Sense and cinematic sensibility

What if films started catering to all the five senses? And will there be veg and non-veg versions?


Suresh Menon | August 10, 2012

I think it was Nietschze (unless it was Jack Nicholson in that movie about how defenders of a country had the right to murder people they did not agree with) who said, “You cannot handle the truth…”

For years I assumed that Bollywood movies invested in fantasy, playback singing and the living-happily-ever ending because producers assumed that audiences could not handle the truth. Like a good friend who lies to you about your good looks, ability at table tennis or general all-round goodness, our movies lied to us about the real world, and gave us an alternative where everything is just right, villains get their comeuppance and heroes get the girl.

Then someone had a bright idea. Why should movies only be an audiovisual treat? We have three other senses, and why not cater to these?

Thus did movies experiment with smellies, where you could actually smell what was on screen which lent verisimilitude to everything. It should have been a hit, but as it turned out it wasn’t.

Disaster movies with unbathed prehistoric creatures falling into sewage after blowing up a glue factory with their terrible breaths were true disasters. As were romantic movies where the hero with his bad breath turned to kiss the girl who had just feasted on a garlic sandwich with the wind from the industrial fire nearby blowing their way while a child held up its poo-laden diaper.

Still, it was only a matter of time. Smellies were followed by feelies, as when an earthquake on screen made your seat rattle and parts of what you thought was the ceiling crumble. There was 3D, of course, where you reached out to touch a heroine only to have the person sitting in front of you punch you in the eye for ruining her hair-do. 

Realism was everything. Years ago, a theatre in Dubai took this very seriously indeed. A movie of a disaster at sea (Titanic, I think it was, although it might have been Pirates of the Caribbean) shocked the movie-goers when they could see and feel the water gushing through. It wasn’t a technological breakthrough, however, merely that some water had leaked into the theatre from the heavy rain outside.

But it was a treat for however short a period. Those who were at the show have been living off that story since. I am surprised no book has been written about it or a poem dedicated to special effects.

But I digress. With sight, hearing, smell, touch all taken care of – even if not always successfully – only one sense remained to be catered to. The sense of taste. Next time Brad Pitt or Steve Correll takes someone out to dinner on screen, would you be able to taste what they ordered off the menu?

A theatre in Notting Hill in London is catering to that very concern. It allows you to taste the food and whatever else needs tasting on the screen. You are given a bunch of stuff on a tray as you walk in, and during the movie placards are held up to advise you on what to put into your mouth.

Thus, when Pitt orders a risotto, up will go a banner saying something like ‘pop that green thingy in’ or if it is lamb chops, the banner will say, ‘you are hereby advised to put that orange pill in your mouth’.

I am not sure if this is a peep into a future world where breakfast, lunch and dinner will all consist of a series of multi-coloured pills, with an instruction manual telling us how to taste what we want: red for omelette, oval-shaped blue for Russian salad, triangular purple for chapati and so on. Perhaps the food industry researchers are working on this very thing. Perhaps not, it is difficult to say with food industry researchers.

In the brave new world of tasties, movie reviewing will have to work out a whole new set of cliches. You can’t say ‘this movie is in bad taste’ without confusing the reader. Also, you will have to make more than one version of a movie. One for vegetarians and the other for meat-eaters. Brad Pitt will have to order both potato salad as well as chicken salad if he is to keep his audience.



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