The financial struggle of single screen theatres in Delhi and the urban centres is a known fact. It will however be relevant to observe that in the coming years, those who survive have the mettle to not only sustain further but adapt and be competitive in this tough business. If 1980s witnessed the rise of video cassette recorders and video parlours, 1990s saw the mushrooming of multiplexes which have only incrementally enhanced and now with the launch of 4G services, a new revolution is expected in the movie viewing scenario. Amidst this naya daur (new era), will the golden era of purani jeans, which many theatres once donned, fade away and be junked or a nayi kahani (new story) is about to be written.
A visit to Regal in the bustling city centre of Connaught Place gives a feeling that even though a lot has changed for cinema halls throughout its eight decades of existence; still there are things which haven’t been touched upon yet.
At the ticket counter, you see middle aged people selling you tickets, silently doing their business as usual with no intent to up sales. You still can get to see tickets being sold in black that still has its buyers and you are not allowed to be inside the reception which has the facility of food and beverages but you’d have to wait at the porch 15 minutes before the movie begins.
Inside the hall, while watching the latest Bollywood action flick, one gets to observe that even though the crowd is getting entertained because of the high quality sound system fitted inside, other vital facilities like the provision of good quality seats, cleanliness, food and beverage services has been largely ignored. In the age of multiplexes, single screen theatres such as Regal, which were built at the same time as Connaught Place in the early 30s, are witnessing a slow yet steady decline which is completely opposite to its earlier self when at a time, yesteryear stars used to come at the premier of their movies at the theatre. Recently when there was a choice to select between an A lister which has recently crossed the 100 crore mark and a B grade erotic thriller, the theatre chose to screen the latter.
When questioned about the limitations of the hall as compared to fully equipped multiplexes, an official working at Regal said, “You cannot compare apples with oranges. Compare the cost of the ticket in the multiplexes and what we offer. A college going student, a newly employed professional and a low income working class personnel will still prefer to get a reasonable basic wholesome entertainment than spend on the add on factors.” When asked that is focus on providing only basic entertainment also leading to stalling the growth, the official said, “We still rely on the business of volume and many films do not provide you with the volume. Before the 100 crore business formula, there was a formula of jubilees where theatres used to run houseful for weeks and months; those days are over.”
As per reports, Regal will soon be turning into a multiplex and the first floor floor of the building will be used for Madam Tussaud museum.
However the emphasis on the business model providing reasonable entertainment and the reliance on volume is resulting in many single screen theatres struggling financially in the business of movie distribution and the screening of movies. With the high input costs involved in running the theatres and many movies not being commercially successful, the losses for the cinema halls have resulted in many not being able to grow their business. This in turn has resulted in the sale of properties, non renewal of licences primarily due to the nonpayment of dues and screening of low grade and regional films.
The impact can be felt in Old Delhi, which once was a hub for movie goers but now faces a situation where most of its theatres have either been razed down, been acquired or are just surviving for the sake of it. The last to shutdown was Ritz at Kashmere Gate.
However there were also glorious days, which the cinema halls in Old Delhi had seen where at one point of time getting a ticket for a jubilee film was considered as a matter of prestige for the cinema goers. Recounting those glorious days, Ashok Khanna, a cine buff and walled city resident said, “Today’s generation might restrict cinema viewing in Old Delhi only to halls such as Delite and Golcha but it was never like this, in fact Old Delhi was considered a hub of cinema halls.” Providing names, Khanna says there was Excelsior, Moti, Kumar (now renamed Abhishek), Majestic, Jagat being the prominent ones. Reflecting further, Khanna says being a cinema lover himself he has seen those days when the tickets were priced at 31 Paise to 63 paise and how innovative means were adopted against sale of black tickets. At Robin Cinema, in Old sabzi mandi, instead of issuing paper tickets, a stamp was put on the palm of the cine goer. Those were the days, says Khanna reflecting back on that time.
With the expansion of the city, deterioration slowly started creeping in with the population, moving their bases in the newer parts of the city. New Delhi Municipal Corporation started issuing licences to the theatres and thus came another success story of Chanakya theatre till it closed down.
Ankush Wadhwa says, “Theatres in Old Delhi may have created Kapoor, Anand, Kumar and even Bachchan but Khans were created at Chanakya,” who claims to have viewed the first day first show of Hum Aapke hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Liberalisation witnessed the advent of newer technologies and the coming of multi screen theatres. The Bijlis spotted an opportunity and ventured into the business of multiplexes starting from PVR (Priya Village Roadshow) at Saket and at Vasant Vihar. Neha Dhawan who saw Titanic at PVR, Vasant Vihar says, “Effective marketing and customer centricity, especially youth, led to the success of this model which has only grown exponentially over the years.”
Today being a market leader in the business of multiplexes, production and distribution, PVR too has its challenges. If video Cassette recorders (VCRs) caused a dent to the business of single screen theatres, the coming of 4G in a big way is expected to cause a major disruption to the business of multiplexes. Seen to be out of reach for many, the option of downloading a movie, which will be further made easier and also the option waiting for the movie to be screened on TV few months after its release, is rather preferred.
A PVR official acknowledges the challenges and says, “We are in the process of launching screens with lower ticket prices. With respect to facing challenges from the disruptive model of 4G services, the official says, we are positioned to provide an experience of cinema rather than only viewing cinema and this will only be enhanced as competition would heat up.”
Even the old players now realise that to survive in the tough business environment, more would have to be done than to provide the basic entertainment through cinema. Spotting the trend of the impact of multiplexes, the owners of Delite upgraded their hall by opening two screens and providing additional services such as a billiards room and a vegetarian restaurant. The lowest ticket priced at Rs 70 has been abolished and the prices now start from Rs 100. The officials at Regal say that step by step they too are changing with time.
While strolling across Regal near the crowded Palika Bazaar, the sound of two songs coming through the hustle bustle of the crowd can help to sum up the story of the present condition of cinema halls/talkies/multiplexes.
Penned by Shailendra, sung by Kishore Kumar the lyrics are as such – Koi lauta de mere beete hue din, beete hue din who pyaare palchin. This is a reflection of the bygone era and the glorious days which are missed dearly. The second one is an all time popular classic written by Prem Dhawan, sung by Mukesh-Choddon kal ki baatein, kal ki baat purani, naye daur mein likhenge milkar nayi kahani, which means that challenges posed by new developments can still be overcome by creativity, customer friendliness, citing change and adapting to it quickly.