Upgrade, sell or close - fate of Delhi’s single-screen theatres

August 30th, 2008 - 10:39 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) There was a time when going for a film in India meant heading to the nearby single-screen hall, but with the arrival of multiplexes, many of the old theatres are in a pitiable condition, with tattered seats and cracked walls, waiting to be shut down or for a much-needed makeover.Many of these cinema halls were identified more by their location than their names. While Kumar Talkies in Chandni Chowk was known as Pattharwala, Jagat Cinema near Jama Masjid was called Machliwala.

Audiences queued up in front of single-screen theatres in hordes before the multiplex boom took over the cinema business. The first multiplex to open in the capital was PVR Anupam in 1997 in Saket and it became a trend-setter. Multiplexes started mushrooming with many old theatres giving way to new swanky properties and a corporate cinema culture.

Faced with this onslaught, around 25 single-screen cinema halls in the capital have closed down. But around 30 more soldier on, with some of them claiming to have retained their audience share.

“Vintage cinema halls like Sudarshan, Kamal, Savitri, Eros, Chanderlok, Archana, Ajanta, Rachna, Jagat, Kumar, Jubilee, Majestic, Minerva, Palace, Robin, Kalyan, and Laxmi - all have been shut down thanks to the tough competition,” Joginder Mahajan, a Delhi-based distributor, told IANS.

Others like Odeon and Chanakya have been sold to multiplex chains Adlabs and DT Cinemas respectively to be upgraded as multi-screens. Chanakya, according to informed sources, has been bought over for around Rs.2.5 billion (Rs.250 crores).

Plaza and Rivoli in Connaught Place were earlier bought by PVR and are now marketed as ‘heritage’ theatres.

In south Delhi, the stand alone Paras has been closed for renovation.

“The owner is renovating Paras because of the competition from Satyam Multiplex that has opened in the same Nehru Place complex,” said Mahajan.

Shashank Raizada, the owner of Delite Cinema (1954), asserts that single-screens have lost out because of the owners’ resistance to change.

“I was written off in 1994. I realised that I will have to change with time. In the last 14 years, I have invested over Rs.70 million (Rs.7 crore) in upgrading my theatre. Now I have people queuing up for advance booking,” he said.

Raizada upgraded his 980-seater theatre with state-of-the-art technology and better ambience. He also introduced a 150-seater mini theatre called Delite Diamond in 2006.

“The point is to change with time and upgrade the theatres with all amenities. You cannot let your cinema hall rot. Most of the single-screens have closed down because the owners were not ready to accept change and invest money. Such owners have taken the audience for granted,” he added.

“Multiplexes only offer good comfort and technology, but single-screen theatres still cater to a larger audience because of their variety of tickets. But I agree that viewers will come to theatres only if it is well maintained,” Raizada told IANS.

Mahajan added: “Old single-screen owners are not upgrading their halls because they are not devoted to the business. They might be still standing but are not faring well. Owners will earn profit only if they upgrade.”

The single-screen theatres that are still in business include Regal, Sapna, Sangam, Vishal, Kalamandir, Amba, Alpana, Batra, Filmistan, Liberty, Golcha, Delite, Shiela, Westend, Moti, Imperial and Ritz. And their owners believe they cater to a specific audience.

Said Kiratbhai Desai, owner of Moti Cinema: “Single-screen theatres have not become totally redundant. They are still required by filmmakers because there is still a lot of single-screen niche audience. Multiplexes serve only the high-class audience.”

However, he admits that in the last 20 years no new single- screen theatre has come up in Delhi.

Desai’s theatre in Chandni Chowk, which has been functioning since 1938, now screens many Bhojpuri films.

“A large number of migrants from Bihar prefer watching Bhojpuri films. Four years back I gave it a shot and it was a huge success. Since then I’m showing only Bhojpuri films,” he said.

Besides, a large section of movie buffs can’t afford multiplex tickets. Keeping this in mind, Mahajan said that it was the right time for old halls to get a makeover.

“It takes a minimum Rs.20 million to Rs.50 million (Rs.2-5 crore)to upgrade a single-screen theatre. But this investment is very low compared to constructing new properties. So the old cinema halls still have an opportunity to upgrade and be on a par with multiplexes with high returns,” Mahajan said.

Raizada pointed out that piracy and satellite channels were also to blame for bad business, but these were a hurdle they overcame. He added that multiplexes should not mean the end of single-screen halls.

“We all started losing business with the advent of piracy and satellite channels much before multiplexes came, but somehow we survived. But now we need to make our cinema halls world-class and appealing. There should be a good feeling when a viewer enters the hall.”

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