Not long ago, Vishal Cineplex (Rajouri Garden, West Delhi) used to be a cinephile’s paradise. Having lived in West Delhi for over 2 decades, I have had the privilege of barging into the establishment on a not-so-lazy Monday afternoon. In all fairness, the cinema served as the ideal destination for those planning to ditch college lectures.
However, the emergence of multiplexes has taken the spotlight away from single screens. Back in the late 2000s, Vishal Cineplex used to be a cine goer’s darling, but the charm of it had faded quite a bit before its closure in 2017.
On a largely personal note, my association with this single-screen establishment began in 2001 when Lagaan, a period piece by Ashutosh Gowariker, was released. Having been treated to more than 20 movies at this venue, I can easily say that this single-screen spectacle was a little more than just a “theatre” to me.
The theatre was special because it provided “refuge” from the sorrows and disappointments that life had in store. Back in the late 2000s, when I was a school goer, getting my hands on endless piles of money was quite a task. Not much of it changed when I graduated from school and went on to pursue a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from GGSIPU. However, getting a movie ticket at Vishal Cineplex didn’t cost much. So, life was much simpler in those days than it is in 2020.
The single-screen theatre ceased all operations in 2017, a few months after the much-publicised note ban. But several sepia-tinted memories of the single-screen marvel keep playing inside my head, much like an old videocassette. Coincidentally, I had a chance to visit the place a week before the curtains were drawn. All that met the eye was a ramshackle settlement, crippled by financial constraints and dwindling patronage.
A Sorry State: Delhi had more than 60 single-screen theatres back in the 1970s. More than 20 have ceased functioning in the past 5 years. A few iconic cinemas that remain, such as Rivoli, have been taken over by the multiplex majors.
Here’s the heart of the matter: multiplexes aren’t just about watching movies. They are also about hanging out with a bunch of friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Numerous multiplexes run in tandem with malls, which allows these commercial establishments to enjoy a considerable footfall at all times. Also, the likes of Movietime (Raja Garden) and PVR (Subhash Nagar) have been ruling the roost in parts of West Delhi because of their renewed focus on customer satisfaction.
Back in the 1990s, single-screens weren’t considered “fit” by many as most of these were shabby, dingy, and clumsily-tailored settlements. Times seem to have changed, but single-screens haven’t. Moreover, the changing needs of the young working population have had a major role to play in the downfall of the single screens. A contemporary youngster doesn’t just want to watch a movie; they want to treat themselves to the best snacks while enjoying a day at the movies. Also, the seats have to be comfortable, and the surroundings, clean. Simply put, it is the “experience” that counts.
Single screens, on the other hand, do not have much to choose from at their disposal. An average single-screen theatre isn’t a sight to behold. Ornamenting the premises is an “old-school” canteen selling samosas, chai, popcorn and cola. Quite frankly, gone are the days when cola and popcorn were a luxury. Popcorn and Pepsi are no longer things that bring joy and jubilation.
Forget the single-screens; even multiplexes are finding it hard to stay afloat, especially after the outbreak of the pandemic. Downing of the multiplexes’ shutters has given wind to an OTT boom in the country. Just look at what the reports have to say. Between March and July, an increase of 30% was witnessed in the number of paid subscribers by the country’s OTT sector. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 28% over the next four years or so.
Also, there seems to be a strong inclination towards regional content because the focus is on “localisation” of storytelling. For instance, a largely raw depiction of incest in families was well depicted in Mirzapur on Amazon Prime. Similarly, Ashram (MX Player) brought to light the unholy web of greed and false healing that “godmen” weave around people in order to exploit faith and religion. Such stories attract a lot of eyeballs because of an immensely high degree of relevance.
Given the rising prices of movie tickets, movie buffs, such as myself, love it when a movie is released directly on an OTT platform. The idea is to watch a movie/web show from the comfort of your house without having to go anywhere.
A survey conducted in 2019 by MoMAGIC highlighted that more than 50% of Indians prefer OTT platforms for watching movies and shows. This stat is symbolic of an average Indian’s love affair with OTT. Not just the audiences, but filmmakers too are warming up to OTT releases. The likes of Hansal Mehta (Chalaang) and Raghav Lawrence (Laxmii) did not hesitate much before opting for an OTT release.
More such moves (in the near future) would provide India’s “showmen” with an opportunity to safeguard their investments by minimising losses associated with delays in production/distribution. Moreover, movies releasing directly on Amazon Prime and Netflix would now be available globally. However, such actions would not be welcomed by the country’s multiplex majors who have been finding it hard to keep their bodies and souls together ever since the pandemic began making its presence felt.