Theatre of the old

In this era of multiplex comfort and digital Dolby sound,a few standalone cinema halls or single screens,have managed to survive and that too,by screening old Hindi films.

Written by Alokparna Das | Published:March 29, 2009 2:05 am

In an era of multiplexes,a few single screens have survived by showing old Hindi films

In this era of multiplex comfort and digital Dolby sound,a few standalone cinema halls or single screens,have managed to survive and that too,by screening old Hindi films.

Take the case of West End in Sadar Bazaar. Manager M.L. Mehta says this 654-seater incurs loss whenever it tries to screen a new release. “But an old Amitabh Bachchan,Ajay Devgan or Sunil Shetty starrer fetches the expected revenue and there’s hardly a seat empty when we screen Sholay on a holiday,” he adds. Excelsior’s manger K.N. Bhatnagar agrees. With 500 seats,Excelsior at Hauz Qazi was once a rage among the audience. Way back in 1938 when the hall was inaugurated,it was a popular weekend destination and in the 60s,films like Do Kaliyan celebrated their silver jubilee in this hall. Today,it doesn’t screen a particular movie for more than two-three days.

“We screen only old films and each film is put up for a maximum period of three days. So,today it might be Sunny Deol’s Champion,tomorrow Ajay Devgan’s Dilwale and the day after Dharmendra’s Burning Train. There’s generally 35 per cent occupancy. That’s okay,after all,most cinema halls do not have more than 40 per cent of their seats filled up for a majority of their shows,” says Bhatnagar.

With tickets going up to

Rs 20 for the balcony and at least three films in a week,these single screens manage to pull crowd. However,the story is different in the case of Shahdra’s Supreme Cinema. With 1,189 seats,it is the second largest standalone cinema hall in Delhi. Manager

O.P. Sharma says that till two years ago they used to screen only old Hindi movies,including classics. “But the cable operators made a dent into our business by showing the same movie in the same week. Now,we have applied to the Delhi Development Authority to convert Supreme into a multiplex. That would be better than selling it off,” he says and cites the fates of cinema halls in the old city to explain the need to turn into a multiplex. Kumar in Chandni Chowk has turned into a McDonald outlet,Minerva into an auto-parts shop,New Amar in Chawri Bazaar and Vivek in Patel Nagar have given way to Metro stations. Sharma would like Supreme to continue as a movie hall.

But at a time when Moser Baer VCDs of old Hindi films are available at Rs 28,why would someone like to spend Rs 20 for a balcony ticket at Imperial in Paharganj? Sanjay Mehta of Bobby Arts,the largest distributor of films in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh,says,“Previously,these used to repeat-run halls. After a particular movie had completed 12-15 weeks in Sheila,it used to be screened at Imperial as a repeat-run. Nowadays,there are hardly any movies that complete 15 weeks at a stretch. The repeat-run halls could not afford buying new movies and hence,started screening old movies. During Id,the demand is for Rishi-Kapoor starrer Laila Majnu and during Holi it is Dharmendra’s Phagun,“he says. “While action movies top the chart,these halls refrain from screening adults only movie as they still cater to the family audience—people for whom multiplex ticket is unaffordable and those who do not have a DVD player at home,” he adds.

Survival is a struggle,Mehta says. But these single screens are putting up a tough fight.

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