Most single screen theatres are betting big on Vijay-starrer Bairavaa. It has been several years now since Jothi theatre in St Thomas Mount has attracted the crowds that it used to, when a Rajinikanth film released in the 80s. However, the theatre’s manager Ekambaram hopes that this Pongal, with four shows of Bairavaa running for four days through the Pongal weekend from January 12, there will be something to cheer about. “Those were the days, when theatres like ours saw good business all-round the year. Now, we wait for Pongal and Deepavali releases to make some money. And yes, some crowd will come in during Pongal. First, it is the college students in and around the area and then on Sunday, we are expecting family crowd,” he says, brimming with hope.
This year, Pongal release is marked by worries, says another source in the theatre, who describes how the business has gone downhill over the years. “The theatre is fully equipped with 4K projection and Dolby Digital sound technology. But unlike other big screens or multiplexes, it is just two or three movies per year that bring in the revenue, with which the staff and the lease cost of more than a lakh per month are paid. We barely receive any kind of support from distributors or producers, which leaves us with very marginal profits in the end,” says a staffer from the technical department.
Similarly, Kasi Theatre has been left with very little choice, with some of the distributors asking them for almost 75 per cent of the returns. Says Subramaniam, owner of the theatre, “We already have our regular set of audiences calling up for booking, but still we haven’t been able to finalise because of the high share. They are distributing the films to double screens at a lower rate.”
Agastya Theatre in Tiruvottiyur that has entered its 50th year has not been able to revise its tickets from Rs 30 for close to a decade now. B Venkataraman, manager of the theatre says, “We have not been able to raise the ticket rate and had written to the government more than eight years ago. But we are yet to hear from them. Taxes have gone up and none of the big banners want to screen their movies at our theatre because they want us to sell tickets at Rs 90 or Rs 100. But we still sell tickets for Rs 30, Rs 25 and Rs 7.”
He adds that since they are unable to get Bairavaa for Pongal release due to low ticket rates, they will mostly settle for Puriyatha Puthir, a Vijay Sethupathi starrer.
Where single screens compete
In North Chennai, which is yet to see the burgeoning on the mall and multiplex culture, single screens continue to hold fort. Maharani Theatre in Washermanpet is optimistic about its successful festival run, waging a collection battle with MM Theatre and I Dream, where a ticket is sold for as high as Rs 120. A source from Maharani Theatre says, “We have all kinds of crowd coming here and Pongal is the time for us to fight the tough competition from neighbouring theatres. We have five shows of Bairavaa and we are already getting good responses from the crowd with bookings.”
True to his words, I Dream is already fully booked for January 12, and a steady stream of booking till January 15.
Distributors and producers maintain that there is no discrimination based on the category of theatres because ultimately, the revenue is what matters to all parties. Producer-distributor Gnanavel Raja, says, “It is about the theatre being air conditioned and equipped with facilities.”
A movie buff prefers going to these single screens because they don’t have to spend 20 minutes to enter , find a spot at the parking lot and take the elevator to the last floor to reach the theatre, like in malls or big screens.” But the concept of single screen may not hold good in the city, where there are clusters of theatres in many areas, points out distributor and producer JSK Sathishkumar. “If you take AVM Rajeswari, it has Kamala Theatre and Palazzo nearby—so the concept of a single screen doesn’t hold good. The more appropriate example of a single screen holding monopoly would be Jothi at St. Thomas Mount that doesn’t have competition nearby,” he says.
Abirami Ramanathan, president, Chennai Theatre Owners Association refutes the claim that multiplexes have elbowed out single screens. “That’s not true at all; all kinds of theatres exist hand in hand. Each of these has their own audiences. Even Krishnaveni a non-AC theatre is doing very well and so are the ones like Agastya, I Dream and Ganapathi Ram. The only advantage the malls with theatres have is that they have other sources of revenue, while for the single and double screens, it is the ticket sales alone that bring in the revenue,” he says.