Today, AC multiplexes and advanced features lure audience

In the 80s, watching films in cinema halls was a ritual in Madurai, where every major thoroughfare had a theatre. Friday was poster-gazing day as films were changed only on this auspicious day in theatres. Groups of people used to wait at vantage points early in the morning to be witness to the unfolding of suspense in the form of posters of new releases.

With every changing trend and the advent of technological gadgets, patronage for traditional theatres is progressively declining.

Today, air-conditioned multiplexes and advanced features like digital sound system and 3D lure the audience.

A decade ago, there were 52 theatres in the city, of which only 24 are functioning now. Once the pride of Madurai, Thangam Theatre, the largest cinema hall in Asia in its time, has been razed down on West Perumal Maistry Street.

A popular cinema on East Veli Street, named after a blockbuster, has turned into a godown. Another one on South Masi Street is now a car park.

Yet another theatre, which gave its name to the nearest bus stop at Munichalai, has walked into the pages of history without leaving a trace.

Theatres have either been shut down or pulled down as proprietors could not meet the expenses incurred for upkeep, staff wages and so on, says  Rm. M. Annamalai, State president, Tamil Nadu Exhibitors’ Association. There was a spurt in theatre business from 1970 to the early 1990s.

Today, people have become choosy both about the films and the facilities provided at cinema halls, say theatre owners in Madurai.

Most of the cinema halls in the city are poorly managed. They lack basic amenities such as clean toilets or a good cafeteria. Yet, they charge huge amounts for tickets, says N.Gowtham Raj, a business executive. “We don’t mind shelling out even up to Rs.150 per ticket, if they improve facilities,” he adds.

Recently, a public interest litigation petition was filed in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court seeking regulation of ticket fares in cinema houses. The petitioner, Ayyappan of Anna Nagar, had claimed that some cinema theatres flouted the government order and priced tickets between Rs.250 and Rs.500.

“We have been advising theatre owners not to overcharge the customers. Still, the government and the public should also understand that a cinema theatre is the only source of income for most people in the industry and if the ticket rates are not revised many theatres will either vanish or get morphed into marriage halls or shopping malls,” says Mr.Annamalai.

Further, he urges the State Government to take note of their plight and take steps to meet their demands.

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