KOLKATA: Even seven to eight years ago, Bengal would boast of 800 cinema halls, but the number started dropping at an alarming rate. Big budget films have the power to stick on but smaller films barely get a week’s run before they are elbowed out. With just 325 halls functional in the state, the industry has finally woken up to the need of opening new theatres or refurbish old ones. Shree Venkatesh Films on Friday will start its multiplex chain with the inauguration of the first two-screen theatre in Purulia.
Shree Venkatesh Films executive director Vishnu Mohta, who is looking after the operations of V Cinemas among other things, said it was important to increase the size of the Bengali cine market. “The multiplex model is successful in tier-1 cities, but the penetration is limited in tier-II cities, which is witnessing an under-investment in exhibition. We have taken the risk to invest in it. Without compromising on the quality, our Purulia auditorium will give value for money to viewers,” he said. The two screens will screen 10 shows daily and the two auditoriums will accommodate 500 people.
By the end of the year, Mohta wants to start a similar model in Krishnagar and Narendrapur. “The auditoria we are launching for multiplexes are inside malls, but we don’t own these malls,” said Mohta, who is open to screening productions of other banners in the theatre.
Regional director of Inox Subhasis Ganguli said he was always for scouting locations in the eastern region. “By next year, we will have a property in Liluah. We already have properties in Burdwan, Siliguri and Darjeeling and might not go into other districts in Bengal. We are also looking to setting up properties in Bhubaneswar and Assam. This will also increase the Bengal market for films,” he said.
While investing on a new multiplex chain is a costly proposition, aren’t investors in Bengal keen on refurbishing old cinemas? “The existing halls have their own limitations. Converting them to give a certain experience to the consumer is not always possible as the halls are made in a certain way,” Mohta said. Last year, SVF took over a single screen in Mogra and re-opened it in a brand new avatar. Their next venture is Gitanjali in Bolpur.
Producer Ashok Dhanuka says he has already begun the process of buying dilapidated halls and refurbishing them. “I have bought five old theatres, two of them in Ranaghat and Krishnagar and the other three in Auragabad, Dubrajpur and Arambagh, which had shut down. They are all running now. I have taken three other halls, which were in deplorable condition, on lease. I have invested at least Rs 60 lakh per hall,” he said. Dhanukas have plans to buy 50 theatres or take them on lease. But unlike Venkatesh Films, they have no plans of starting a multiplex chain.