IS THE GOVERNMENT APATHETIC TOWARDS SINGLE SCREEN THEATRES?
Four months ago when a Satara exhibitor closed down his newly renovated plush single-screen theatre, Radhika, due to law and order problems, it highlighted the increasing problems of single screen theatres and how the Government was apathetic to their plight. With mounting losses, low occupancy rate, increasing taxation and now law and order problems, a number of single screen exhibitors are contemplating shutting down shop. A section of exhibitors talk about the problem and how single screens are likely to be extinct after a point of time.
By Manishaa R
T.P. Aggarwal- F.F.I and IMPPA President, Producer and Publisher
The Government’s indifferent attitude towards single screen exhibitors is not understandable considering that it earns a considerable amount by way of taxes. It is a known fact that the Government has been ignoring the film industry for a long time now but these issues need to be addressed and sorted out on a priority basis. Already we have an acute shortage of theatres for exhibiting films. The Government should offer incentives to these theatres for conversion into multiplexes and a tax holiday so that they can at least function on par with the multiplexes.
Prakash Chaphalkar (Pune exhibitor)
The single screen theatres are going through a vicious circle of problems that are leading to their rapid closure. In a town where a multiplex comes up, there is a real setback for these theatres because the audience completely shifts to the multiplex. Even if there is no multiplex, the poor quality of cinemas prevents the audience from patronizing these theatres. Moreover people in smaller towns have a different mindset and do not patronise films without stars. For instance Neerja did fantastic business in the metros but it got a dismal response in the small towns. Most of the small town exhibitors have to depend on 8-10 star-studded films during the year. Even these movies are offered to them by distributors after extracting their pound of flesh.These exhibitors are also apprehensive of renovating their theatres because of the losses. Then there are some theatres which despite renovation face law and order problems like the case of Radhika cinema. The theatre was in a good condition but goons would beat up the door-keepers regularly and the police took no action. A good number of single screen theatres in small towns face problems but nobody discloses them because if they want to re-open the theatre, the police and the administration harass them.
Manoj Desai (Executive Director- Marathi Mandir and G-7 multiplex)
It has been more than ten years now since the single screen theatres have been battling it out for survival. The exhibitors have no platform to voice their grievances and their problems have been overlooked by the Government for a long time now. The biggest problem is the 45 percent taxation in Maharashtra. With a majority of films failing to draw audiences, the single screens exhibitors are the worst sufferers. Apart from the mounting losses, there is also the problem of hooliganism because of fringe political elements trying to play the game of one upmanship and unsocial elements calling the shots. Most of them want to satisfy their ego and occasionally target theatres, to further their interests.
Nitin Datar (President COEAI)
Single screen theatres today are reduced to a state where the government is almost imposing their closure by being indifferent to their plight. Most of them are running to empty shows and are unable to bear the huge tax structure. Instead of offering them incentives to renovate and convert into multiplexes, the Government imposes rigid conditions that make it difficult for them to explore alternatives. Also most of them face law and order problems every second day, more so in the small towns. The case of Radhika theatre is not the only instance. There are several other theatres that are facing problems, some of which are never come to light until the theatre closes down. To the best of my knowledge, there is another theatre in Satara that is also facing a similar law and order problem and heading for closure. There is also the case of a cinema in Mumbai which reportedly had to face closure apparently because it did not screen Marathi films.
R Vidhani (Ex-President, COEAI and owner, New Excelsior cinema)
Single screens are dying rapidly with the Government turning a blind eye to their problems. Once upon a time Lamington Road was the hub of the exhibition sector with theatres like Swastik, Minerva, Apsara, Novelty, Ganga Jamuna and Naaz, running to packed houses but now we hardly have any theatres left in the area. Out of 1250 theatres in Maharashtra, we now have only 450 theatres left with 700-800 theatres having closed down in the past 10 years. It won’t be long before single screen theatres become totally extinct, if the government continues with its indifferent attitude. Running a single screen theatre for 52 weeks is definitely not a joke. Recently we released Jai Gangajal and there were just 35-40 people sitting in the theatre. How can you expect to recover costs, when you have no audiences for films and you pay such a huge amount by way of 14-15 different taxes? There is no reason why we should continue running our theatres but the problem is that you cannot even demolish your theatre and opt for another business, as per the laws. There are no incentives to convert a single screen theatre into a multiplex either. When we approach the Government, we only get lip sympathy. The Government just wants money; it is in no way concerned about the industry. Also every second film faces problems at theatres these days whether it is due to socio-political, religious or other issues. I have witnessed several incidents in my theatre where I had to call the police due to unsocial elements.
Rajesh Thadani (Distributor and Exhibitor)
Like other exhibitors, we too had to opt out of the business some time back due to mounting costs and poor returns. We had a few theatres, some of which were also owned by us, but we sold them off due to lack of business. The taxes are so high that it is very difficult for single screen exhibitors to maintain their cinemas, which in turn affects occupancy. The Government should give incentives to single screen owners for the upkeep and renovation of their theatres, so that they can draw audiences and at least be on par with the smaller multiplexes. As of now, the situation is very bad and there seems to be no solution in sight.
Kanhaiyalal Hiralal Navandhar (Owner-Radhika cinema, Satara)
It has been three months since I downed the shutters of my theatres due to law and order problems and hooliganism but there is no initiative or feedback from the government despite the fact that I had taken up the issue and even approached the collector’s office for a solution to the problem. I am surprised at the apathy of the Government authorities. I had even applied for a cancellation of my license so that the people sitting there would at least take notice of the problem. Instead they put up a list of conditions for the cancellation of license. I was told that the cancellation process would take time since the auditing had not taken place though I had paid all the taxes. They did not even bother to ask me why I had shut down the theatre. I have no plans to reopen the theatre looking at the current state of affairs. I am told that there are quite a few other exhibitors in Maharashtra who are planning to close down their single screens due to losses and law and order problems. In fact, last week I got a call from an exhibitor in Akluj in Solapur, who closed down the theatre and wanted to know the procedure for cancellation of Government license.