Located in the heart of the city in Sector 17 with its trademark dome shape, KC Theatre was a witness to long queues on every Friday when a film would release. The ones managing to lay their hands on the prized tickets would rush in as soon as the gates opened, jostling with one another to catch a good seat. Those days seem long gone by.
In the past few years, not only KC Theatre, but others including Jagat Theatre in Sector 17 and Nirman Theatre in Sector 32 have been shut down. Batra Theatre in Sector 37, Neelam Theatre in Sector 17 and Kiran Theatre in Sector 22 that are still operational are struggling for survival.
The theatres that witnessed heavy rush now have to be content with moviegoers reaching double digits. While the multiplexes affected their business, plans of the single-screen theatre owners to upgrade have not received approval from the administration.
Ashok Kumar, owner of the KC Theatre, says, “I demolished my own building in 2005 after the policy of multiplexes came to the city. It has been 10 years now and I have not been allowed to even move an inch on my own land. I had proposed a mall on my site, for which the administration made me run for four years continuously and then I finally got approval.”
“As proposed, I have retained the dome shape. It will be a glass building and solar plants will be installed so that we need not buy electricity from the administration. The only obstacle now is the budget. I need around Rs 150 crore to build a mall,” he adds.
Kumar is not the only one. Owners of other theatres have also been approaching the administration for the past several years to find a solution to their predicament.
“For the last 15 years we have been knocking at the doors of the UT Administration, requesting them to convert these single-screen theatres into something which would give them revenue but not even a single step has been taken. We had given representations when the Master Plan was being prepared. But there has been no response to date. It is like banging our heads against the wall. We have lost all hopes,” says Naresh Batra, owner of the Batra Theatre and president of the Film Exhibitors’ Association.
The theatre owners say that the administration should give them the liberty to make what they want at the sites. They lament that neither the administration is closing the theatres nor converting these into malls and multiplexes.
Batra adds that he is running his theatre despite huge losses. “If we get seven to eight people in the hall, we run the show. There is no alternative left with us. I have proposed to the administration to convert my theatre into either a planetarium for educational purposes, a hospital, conventional hall, community hall or recreational centre for children and for senior citizens. I have not received any reply.”
As for the Kiran Theatre, the administration considers it under the heritage category. So no changes to the structure are being allowed. The owners feel that if the administration wants to retain the heritage status of the theatre, they can keep the building with them and pay them or provide them an alternative piece of land at another location.
Preetam Sharma, general manager at the Kiran Theatre, says, “It’s an auctioned property which we had got on a freehold basis but since the administration considers it under the heritage category, we have not been allowed to convert it into a multiplex. Initially, our only demand was to convert the theatre into a multiplex unlike others who wish to convert the theatres into hospitals, conventional centres, etc.”
The Neelam Theatre that is situated in the Sector 17 plaza would be converted into a mall; work on this is likely to be started after six months.
The owners of the Nirman Theatre have mooted a proposal for setting up a theatre on the lines of Tagore Theatre, but approval of the administration is awaited.
Meanwhile, UT Chief Architect Kapil Setia says that since the administration’s multiplex policy came into force, many single-screen theatres have been converted into multiplexes and malls. Piccadilly in Sector 34 is the recent example. The building plan for the KC Theatre was cleared as well; they were allowed to start the construction after submitting the conversion charges.
Setia maintains that policies cannot be changed subject to the commercial interest of the property owners. “Our multiplex policy was amended twice in recent years to give maximum leverage to the owners of these theatre owners. But if they are not starting construction due to economic slowdown or reasons best known to them, the administration should not be blamed for this,” he says.
(With inputs from Vivek Gupta and Meghna Malik)