BANGALORE | CHENNAI: The sombre story of projectors whirring to a halt at old cinema theatres is taking a heartening turn, with appreciating land prices offering hapless owners not able to compete with multiplexes a way out of the dark.
Abdul Rehman, owner of Bangalore’s Galaxy Theatre, has converted his single-screen theatre to a mall that will sell premium and luxury products. “There was no point running a single-screen theatre. We were losing business to multiplexes,” says Rehman, whose newly-built Embassy Galaxy Mall has 189,762 sq ft of upscale retail space on a 1.1 acre plot.
Much like Rehman, owners of Alo Chhaya in Kolkata, Thangam in Madurai, Ashoka and Elphinstone in Patna, Majestic in Delhi, Anand in Chennai and City Light in Mumbai have also brought down the curtains on their theatres to convert them to commercial or residential complexes.
“The old theatres are losing colour as they are not able to compete with the technologically superior multiplexes. So theatre owners are now cashing in on escalating land prices,” says Jehil Thakkar, who heads the media and entertainment practice at KPMG India.
Even as single-screen theatres are proving increasingly unviable, turning them into multiplexes is either not possible or too expensive in many cases. That explains why, according to the Film Federation of India, the number of single-screen cinema theatres has dwindled to 10,167 from 13,000 over the past five years.
In cities such as Mumbai, where more than 30 single-screen theatres have shut shop, the government’s exit policy is hurting the business, says Punit Shah, general secretary of Cinema Owners & Exhibitors Association of India. “The lack of planning and regulations for redevelopment of cinemas according to new standards is also causing hardship for the owners and landlords,” says Shah, who also owns Mumbai’s Deepak Talkies.
While Shah’s theatre is among those that continue to operate despite dwindling margins, Alo Chhaya in Beliaghata, among Kolkata’s oldest cinema halls, is making way for apartment blocks. Jyoti, Orient and Majestic in downtown Kolkata are turning into banquet halls and hotels. “West Bengal once had over 500 single-screen theatres. Half of them have shut down in recent years,” says Sajal Datta, joint secretary of Calcutta Film Society that was set up by film-maker Satyajit Ray.
Thangam in Madurai, Asia’s biggest theatre which screened Tamil cinema icon Sivaji Ganesan’s debut film Parasakthi, has been razed down recently. Similarly, Star Theatre in Chennai’s Triplicane, which screened the first Tamil talkie film Kalidas and was perhaps the only theatre with separate rows for women clad in purdah, shut down in February.
“This was one theatre which had been there since the era of silent films. However, we had to close down because it was not economically viable for us to run the show,” says TA Rajagopallan, owner of Star Theatre.