With theatres in makeover mode, film buffs in the city have much to rejoice

Creaking seats with sponge spilling out, musty odours hanging in the air, air conditioners that never made up their minds about the temperatures and a chance rat running down the aisles - these were part of the movie watching experience in city theatres, until recently.

Even as popular theatres closed down over the last decade, film buffs who liked to catch the latest flicks on the big screen were a disappointed lot. Some made the occasional trip to Chennai or Bangalore, while others took to watching in homes. What miffed most movie-lovers in the city, as one of them put it, was, “Theatres here charged multiplex rates for movies screened in halls that had none of the trappings a multiplex offers.”

The fag end of the year saw the ushering of the city’s first multiplex and the renovation of a handful of theatres that decided to notch up the game. The competition augurs only too well for the average movie-goer, with push back seats with ample leg room, high clarity digital movie experience, powerful acoustics, effective air-conditioning and better ambience translating into an enjoyable outing with friends or family.

The mushrooming of multiplexes in metros and other tier-two cities was partly responsible for the change, believes Senthil Kumar, proprietor, Ramba theatre.

“The young movie-goer is exposed to high-grade movie watching experience in Chennai and Bangalore. It is only natural that he demands similar facilities at home.”

Ramba theatre was one among the earliest to acknowledge the need for upping the cinema watching experience, notes Senthil Kumar. The theatre introduced the Qube digital cinema format in 2010.

“The movie watching experience today’s customer expects are four-fold- picture technology, acoustics, air-conditioning and seats. But better facilities has meant better collections for us, particularly after the first week of the release when families drop in just to enjoy a day out.”

Vijay cinemas, a multiplex with two screens, the new kid on the block, believes in going one step ahead with focus on what proprietor Madhan Mohan calls ‘wholesome entertainment’. Substantial parking space, a department store, food court and a gaming zone are added advantages and promise a complete family outing, he notes. Making up for it’s relatively smaller screens are seats with ample leg room, slick ticket counters and maintenance by housekeeping agencies. “I think what is equally as important as the facilities we offer, is the way we treat our customers. Our main focus is on building a strong customer base that keeps wanting to return,” says Mr. Madhan. The theatre has also provided a steady diet of new Hindi films for audiences that seeks a varied fare. More good tidings await international cinema lovers as the multiplex has acquired an advanced projector for screening English movies, which it proposes to kick off sometime this month! A 5D theatre for documentaries and the like is also on the anvil.

Sona Mina miniplex has spruced up its interiors with welcoming bright red seats, appealing lighting themes and interior décor. The old theatres that have taken the remodeling route have also paid attention to regular maintenance , better restrooms and promise better safety. features “The upkeep of traditional cinema houses with close to 1000 seats also depends on the cooperation of customers, “ says Mr.Senthil Kumar. “If they pick up litter, refrain from smoking in the hall and leave the bottles at home, we can offer our clients a more rewarding movie experience. It is not possible to clean up all the mess in the half an hour between movies, though we dispose off food packets and mop up the floors.”

“Making changes has meant that we stand a better chance at attracting the audience when a movie is screened in two or more theaters,” says Kasturi Mariam Pitchai, who has taken the lease for the government owned Kalaiarangam theatre. The 1260 seat capacity movie hall today sports a cleaner and smarter look. Push-back seats, advanced BARGO projector that offers high clarity viewing experience and uninterrupted power back –up have helped reconstruct the image of the theatre. But Kasturi believes small touches go a long way- like airc-conditioning vents that welcome the viewer with a gust of cold air, keeping the hall sprayed with perfume and a touch of landscaping at the entrance.

Some of these theatres also offer advance telephone and online booking , though only service charge is collected online and the remainder has to be paid at the counter. Some glitches do remain in the form of old-fashioned ticket counters, curt approach to customers. Regulation in ticket prices is a different story altogether, though today fares and the facilities are on a more equal footing than they were ever before.