Virtual Reality Cinema: To See or Not to See?
When I was asked to experience India’s first virtual reality (VR) centre, I had my share of reservations (what if the people inside the movies attack me). But, like many rollercoaster rides and 4D films I’ve agreed to be a part of in the past, I accepted the challenge of tackling this as well. And I’m glad I did.
For tech dummies out there, VR movies are played on virtual reality gear sets, which comprise VR glasses, earphones and smartphones. You are not watching a movie, but are in the movie itself. Each person gets their own device – currently, the Bandra centre has three – and one can watch short films of a few minutes each. I coax my friend into accompanying me (in case I get eaten alive by a creature in a movie) and we venture to the Bombay Art Society building where the VR centre is located. An endeavour by Enlighten Film Society, the organisation behind Matterden theatre, this experience is, truly, one of a kind. The room houses three round tables, each with the device placed on it. The volunteers there first check the device, and then hand it over for your viewing. And this is the coolest part – your eyes act like the cursor, and a button on the right of the device helps select the movie to watch.
I start with the first film of the day, The Unnamed Guide, which takes you through the sand dunes, forts and temples of Rajasthan, with a narrator explaining the history of the place. At first, I’m a little confused by what to do, but as I remember from the people who tried the device before me, I move my head around and swivel my chair at occasion. Soon, I’m walking through the temples, riding in jeeps, and exploring the environs of Jaisalmer Fort. I find myself standing at the edge of a cliff too (“you’re sitting in a chair, you’re on flat ground and cannot fall off and die,” I keep reiterating in my head). Impressive, is my first thought. A music video, Do, is my second experience. The calming sounds and life-like animals walking on and off the screen are quite enjoyable, until a spider the size of my face comes on screen. I try to look away, but it’s everywhere! The effects on the video, I find, are fantastic (obviously, since they manage to get me scared of a graphic spider).
As we’re leaving, my friend asks me if I enjoyed the horror film. I pretend I did, and calling my bluff, forces me back into the chair and asks me to watch another one. Called Sisters, this movie has all the elements to frighten. Zombie-like little girls, bats flying around, scary dolls, dead bodies – this one has it all. And the fact that it’s all happening with you in the haunted room, sitting on the same sofa as a dead little girl, adds to the overall experience. I scream out loud at several times through the 3-minute film, much to my friend’s amusement. For lovers of all things scary, this one would be a winner.
While the whole VR show lasts for around 20 minutes, Enlighten plays classics of world cinema in the auditorium next door (Godfather and Godfather 2 are the films of the day for us), for those who want to spend their day at the theatre. I find out that the VR movies will be changed weekly, with three new films for viewers to watch every Sunday. And this time, I’m sure I’ll be back for more (as long as it’s not horror!).
The VR short films are screened every Sunday at Bombay Art Society, Mumbai. Visit www.enlighten.co.in for more information.