The conversation has stalled. They don’t know each other too well and they had already talked about the weather. Exhaustively.

‘So, do you watch Suits?’, he asks, knowing if she would say no, the conversation, which could have been classified as dead an hour ago, would be mummified and its fine dusty bits would be carried away by the wind.

She smiled sheepishly before replying, “Season two, episode 5.”

‘It’s alive!’ he thinks, before breathing the conversation to life.

Growing up, I remember that they used to screen movies in a field near home. They’d charge about 20/- and screen kung-fu movies with terrible Kiswahili voice-overs. I was never allowed to go so we used to pull stunts like climbing on the roof to catch a peek.

That was way back in the age of the video tape. Yes, I know, I’m in diapers. Back then when you’d start talking about a movie, you would have to tell the whole story, because chances are, you’re probably the only one who had watched it. Except those few that everyone seemed to have watched like Sarafina. Movies back then weren’t as mainstream as they are now.

But with time, video tapes were thrown out the window and in came the cool, slim and stylish compact disc and we’ve never looked back since. We stopped borrowing tapes as hawkers began to sell the 10-in-1 movie collections. Looking back now, the picture quality was terrible, but we still forked out the 150/ 100 shillings they charged.

Lo, and behold, the internet exploded and one day, in some dark and dingy cyber café, someone discovered that movies could be downloaded from the internet absolutely free. “Eureka!” he shouted. Maybe he didn’t say that but someone discovered this. And thus, the fifty bob movie business began.

In almost every house you enter, you’ll find a neat stack of DVDs in see-through polythene jackets right by the television. This is the fifty bob movie phenomenon. Movie vendors are everywhere; from the CBD to the estate, if you throw a stone, you are assured of hitting a place that sells movies at fifty shillings. How has this trade, which has become so widespread in such a short time, and which is by all accounts illegal, not been shut down?

In the United Kingdom, it is not only the owner of a website that faces criminal charges, but also any person that tries to download any movie illegally. In fact, their policy is that a person is guilty of internet piracy until proven innocent.

Kenyans love a good bargain. When a movie premiers and starts being screened in cinemas countrywide, those who can, trot happily to the theatres, most contend themselves to going to the movie vendor and asking, “by the way, The Hobbit imefika DVD?” after which the vendor will say that it hasn’t and that he should check in a month or so. No doubt about it, people wait about two months to spend fifty shillings, rather than rush to IMAX for 800 bob.

I wonder if the big shots in Hollywood are wondering why the market seems to have dwindled in Kenya. Maybe they haven’t even noticed! Or maybe they have, but the thought of actually hopping on a plane to come to this our humble nation, for what is pocket change to them is enough for them to sit back down and reach for another donut.