City-based Dharmesh Sahoo (48) still remembers the time when Sunny Deol-starrer Ghayal had released over 25 years back. After standing in a long queue outside Alankar Theatre for hours, when he didn’t get a ticket, he bought it in “black” by paying Rs 80 for the ticket that was priced Rs 25.
While Sahoo’s interest for films remains the same even today, the way he goes about watching it, has changed a lot over the last two decades. From booking the movie tickets on Bookmyshow to ordering snacks from his seat in the movie theatre, going out to watch a film, he says, is more an experience now than a simple movie outing.
Struggle of single-screen theatres
Much has changed in the last two decades for single screen theatres. Not only have they been overshadowed in popularity as well as patronship by the multiplexes, they had to reinvent themselves to continue in the business.
Many of them have managed to adapt to the new technology while continuing to operate as single-screen theatres. Those who have not done that have shut shop, adding to the long list of pre-Independence cinema halls that have perished.
Ajay Kibe, owner of Kibe Laxmi Theatre – earlier Prabhat Cinema – says single screen theatres have struggled a lot to remain in business as they have faced competition from multiplexes on the one hand and omnipresent entertainment gadgets on the other.
In the last two-three decades, a number of iconic cinema halls have closed down, including Vijayanand, Empire and most recently, Jai Hind. Today, 27 single-screen theatres exist in Pune and PCMC.
“You can’t compete with the multiplexes when it comes to comfort, food options and other services such as apparel outlets, bookshops that they have. But you have no option but to improve the projection quality, the audio system and to some extent comfort in the sitting areas and cleanliness. In the new Kibe Laxmi Theatre, we have tried to do that,” said Kibe.
According to film historian Anil Zankar, film viewing experience has changed greatly with the arrival of digital film distribution system. According to him, in the old days, film lovers had to wait for weeks before the film which released in Mumbai could reach Pune screens. “Preparing film prints was a costly affair. To save cost, the distributors used to release the films in the metros first, then in second-tier cities and then in the interiors. Although you could read about a film being good or bad in the newspapers, you had to wait for a week or two before you could actually watch that film in Pune. Only a few halls used to get new films. This also led to black marketing of tickets which has completely vanished now,” said Zankar.
The city got its first multiplex more than 16 years ago in April 2001: City Pride at Satara Road, which changed the way Puneites watched films then. Today, 23 multiplexes in total are operational in Pune city and Pimpri-Chinchwad area while two are under construction. The multiplexes which started in 2001-2002 got 100 per cent tax exemption on entertainment duty and 75 per cent tax exemption in the subsequent three years.
Talking about how things changed after the trend of multiplexes picked up in the city, Prakash Chaphalkar, member of All India Multiplex Association, also the owner of Mangala, a multiplex which was earlier a single-screen theatre, said, “Earlier, whenever a new film would release, it would release in maximum one or two theatres in the entire city. Some theatres which were considered to be of premium category included Mangala, Rahul, Natraj, Westend, Neelayam and Laxminarayan. And that’s why good films would run for many weeks. These days, films get released in all the theatres at a time. The viewership gets exhausted within two-three weeks. In rare cases, if a film is exceptionally good, it will run in a few screens for four weeks.”
The culture of multiplexes have boosted the Marathi as well as English film viewership, says Chaphalkar. While earlier only theatres like Rahul, Alka and Westend screened English films intermittently, now every multiplex is showing Marathi as well as English films, along with Hindi films.
“The growth of multiplex culture can be attributed to various factors. The spending power of the people has increased in the past 10-15 years. More number of households have both husband and wife as earning members. Multiplexes that are in the malls also give an opportunity to shop and eat. People want to celebrate weekends and feel good by watching films, coupled with shopping and dining experiences,” says Chaphalkar.
For Puneites who are movie buffs, there are spaces which offer a chance to experience cinema which generally don’t reach theatres. Though Aashay Film Club came into being more than 30 years ago, newer spaces include Lost The Plot in Aundh and Gyaan Adab in Kalyaninagar. Pune International Centre also organises film screenings and film festivals regularly.
Established in 2014, Gyaan Adab started showcasing films since last year. Screened once a month, the movies mainly consist of short films and documentaries. “It is difficult to draw a crowd for such movies as we do not show feature films. We get about 25 people on an average per movie. Even though we get a moderate audience, we are committed to good films and will continue to do so,” said Nadia Sen Sharma. At Lost The Plot, the movies are being shown since 2014, four days in a week. The films are mainly classics, attended by 25 to 30 people.
“We started the club to showcase world cinema as it was not accessible during those days. For each screening, we would get an attendance of 300 people, mainly youngsters. However, now we get around 200 people, mainly senior citizens. With the inception of internet, the working class and younger generation have stopped coming,” said Satish Jakatdar. The club started Aashay Sanskrutik Festival in 2000 which takes place every three months.