At a time when many cinema halls are closing down, at least 200 new screens are expected to come up in the next two years, in what could be considered a trend reversal. While a major chunk of them are likely to be set up in the Coimbatore region, much depends on the state government's intent to relax rules.
Said president of the Tamil Film Chamber of Commerce Abirami Ramanathan: "The trend is towards setting up multiplexes. Many existing large cinema halls want to convert to multiplexes by setting up four or more screens in the same complex." Ramanathan said this is dependent on the state government's decision to relax rules. "At present the rules are stringent and old theatre owners are not able to convert their complex into multiplexes. If the state government relaxes the rules, then you will see at least 200 more screens coming up," he said.
Ramanathan, who is also president of the Tamil Nadu Theatre Owners' Association, says most of the new screens could come up in Coimbatore. "That city (Coimbatore) is the growing market. There is huge potential there and people are looking at setting up new multiplexes there," he said.
At present, 17 screens are expected to be set up in the Coimbatore region. Of the 17, nine are coming up in a mall on the Coimbatore-Sathyamangalam Road near Saravanampatti. The remaining screens are being set up in Tirupur and Gobichettipalayam near Erode.
Nearly 10 years ago, stand-alone cinema halls were closing down and were being converted into residential buildings or commercial complexes. "Theatre owners were closing because they no longer wanted to stay in this business," said president of west zone theatre owners association M Subramaniam.
He said people are coming forward to set up multiplexes these days. "Multiplexes are the future. It is no longer feasible to screen one show and expect to earn revenue," said Subramaniam. He said that no person without capital is investing in this business. "Only if someone has land and has the money to invest in the business, they are coming forward. If they think they can borrow money from a bank and repay it in due course, it is not feasible," said Subramaniam.
The average investment for setting up a multiplex with four screens, each with a capacity of 150, is about Rs 25crore, said Subramaniam. "Today, people are particular about maintenance. The maintenance costs are very high - from airconditioning to beautifully designed lobbies, everything is expensive to set up and maintain," said Subramaniam.
Distributors are happy about more screens coming up. "Multiplexes are the revolution in the theatre industry. Most lower and middle class people stick to watching movies on television. So there is a filtered crowd that comes to theatres to watch movies," said the president of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Nilgiris and Erode film distributors association, K Raja Mannar.
Distributors do not have to deal with just one film any longer. "In a multiplex, we have more than one film being screened. There are at least five to six movies in a multiplex. So the scope of revenue increases for a distributor," he adds. On the other hand, the culture of multiplexes has induced variety in the films - there are Hindi, English, Telugu and Malayalam movies screened too. "The revenue from non-Tamil films is less, and there are not many distributors. But it still offers some stability in the business, as you have more options," Mannar said.