The crumbling walls of Cinema Paradiso
While cinema halls in villages and smaller towns grapple with maintenance issues, those in cities face the heat from other means of entertainment. The only solace has been the emergence of multiplexes which have managed to pull the crowds despite the higher pricing. The Tamil Nadu government has granted permission for opening 95 new screens in Chennai by 2011. At a time when theatres and cinema halls in suburban areas and moffussil centers are closing down, the sudden spurt in multiplexes and multiscreens has posed a direct threat to the existence of single screen theatres. The brand positioning of multiplexes as entertainment zones has indeed helped them to withstand the competition. Dinakaran, a trade analyst opines, "Multiplexes make profits by their value-added services such as food courts and gaming zones. Even drinking water is sold at a premium rate. It's a bid to earn some profit." Converting single screen cinema halls to multiplexes comes with a baggage of huge investment which may not be a viable option to every theatre owner. In Andhra Pradesh, the government has set 14 norms as a pre-condition to grant permission for multiplexes, which includes presence of at least three screens, online booking facility, air-conditioning, auto flush in washrooms, no objection certificate from fire department and so on. If these norms are adhered to, then the multiplexes are given permission to sell the tickets at Rs 100 and above.
The impact of low turn out of the audience in cinema halls has forced several cinema halls owners to look at alternate revenue sources. At times, the theatre owners get lucrative offers depending on the location of the cinema halls. Vijander Reddy shares, "It's tempting when you get an offer of Rs 2 crores to sell the land at a time when recovering maintenance costs is a huge problem. Even if we lease the land to someone, we will make more money than theatre collections." In Chennai, three popular theatres including Ram, Nagesh and Anand complex have been converted into shopping complexes and wedding halls. In Hyderabad, two popular theatres where English movies used to be screened, Skyline and Sterling, have been closed. A residential complex is being built in the same location.
Recently, in a bid to prevent the closing down of theatres, the theatre owners in Tamil Nadu have urged that the salary of lead actors and directors be fixed as a percentage of the profit from the film (and not as salary) as this would facilitate their complete involvement in the film. The Theatre Owners Association is also contemplating approaching the government to urge the film industry to bring down the production cost. "By cutting down the production expenses, the rate of films would come down. A few lakh rupees less spent on each film could save our livelihood," says an office bearer of the association. Even the film industry in Andhra Pradesh is doing its bit in addressing the problem. It's slowly moving towards digital projection of cinema which will cut down production costs to a great extent.
The film industry has urged the government to consider tax exemption for films with Telugu titles and also for those films which release with less than 35 prints. Currently, if a film releases with less than 35 prints, an entertainment tax of Rs 14,000 is levied on it and beyond 35 prints, the tax goes up to Rs 27,000. The film industry also wants a change in the government's approach which considers any film with more 35 prints as a big budget film. "If the government accepts these requests, then it would give the single theatre owners a breathing space of four-five years," says Vijander Reddy.
Five years from now, it is expected that a lot of single screen cinema halls including those in rural areas will adapt to the latest state-of-the-art technology, but the era of huge cinema halls may never come back again. In future, most multi-screens will thrive on reduction in seating capacity along with increase in ticket prices. The concept of 'single screen' theatres is dying a slow death.