Before they decide to buy their tickets on, Om Shivaprakash H.L. and his friends do a great deal of online research on new releases in theatres.

If there is not enough buzz around it on the social networking sites and film websites, chances are they will settle for a pirated DVD or a download through Torrent sites.

“The film should be worth your time and the money you spend on just a tub of popcorn in a multiplex,” says the young software professional. Besides, there are many “incidental” expenses that come with hanging out in a mall. He adds that as a “local”, he still occasionally chooses a less expensive single screen, but most of his colleagues would not take that trouble.

24/7 films

Films are today omnipresent. They are there 24/7 on multiple television channels, DVDs and websites. In addition, there are discussions galore on a bourgeoning number of dedicated fora.

However, ironically, there are fewer “movie-goers” in the traditional sense and the number of public screens is dwindling by the day. The number of cinema screens has gone down from about 150 in Bangalore in the 1980s to 70 now.

As S.V. Srinivas, Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, puts it: “We may not go to the cinemas, but cinemas are all around us.” B. Suresh, film-maker, concurs: “You can pick up a film DVD in a bookshop or from a pavement hawker.”

This has gone hand-in-hand with how film-watching habits have changed. “Films are losing their distinction as a stand-alone mode of entertainment,” says Mr. Srinivas.

This package comes with a heavy price tag. A family of four that goes to watch a film on the weekend in a multiplex is likely to get home poorer by about Rs. 3,000. The weekend tickets are priced upwards of Rs. 260 and even drinking water has to be bought within the mall.

Single screens are relatively affordable, but many of them too are now re-designed and have adopted state-of-the-art technology. Interestingly, what was called “Gandhi Class”, with the most affordable seats, is now out of even single-screen theatres.

However, producer Rockline Venkatesh, who owns Rockline multiplex with four screens, argues that entertainment, at some level, crosses the class divide. “Fans of a star will not hesitate to shell out their hard earnings to watch him on the screen,” he says.

The only other choice besides shelling out money is to wait for the film's release in what are called “second set-up theatres” in suburbs, where the film releases a week after its opening in the main theatres, says K.V. Chandrashekar, who owns Veeresh theatre and is the president of the Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce.

Cinema was once believed to be a leveller, where all classes watched a film under one roof, even though “Gandhi Class”, middle class and balcony were barricaded categories. A regular multiplex hall has no physical barricades. There is no need for any because all those who may aspire to cross them have been entirely excluded from this space because of the changed economy of film viewing.