Thursday, April 19, 2007

The changing reels of time

The changing reels of time

The 60s and 70s were considered landmark years for movie halls in the city what with the construction of some legendary cinemas. ANAND SANKAR finds this totally market-driven decade no less significant


FEW REMNANTS Rex theatre is possibly the only survivor in an area that was once famous for its movie halls

"We just couldn't get tickets," exclaimed a friend last weekend. Along with her husband, she decided to go catch a movie on an impulse but was sorely disappointed to see sold out signs for all the movie shows at a popular multiplex. Any avid moviegoer in the city will share a similar experience.

Going to the cinema is just not the same in Bangalore anymore. On one hand you can say moviegoers never had it so good before with the service on offer at the multiplex but on the other there is a distinct lack of flavour when it comes to choosing a theatre or multiplex. The 60s and the 70s were witness to a transformation in the movie-going experience in the city and this decade looks like will see another transition.

For the history of Bangalore's theatres one must interact with an old-timer like Premchand, Paramount Representative. His memory has chronicled the various developments city cinemas have seen. He was there in 1965 when the first 70mm screen debuted at Lido with "Cleopatra" and in 1971 when Galaxy was thrown-open with a seating capacity of 1,012. Both the above theatres are defunct today, with the former's site now boasting a five-star hotel.

There is always more than a bit of nostalgia when going down memory lane. Journalist and writer C.K. Meena still vividly remembers covering the 23rd International Film Festival Of India (IFFI), in the city in 1992. The few days of the fest was a time for frenetic "theatre-hopping".

"It happened at Santhosh and theatres nearby. I remember taking an auto from Santhosh on the last day at 11.30 p.m. in the night. Many people complained because none of those theatres had facilities to screen those movies, the quality was not good enough."

Another memory for Meena is standing in an "L-shaped" queue around Lido to buy a ticket and sometimes the queue would snake a full circle around the building. "We didn't mind standing in a queue back then, it was normal." She also recalls the "colourful" owners of the theatres such as the Mudaliars who owned Naga, the Plaza brothers, the lady who owned Liberty theatre and the Kapoors who own Rex and used to lease Symphony.

Premchand says "it was a pleasure" to watch a movie in Lido. He was there when in 1967 Sangam opened with "Ram Aur Shyam", in 1977 when "Enter the Dragon" did 50 weeks at Galaxy and points out that Kapali would screen in the Cinerama format.

Both of them remember the sections of seats that the theatres had — front stall, middle stall, rear stall and balcony — with prices ranging between 80 paise and Rs. 2.75 in the 60s. Then there were those rats, which used to scurry under your feet and finally the chap at the gate-hushedly muttering, "ticket, ticket", regardless of how housefull a show was.

Anil Kapoor, one of the owners of Rex, finds himself the sole survivor in an area which once was considered the movie hub of the city. He takes a pragmatic view and says the transformation to multiplexes was inevitable.

"The value of land has risen sharply. So, you need higher returns and with multiplexes the returns per seat is much higher. Also they have the flexibility of moving movies to smaller screens as the crowd dwindles and utilise capacity better. Then there is the revenue from allied activities."

Critics have often said single-screen theatres in Bangalore have suffered because of the five-year tax holiday the government gives multiplexes but Kapoor says it is necessary because of the quantum of investment involved in setting them up. He rather blames the high rate of entertainment tax.

Defunct Plaza

Kapoor had also leased Symphony from the city corporation but gave up the tender when it came up for renewal recently. It is still unclear what the plans of the new leaseholders are. "We felt it was not worth investing in a property that we do not own. And the revenue we will earn from the 10-year lease also does not justify it."

The multiplexes are quite bullish about what the market has in store for the future. They say the current demand is only set to soar and there will be capacity soon to absorb it. A multiplex is yet to open at Sigma Mall, Cunningham Road and Lido, and PVR Cinemas and Inox are both planning ambitious expansions.

"We are overwhelmed right now at the response. One of the reasons is because the experience of a movie has changed," says Amitabh Vardhan, Chief Operating Officer, PVR Cinemas, India. The Gold Class at his facility might be prohibitively expensive, but it is mostly booked by corporates on weekends for private screenings.

"Changing HR practices have helped us. They want to keep employees happy in cities where entertainment options are limited. So you have only two outlets — cinema and cricket. We feel if you provide a better facility, people will come everywhere. We have had birthday and kitty parties, product launches and karaoke sessions," says Vardhan while adding an announcement of the company's future plans for the city will be made when they are finalised.

Inox is set to launch their Jayanagar multiplex later this year and the Malleswaram one will come on stream a "little later". Mohit Bhargav, Regional General Manager, says three more properties have been signed up. "The demand is very strong and will be strong for the future. As far as numbers go, fortunately everyone is a movie fan. We complete two years in August and the performance has been excellent. Bangalore has always been a place for movies and the multiplex culture has revived it," he says.

It is very easy to get into a debate to choose between single screen cinemas and multiplexes but everyone accepts that finally it is the viable business that survives. But there is a case for preserving a few theatres for heritage according to Meena.

"Cities abroad do that, they have one or two in a city. If there are people like that, then good. The experience of seeing movies in a larger screen is something. Some multiplexes look like a big-screen television. But the point is who will preserve? And what is the incentive?"

Slow decline

The list of famous theatres that have disappeared reads — Imperial, BRV, Plaza, Lido, Galaxy, Blue Moon, Opera, Sangam and Naga. It is interesting to study the decline of some them as they seem to have stages of decay.

First you have the step down to movies that are just purely commercial grossers followed by second runs, B-grade movies, soft pornography and finally a board that says "closed for renovation" which signals the end


Post a Comment

<< Home