for some time. Even borrowed 10 bucks from him once, when on my way home from St Xavier's (as an FYJC student) I had no cash to take a BEST bus.
Asif had a brother who was older and had curly hair. He was obviously the 'boss' - probably the 'brains' of the operation. But Asif was the heart and soul.
The point is that a mom and pop shop like "Teenage" (or bhai and bhai in this case) had a certain charm. A stickiness, a sense of 'this is a service I trust'.
Unlike Bigflix they never ever shut down at 8 pm. Yes, we would argue if the 'print was bad' and much of their business came from pirated films. Bad bad boys :)
Bigflix cannot follow such a model (and those who want pirated don't rent DVDs - they simply download from the internet). But I wish they had a kid at the counter who was doing a part time job because he loved movies. I think it adds something to the experience.
Of course one can check reviews on the internet - or even on GPRS. But the point is, a human touch.
That touch is disappearing not just from DVD rental but every retail space as it 'modernises'. Salespeople come and give you a perfunctory "Madam can I help you" without the intention or inclination to do so.
And so many people behind the counter are busy jabbering away on their mobiles, or lost behind their headphones. Even when customers are waiting for billing, or for assistance of some kind. Because it's just a job and that means 'physical presence'. No energy, no emotion, no interest because "yeh mera thodi hai".
Aaj idhar hoon, kal kya pata.
I am sure "Teenage" still flourishes at Hampton Court in Colaba. Wonder if Asif still mans the counter. If not, I hope someone like him - to sell dreams and DVDs to the next generation of teenagers.