Last week, while according filmmaking the status of an industry, the Haryana government said it will focus on reviving single-screen cinemas in the state. The owners of the two surviving single-screen theatres, of the total six, in Gurugram, however, are sceptical that the plan will work.

Filmmaker Satish Kaushik, co-chairman of the committee that drafted the Haryana film policy, said the government will support those who seek to revive dead single-screen theatres or make new ones in their place. Kaushik said old single theatres should be protected since they have heritage value too.

“Those who wish to revive single screen theatres will be eligible for various incentives and subsidies. They will get free electricity and tax subsidies to begin with. The entertainment tax will be reduced for these theatres. We will ensure that there is a one-window clearance for all licences,” said Kaushik.

Owners of single-screen theatres, however, feel that single theatres in a smaller facility with new infrastructure may still work but old theatres with their existing infrastructure will not be successful.

“Old single screen theatres are not profitable, since they no longer attract audience. Films these days have shorter shelf life and unlike old days, they will not be a silver jubilee (a film that runs continuously for 25 weeks). Most of the old single-screen theatres are spread over a huge area and have more seats than most of the theatres in multiplexes. However, the audience is limited,” said Joginder Kalra, one of the owners of Shakuntala Cinema, a single-screen theatre which stopped operations a decade ago.

“Moreover, the expense of maintaining the premises is too high. It requires more staff. The government will not be able to address these concerns. It is not practical if the government expects us to revive single-screen theatres in their original structures. If a single-screen theatre is spread over a smaller area with fewer seats, they may still work but not in its old form,” Kalra said.

He added that the process of getting permissions (to run a theatre) is long and time consuming. “Four years ago, we wanted to convert our single-screen to multiplex. However, we were told that it would cost us Rs 54 crore in conversion fee and Rs 27 crore fee in FCRA. We did not have Rs 81 crore, so we put off our plans,” said Kalra.

A decade ago, Gurugram had six single-screen cinemas of which only two survive today — Payal and Raj. But they are running in losses and struggling to survive the countrywide trend of single cinemas going out of business. The number of single-screen cinemas has gone down from 9,710 screens with 91% share of total screens in India in 2009 to less than 71% share in 2017 with 6,780 screens, according to a 2018 report on the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) sector by Ernst & Young and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

Payal and Raj are the last vestiges of single screen theatres that were once an integral and perhaps, the only avenues available for a cinema-viewing experience. The other four — Dev, Shakuntala, Ajit, Raj and Jai — have shut down.

With the government promising to extend a helping hand, there might be hope for single-screen cinemas. HT takes stock of the situation at Gurugram’s single-screen theatres.

Payal Cinema

It’s a Saturday morning and Payal Cinema, situated in Sector 14, bears an almost deserted look. Despite being a weekend, there is no long queue at the ticket window. It’s the second day, first show of Manmarziyaan — a Bollywood romantic-comedy starring Abhishek Bachchan, Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal. The first show starts at 12 noon and with 15 minutes to go, few people walk in after every little while to buy old stamped paper tickets. The ticket for ground seating is yellow and costs ₹50, whereas the brown balcony seat ticket costs ₹80.

“Earlier, there was an audience for old Hindi films. People would come to watch these films. Times have changed. Most people go to malls for watching movies. Only slum-dwellers and rickshaw-pullers come here now. Where will these people go for leisure?” said Krishan Kumar, who has been checking tickets at Payal for the past seven years. A native of Gurugram, Kumar said his love for films led him to a job in the cinema, where he has been working for the past 40 years. He speaks fondly of movies of yesteryear.

“I used to watch every film, every show, when I was a child. I no longer watch films,” Kumar tells us as he keeps aside his phone, in which a video from the Shammi Kapoor starrer Junglee is playing, to check the ticket of a couple. The man and woman, both in their early 20s and with their faces covered, take the stairs that open into the balcony. On the ground floor, around 20 people are watching the film, spread across different rows in the hall. There are no women in this section. The hall cuts a sorry picture with stained walls, broken seats, and pieces of old tickets scattered all around. The quality of the screen is also poor. The pitch black darkness in the hall is broken every time, a new member joins the audience.

