Is there light and sound at the end of the tunnel? — Photo: K. Gopinathan

Is there light and sound at the end of the tunnel? — Photo: K. Gopinathan  

Many multiplexes would have been operating in the city by now, but the moratorium on non-Kannada films slowed down their plans. ROHINI MOHAN checks out their future in the midst of upheavals in the industry

WE BANGALOREANS are proud we're a laidback lot, aren't we? And we have remained true to our nature even as the Kannada film industry has been on the edge for months now. It's not that we polyglots and film buffs are not worried. Maybe the war will sort itself out, we mutter, as we plug in our DVD/VCD player. It makes no sense for us to wait for seven weeks to catch a new release when Darling CDs, Varalakshmi VCDs, and other local CD shops lure us with "latest picture bandhidhe".

Time was when we prided ourselves in our cinema theatres that screened movies in as many as six languages simultaneously. They still do, even after the Kannada film industry stepped in to impose the 50-day moratorium on non-Kannada films. Now that the Supreme Court has declared the moratorium illegal, the future course of events could be as dramatic as a potboiler.

Romantics cried when our cinemas — some of them historic buildings — closed one by one, making way for shopping malls. And we initially looked askance at those upstarts — the multiplexes. After the video boom of the Eighties and Nineties, which affected our cinemas badly, the 21st Century actually saw audiences coming back to the big screen. Along with them came a set of entrepreneurs who visualised multiplexes, dangling as baits multiple screens, first-day-first-show, and shops and eateries attached. Booming business, thronging masses, and a thriving movie culture: the stuff of dreams. And multiplexes didn't seem a bad idea, after all.

Forum mall at Koramangala planned an 11-screen multiplex, but has had to put off this venture due to the uncertainty in the industry. An official at the mall refused to comment on the issue because "it is still brewing and we don't want to take people on before we start itself. So we're holding back and keeping quiet."

But the lone functioning multiplex, Innovative, at Marathahalli, has been in a spot of trouble itself, and with the media to boot. The managements of the other proposed multiplexes are waiting and watching what happens. So what does the future hold for multiplexes in Bangalore?

Says Upasana Mittal, Executive Director, Innovative multiplex: "It is impossible to sustain our business if we have to wait for seven weeks to show a new movie."

After the screening of the much-awaited Bride and Prejudice, flouting the seven-week moratorium, and the subsequent stoning, allegedly by some Kannada activists, the multiplex had actually decided to close shop. "We needed new releases to rake in the money," explains Upasana, "I knew the day I wouldn't be able to pay salary to my staff of 150 wasn't far off; my electricity bill itself comes up to Rs. 3.5 lakh. Running expenses per month near Rs. 10 lakh. We wouldn't have covered costs if we had to wait for seven weeks, by which time people would've seen the films on CD."

Theatre owners clarify that as opposed to what the Kannada Film Producers' Association and Kannada Rakshana Vedike say of their toffee-nosed favouritism for English and Hindi movies, they are ready to screen Kannada movies if it brings monetary returns. In fact, during the moratorium, Innovative screened Omkara and Sahukara after paying up advances of Rs. 2 lakh each. The movies made barely Rs.10,000. Upasana admits that Sahukara is actually a well-made film, but fell short of expectations for want of an original script.

Another shopping centre, Sigma Mall, on Cunningham Road, is yet to launch its four-screen multiplex and, like Forum, is waiting for a favourable situation. Madhusudan, Marketing Head, Sigma Mall, says movie halls ensure footfalls and people can come for more than just window-shopping. "There's good purchasing power and demand for multiplexes in Bangalore."

As has been proven in countries where malls were constructed years ago, it is only the initial price that is exorbitant. As soon as the mall culture starts catching up, economy becomes the mantra.

For a city such as Bangalore, where there aren't beaches to stroll on or few heritage sites to explore, business and entertainment are probably the most tempting baits to lure tourists. Even for the city-dweller, dinner and a movie is regular entertainment.

Even as the exhibitors sit down to decide if the Supreme Court order changes anything for good, the coming weeks will hold the key to the future of multiplexes in Bangalore.

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