“I’am a bachelor for your Ryan’s Daughter”
(Quoted from an interview with Mr. Rajesh Khanna, Proprietor Chanakya Cinema) Puloma Pal
This was a rather desperate plea of the proprietor of a cinema hall to the distributors of the Hollywood production Ryan’s Daughter. Mr. Khanna at that point in time was trying to establish a hall literally in the middle of nowhere as a prominent spot on the city’s entertainment map. Now Chanakya is one of the leading cinema halls in Delhi and solicits one of the highest Theatre hire rates and Mr. Khanna at this time might just be one the other side of such desperate pleas.
What exactly is the importance of location of a cinema hall in the film trade, how does the trade imagine it’s audiences and therefore the city and what exactly constitutes a cinema halls’ image - are some of the questions we are going to look at in this article.
Where you would like to see a film is also connected with who you are and therefore what your spending capacity is and also what kind of film you would therefore like to watch. It is no coincidence that since 1997, after Anupam PVR redefined the concept of watching a film by placing it in a mall and supplying a show at every hour, so you have something playing throughout the day and through it’s ticket pricing solicited a socially differentiated audience (which the industry calls a niche audience), there has been a proliferation of what the industry refers to as multiplex films. Which as the name suggests would be difficult to catch at the conventional one screen halls, apart from the recent exceptions of films like ‘Ishq Vishq’ a fluke hit at the multiplexes which was then taken to some of the single screen halls and was a good grosser in that circuit as well. The multiplex model is also being seen as the last resort for experimental films and the parallel film genre in India, which NFDC had failed to exploit commercially. While planning a show these are also some of the concern that we may have, what the ticket prices are, what the crowd is like and therefore whether one should venture for the front stall or keep to the balcony, or for that matter whether we have a car and therefore how far can we go to catch that movie or because we cannot drive should we catch a movie somewhere close by. Conversely, the cinema hall owners would hold bus routes, distance from the nearest cinema hall, proximity to the major residential or commercial areas of the city as major assets of their property. Similarly as a distributor of a film you would like to consider these factors before placing a film in a certain hall.
In fact the distribution network connects the exhibition to the production of the films and forms an extremely important link which determines the judicious exploitation of a film which might make it a hit and through a sustained interactions with exhibition halls contribute to the image of the hall or recreation of it’s image. For instance Delite, near Delhi Gate, had declined due to lack of infrastructural enhancements. Following it’s renovation about two years back, it has been able to woo back not only audiences from north and central Delhi but also the industry people feel from the East and trans Yamuna localities which had so far lacked a good cinema hall. The distributors having been able to evaluate this rise in it’s viability have released some of the higher end blockbusters like ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ and ‘Chalte Chalte’ in this hall as opposed to Golcha which is the closest to this hall and had enjoyed this status earlier. While infrastructural renovations or nowadays conversion to a multiplex may change the conventional distribution practices or even the image of a hall, the investments of these kinds are guided by the real estate prices of the neighborhood, therefore tacitly the audience profile and urban development patterns. For instance West Delhi has been conventionally a big market for big family blockbusters, with affluent upper middle class colonies like Shalimar Bagh, Pitampura, Rohini, while it is seen as contributing to about 75% of the collection in the Delhi territory for these films, it was also seen as lacking in adequate number of halls till recently the PVR chain opened multiplexes in Sonia Vihar, Naraina, and more recently another multiplex by the Competent Group called M2K.
The recent proliferation of multiplexes in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana around Delhi suburbs like Noida or Gugaon is also following the same logic of filling in for lack of halls in these areas and following the recent spurt of urban development in these areas. A five-year tax holiday for properties involving cinema halls or multiplexes by the Uttar Pradesh and the Haryana state governments has also contributed to the coming up of these properties. Though the logic seems to have worked well so far, the practitioners tend to feel that proliferation of the kind that has happened in Gurgaon with the Anupam group and the Competent group having a multiplex each almost across the road might affect the trade adversely. Similarly the coming up of the multiplex by the name of Wave cinema in Noida is being seen as a deterrent to an established property like the Anupam PVR. Since the Noida flyway has made that the trans Yamuna region accessible to people in south Delhi, the trade feels that much of the crowd previously moving towards Anupam might like a change from the route now plagued by congestion.
While external factors seem to guide much of the cinema trade, active maneuverings by people within the trade could also drastically change the distribution- exhibition practices. One such recent example is the proprietor of Chanakya cinema, who through his own initiative created a niche for himself and created a circuit alternative to Cannought Place, in South Delhi for English films. He could posit the trio of Kamal, Priya and Chankya as a better option to the distributors of English films by showing them that south Delhi in the late seventies and early eighties was an upcoming affluent locality.
The journey of the exhibition spaces in the city from the Parsi theatres to the Multiplexes and from the extreme northern border of the city to the suburbs, has in itself an interesting perspective on the development of the city, it’s idea of leisure and the movement of population. Interconnected intricately with this is the way the trade has maneuvered and negotiated these changes. Innovative trade practices have been deployed to negotiate these changes and it is at times difficult to say definitively how much of the trade is governed by these external factors and how much of it is actually maneuvered by the practitioners.