For long the cinema has been the most sought for source of popular entertainment. People of all age groups, young and old, women and children, flocked to the cinema halls in very-increasing numbers and a net-work of Cinema halls was constructed all over the country. The Indian film industry was considered to be the largest and richest in the world, second only to that of Hollywood. But now all this has changed owing to competition, first from Black and White T.V, then from Color TV, and last of all from Video Piracy, and government indifference to the problem being faced by the industry which provides employment to thousands.
Cinema halls over the country today are faced with dwindling audience and in many cases with closure. Modern technology (TV, Video and Internet) accomplished by changing social trend, irrational policies regarding entertainments tax, and mounting expenses seem to be sapping theaters of their last ounce of strength. nearly 1,000 cinemas halls out of 13,000 have closed down nationwide. Today, the reality is too stark for anyone to miss.
There is rapid decline on to the commercial TV. Advertising agencies, once the undisputed king of slide shows in theatres, are in dire financial straits. They have not paid their pending dues to several theatres in the last tow years. The scenario is the worst in Uttar Pradesh which along with Delhi, comprises the biggest film territory in the country. In the last two years, nearly 150 theaters have closed down at an average of three per district. Exhibitors apprehend the closure of more theaters.
There are many who would tell us that any person willing to see could have foreseen the crisis coming. Cinema business, unlike any other, has had a phenomenal life-cycle from 1948 to 1982, experiencing boom after boom. The decline started in 1982 with the advent of color TV and the unprecedented expansion of the TV network, and it accelerated after 1986.” Till 1982 Lucknow was the only transmission centre in UP but by 1986 expansion of the TV network covered the entire state of UP.
The great advantages of TV is that it offers free entertainment and doesn’t need any further investment. The deluge of opera films, films based programmes and serials, have increased the indifference and inertia of the viewers. There are many who will tell you that after a Sunday morning serial they don’t feel like stirring out. And if there is to be a free film in the evening why waste money to go to a theatre ? Direct telecast of sports morning serials, and evening film, shows, have reduced considerable box-office collections.
If TV technology brought with it a corresponding passively and addiction to TV programmes, whether good or bad, Video dealt a death blow to the cinema. Any film released in the theatre has to content with a deluge of video CD’s, pirated or legal, that snatches away a substantial, proportion of viewers from the cinema. To check the hydra like phenomenon of video-piracy, home-viewing was legalized but it has not yielded the kind of results expected. For among the 10,000 odd video parlous, that have sprung up all over the country offering literally a cheap thrill, it is an easy job to buy a CD from the video company and made several prints out of it.
In a way it was the government that legalized piracy, when hotels started showing films on the Video or, STC buses started running films in their video coaches. The fact remains that the producer may achieve some sort of a compensation by way of “home video” rights, but it leaves exhibitors with the same problems of dwindling attendance. Since the video parlous have made video viewing possible for all sections of society, many exhibitors feel it is no win situation. Specially since there are not too many films being made in such a way that they are ineffectual on the small screens.
No doubt, video-viewing is much cheaper and comfortable. No tiring bus journeys, no money wasted on stale popcorns, and you can stop the film while you go to kitchen to heap two or three hot parathas or your dinner plate. So what if watching a film on the video does not have the romance of seeing it in a darkened auditorium where each viewer seem to think that the film has a special message for only him or her ? At home the films runs on your whims and fancies so why make the effort to go to the theatre. Practically is in, magic is out.
Another reason for the sharp drop in cinema-going audience, in the north specially has been the law and order situation , the conventional definition of he film industry as a peace time industry has been borne out by the fact that evening and night shows collections have fallen since the 1984 riots and the subsequent terrorist killings. Bomb and fire scare in theatres, too, bear out this fact.
The impact of all these factors on the cinema business is that films are increasingly having short runs. A film that runs in a theatre for eight weeks is considered a miracle when earlier a run of 25 weeks did not raise to many eyebrows. And so they have to get new films to feed theatres every second week. Theatres have also been deprived of the benefits of the showing of old films, because they are shown on TV.
For exhibitors all over India, as in other places, Maine Pyar Kiya and Dil have come as godsend, because of their steady run several theatres have plugged the peak for some time. The reasonable showing of these films have stopped the decline of the theaters for the time being. “It means we are attracting even video-watchers to the cinema halls. ” But the overall picture remains grim. The creaking seats, stinking toilets, and hot, airless shows tell their own story. The respective administrative authorities who frame policies with a view to filling their own coffers rather than providing a healthy base to the film industry are to be blamed for this dismal picture. An industry that provides them with the second largest source of revenue after excise, is facing closure.
Entertainment tax is looked upon by all exhibitors as the main villain of the piece. Levied since 1952, when the Indian Cinematography Act came into existence, the avowed purpose of the tax was to recycle the profits back into the film industry. Far from doing so, the entertainment tax levied is so unreasonable as to leave next to nothing to be shared between the exhibitors and the distributors. The wonders that reduction or exemption of entertainment tax can do illustrate by the example of Jeena do. The film fared miserable in its initial run but recovered miraculously after being granted a tax exemption certificate.
Exhibitors of the northern territory are increasingly pointing to the sagacious policies of South Indian government for tacking the problems of the film industry there. A drastic reduction in entertainment tax, prohibition on the release of Video-rights before a film completes 100 days in the theatre, reduced electricity and water charges, followed by a hike in admission rates, according to gradation of cinemas, can salvage the situation a little. We can scrap entertainment tax, for it is only supposed to be for the benefit of the industry. Another good suggestion is that only small theatres should be constructed keeping in view the diminishing size of the audience. This cuts down the cost of construction, and makes them economical and profitable.
The authorities should impose licensing rules on Video-libraries, maintain a numbering system of Cd’s like seat tickets in theatres impose entertainment tax and declare every unauthorized CD as contraband. But the illegimate trade is more lucrative and so no one does anything about it. It is high time that the authorities wake up to the need for creating a healthy atmosphere for Hindi films because of South, with its protectionist policies, is going all out to protect the interest of south Indian films.
Changes on these levels may help theatres stabilize but the fact remains that cinemas have become uneconomical to run, what is the use of having a, 1000 seats if you don’t even get 500 people in the theatre. Space is precious and it is unfair to expect that you run a business, even if it is running at a loss. The only answer is to make a multiple use of the complex, a cluster of two or thee smaller theatres catering to the select few who want to watch films in big screen, a restaurant, an amusement shop, or even offices. But the local development authorities forbid the conversion of theatre land for commercial use. The rules are old. They are to be found in the old Act amended in 1952, no one through it fit to mention that in the post Second amendment in this regard and the old thinking persists. The government is know for taking over sick mills, so why can’t the state government start taking the problems of the film industry seriously ? This is the plea of exhibitors.
Very few cinema halls are now being constructed, and the old ones are in state of decay. If remedial measures are not taken promptly thousands are likely to be thrown out of employment is not too distant a future.