New Delhi, Nov 25 (IANS) A decade after the first multiplex opened in India, the magic of its comfort-viewing and Dolby digital sound effects has got most cinema goers hooked and many don't even remember the last time they visited a standalone movie hall.
From one multiplex in Saket, south Delhi, in 1997 their number today has crossed 400 across the country with about 20,000 screens, redefining the way films are viewed.
PVR Ltd, which brought this concept to India, has a total of 95 screens in 22 multiplexes across India, Fun Cinemas has 50 screens in 11 cities, Inox Leisure Ltd. has 19 multiplexes with 65 screens and Adlabs Cinemas has no less than 100 screens in 22 cities.
'Up to 97 percent of urban youth prefer to watch movies in multiplexes,' says a report recently released by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
'I can't even recall which was the last film I saw in single screen movie hall. The experience of watching a film in a multiplex compared to a stand-alone cinema hall is beyond comparison,' Smriti Singh, a college student, told IANS.
'Why only youngsters?' asked Ashutosh Singh Silhatia, a call centre employee, adding, 'I think anyone who has once enjoyed a film in a multiplex would always want to go there only. For instance, my father is a movie buff but he found watching films in a cinema hall so uncomfortable that he stopped going to them. Since multiplexes provide so much comfort, he has again become a regular.'
The single theatre halls are far cheaper, with tickets ranging from Rs.20 to Rs.90. But cinemagoers don't seem to mind shelling out extra money for the multiplexes.
The PVR rates begin at Rs.90 and go up to Rs.225 on weekends. Its new luxury multiplex has tickets priced at Rs.750, with fully reclining seats and personalised menu to boot.
These multiplexes are not only a refreshing change for cinema goers looking for better ambience and comfort, but have given a new life to the Indian film industry.
'Before the multiplexes came to existence (1997), the film industry was producing just 300 films a year while now it is churning out over 1,000 films. Last year, the industry came out with 1,192 films in 26 different languages,' said Deepak Taluja, vice-president operations, Fun Cinemas.
'Multiple screen cinema halls provide choice to the customers and more visibility to films, acting just like oxygen for the film industry,' he added.
The multiplex boom has also given new life to alternate cinema, which had gone into a decline earlier.
In the last 10 months, about 90 films have been released. Of them only two commercial big budget films - 'Chak De! India' and 'Om Shanti Om' - could ring the box office collections. The rest fared poorly, or were moderate hits.
Offbeat offerings like Anurag Kashyap's 'Black Friday', Rahul Dholakia's 'Parzania' and Madhur Bhandarkar's 'Traffic Signal' and Sagar Bellary's 'Bheja Fry' did fairly well, thanks largely to the multiplexes.
'Multiplexes have given a new life to low budget and alternate movies, not because the film industry suffered a dearth of content. They were dying a slow death in the absence of the right audience,' Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director of PVR Ltd, told IANS.
'These cinema hubs are saviours for the other kind of cinema. Multiplexes are a boon for today's small budget directors and films,' said veteran Bollywood actor Farooq Shaikh.
With decades-old cinema halls in the capital like Chanakya and Sangam set to be razed and rebuilt into multiplexes, the time is not far when multiplexes will outnumber single screen theatres.
'The multiplex culture has definitely taken the market by storm, and in comparison stand-alone cinema halls do not make much profits,' said Ashok Gupta, the owner of Sangam at R.K. Puram.
The single-hall Sangam has a seating capacity of over 1,000 seats. In comparison, multiplexes have around seven auditoriums of varying sizes, each with a seating capacity of around 100.
'The cinema exhibition industry is in its evolutionary stage. Seven years from now they might end up outnumbering the standalone cinema halls,' added Bijli.
(Shweta Thakur can be contacted at email@example.com)