Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Going to the Movies in Kathmandu

During the recent American heat wave/dome/bubble, I am sure that many of you beat the sweltering sizzle by heading to the movies. When your face is melting off, nothing feels better than the chilly, climate-controlled comfort of a popcorn-scented, sticky-floored multiplex.

Here in Kathmandu, American movies are not screened with any predictable frequency. There are a handful of movie theaters here, with each usually playing the same two or three movies at any one time. Bollywood movies from India dominate American offerings by about 3-to-1. Unlike in the US, when movies come to Kathmandu, they play for about two or three weeks before being replaced by the latest blockbuster.

I am not sure who picks which American movies are shown here, but the selection skews to big budget mega hits (so maybe a 13-year-old boy?). Since I arrived here, American movies that have been on offer include Hangover 2, Transformers 3, Harry Potter 7 1/2, and whatever iteration of the X-Men Hollywood is on now. Claudine and I err on the side of picky when it comes to movies, and this fare is not generally our style, but given the limited selection we are willing to be more flexible. Sure, we could avoid movies altogether (and we largely do), but it wouldn't be summer and we wouldn't be Americans if we failed to indulge in a flick or two at the local cineplex.

Helping to draw us in is the relative low cost of movies here. In the States I could drop $12 for the privilege of cinematic escape, but here tickets range from about $1-2 for matinees and top out around $4 for prime-time shows. Why the range in prices? Like purchasing airline tickets, you choose your specific movie seat when you buy your ticket and seats are graded (silver, gold, premium) and priced according to comfort and location. We actually prefer this system. In the US, we arrived at least half an hour early to every movie we saw to be sure we got desirable seats. It's not that we are obsessed with having the best seats in the house. The issue is that in cities like Chicago and Boston, movies can be sold out on a weekend night, and arriving late and trying to find a suitable seat can be torture. Not for us -- half an hour before showtime we would settle into the best seats in the house and drink in the superb people watching as fellow moviegoers filed in, increasingly looking desperate as they entered the theater to find fewer and fewer available seats. Smug? Yes. Comfortable? Definitely, sucker.

Adding to the allure of the movies is the classic draw of ice-cold air conditioning on a hot summer day. This is especially alluring in Kathmandu where air conditioning is far, far less common than it is the US. Last time we went to the movies here I wore a t-shirt and shorts and got very cold. Given that it was mid-July, I could not have been happier.

Finally, movies here are appealing because the cinemas are actually quite nice. In a city where many establishments feel outdated and rundown, movie theaters are among the bright spots of modernity and comfort.

Wanting to escape the city and heat for bit, we decided to see the latest Harry Potter installment. That Claudine has never read a Harry Potter book and I slacked off after book three was no deterrent -- there was air-conditioned pampering to be had. We live fairly close to Big Cinemas, located on the fourth floor of City Center mall (more on the mall in another post), and we headed there to enjoy a couple of hours of Harry, Hermione, and Hogwarts.

Worried that there might be some kind of Pottermania in Nepal, we reserved our premium tickets online beforehand. Upon arrival we saw a school bus pull up and unload dozens of kids. I felt certain they were there to engage in some last gasp of cinematic J.K. Rowling worship and I was glad we pre-reserved.

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Alas, they did not join us for the film. This left me to wonder what they were doing at the mall in the middle of a school day, but no matter.

I was a bit hungry but decidedly not tempted by the hot dog cart outside the mall hawking an "American Hot Dog" that looked like anything but.

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Living recently in a city that prides itself on Chicago-style hot dogs, I did appreciate the eclectic options and toppings.

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The hot dog stand was no Hot Doug's (Chicago's "Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium" where I once had a delicious rattlesnake wiener), but it sure was creative.

Inside, the theater delivered. Seats were comfortable and plush, reclining deeper than any I had encountered in the US. The lobby was sleek and posh.

The refreshment stand offered the American standards of popcorn, soda, and some candy. For the local craving, it provided momos (steamed dumplings) and pakoras and samosas (deep-fried Indian snacks). Best of all, it served food you could pre-order to be delivered to your seat during intermission. Oh, have I not mentioned intermission yet? Here in Nepal, movies are (abruptly) interrupted midway for a short intermission. Some might find this annoying, but the weak-bladdered and the hungry might beg to differ, especially when attendants come by with snack bar menus for orders during intermission. Now that's what I call service!

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