“Bhai, gate band karde (Hey! Won’t you close the gate?),” a man shouts from the front as another man enters the hall. His plea is ignored. The crowd that makes the audience is noisy. With one person on the phone, another coughing, and others tearing apart plastic popcorn packets, moments of silence are cherished by the audience. Yet the hall exudes a sense of dereliction and delinquency.

“Yahan picture chal kahan rahi hain. Hum sirf time pass kar rahein hai (The hall doesn’t work. We are simply passing time here),” said Suresh Chandra, an old staffer, who has been associated with the hall for more than a decade.

Raj Cinema

A similar state of affairs unfolds at Raj Cinema, which according to its manager, is the longest surviving theatre in Gurugram.

“Raj started off as a touring theatre with a company by the name of Jai Hind Pictures. It probably existed even at the time of Independence. The theatre used to be a temporary structure that was held together by bamboos and tent. Later, it got a permanent structure,” said Bhanu Pratap Singh, 48, who has been managing affairs at Raj for the past 20 years.

“In the late 90s, we would attract crowds. Our shows would go houseful. After the arrival of multiplexes such as PVR and DT Cinemas, the craze for single screens started fading away and visitors started declining. Business is almost negligible. All single-screen theatres are in a pathetic situation. Barely 10-15 people come for a show,” added Singh.

Raj is the only single-screen cinema in Gurugram that continues to use analog projectors with old film reels.

“After 2012, they stopped manufacturing these reels. As a result, we are only able to show old films. Once our owner comes back, we will consider getting the place whitewashed and try to start afresh with digital film projection. We have applied for UFO digital projection,” said Singh, who is hoping that the change will increase the footfall.

The theatre has 520 seats, 360 on the ground floor and 160 on the mezzanine. The cost of the ground floor ticket is Rs 30 and Rs 50 for the mezzanine. Earlier, there used to be a canteen but it was shut down eight years ago when people stopped coming. Amitabh Bachchan’s Sholay is a crowd favourite, according to the gatekeeper Vinod Kumar Das,26.

“We get frequent requests to screen the film. Most of the people who come here are old. Youngsters are rare,” said Das, who comes from Samastipur district in Bihar.

Shakuntala Cinema

Shakuntala Cinema in Sector 4 started operations in December 1985. It was shut down in 1998.

“Single screens are no longer successful. We used to have 800-1,000 seats but films don’t get such a huge audience these days,” said Joginder Kalra, one of the owners of the cinema hall.

Kalra has filed an application with HSVP (erstwhile Huda) to get the hall converted into a multiplex but he was sceptical of getting a licence. He is of the opinion that government policies did not encourage single-screen theatre owners.

“Government officials have no understanding. We have long wanted the place to be converted into a multiplex but the charges of converting a single-screen into a multiplex are exorbitant. The conversion charges are higher than the property rates. They should do away with the charge. Moreover, they should allow us to monetise the premises by allowing shops and restaurants,” said Kalra.

Jai Cinema (Now, INOX Gurgaon Dreamz)

Not many know that the multiplex Gurgaon Dreamz on the Old Railway Road was a single-screen theatre known as Jai Cinema. It is the only single-screen theatre that was converted into a multiplex. INOX operates the multiplex.

“Jai Cinema closed its operations on February 16, 2006. After the Asian Games, the trend of video cassettes cut visitors to the cinemas. Running the single screen was no longer a viable option,” said Rajesh Mehta, director of Jayanti Films India Pvt. Ltd, the company which bought Jai Cinema in 1975.

After shutting shop in 2006, the company applied for a multiplex licence.

“The application process took a lot of time. It took us four years to get the licence after which we started construction. Finally, we started operating the multiplex in 2014,” said Mehta.

Dev Cinema

Situated on Mehrauli Road, the theatre has now been converted into a warehouse. Workers told HT that the property was mired in litigation.

Ajit Cinema

Located on Old Delhi Road, the theatre was demolished five years ago.

First Published: Sep 21, 2018 04:08 IST

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