Telugu Cinema: How the Multiplexes killed the vibe?
Note: The Post is written from the perspective of how multiplexes in Hyderabad are changing the way we watch Telugu movies (and only Telugu movies!)…read on.
Every year in the hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh, families get together for three days of festivities. The month is January and the occasion is Sankranthi which is the most important festival for millions of people across the state. No matter where the families are based in, they would make it a point to assemble in their native villages and towns and celebrate the occasion. Children are presented new pair of clothes to wear and along with it they are also given some money as a ‘taufa’. The money is consecutively spent on various things like food, more shopping and entertainment. Every business establishment in the state knows this and they want to grab their share of the pie. Telugu film industry is no different. If you have observed the kind of films which release every Sankranthi, then they are usually family entertainers or potential money spinners which would appeal to a broader cross section of people. People would go, enjoy the whole experience and come back with a smile on their face. However over the past few years, things have changed. The vibe is no longer the same especially in cities. The reason – Multiplexes have sprung up everywhere. The far reaching consequences of multiplexes, wielding their muscle, is quite a debatable issue; however I believe that they have done more harm than good. It’s just not during Sankranthi, the effects are visible every single time you walk into one of those swanky multiplexes in your city or town.
In the early years of this decade, a new multiplex came into being in Hyderabad. Prasads Multiplex near Hussain Sagar. I had gone to study my engineering in BITS-Pilani and everyone was raving about the IMAX experience back in Hyderabad. I was really happy that the city has a new place where more English films would be screened. Earlier, theatres like Skyline, Sangeeth and Shalimar were known to screen English films and the city had a new feather in its cap. Four years later, I came back to Hyderabad in 2007. Apart from Prasads, there was PVR, Big Cinemas and Cinemax. Quite recently another multiplex, INOX has joined the list of ever growing number of multiplexes in the city. It didn’t take a long time to realize what was happening. And the new wave scared me. I realized the crazy fan in me was dying a slow death because of these multiplexes. They are slowly changing the way we watch our films. It’s like a complete paradigm shift. Films aren’t just for entertainment sake, it’s a way of life here. An essential part of our lives. And it’s really pissing off to see this phenomenon changing slowly!
Lets begin with the basic issues which make multiplexes such a huge hit with a lot of us. They are undoubtedly POSH, everything is kept clean. The seats are fantastic, the projection and the sound systems are brilliant. The food is probably clean (am not talking about the “taste”), you don’t find people spitting. It’s pure gloss which the Big Brother thinks is essential for a good “experience” while watching movies. The families and everyone who cares for hygiene loved it. But then, everything comes with a price tag. I have seen the ticket prices go up from Rs.60 to Rs.80 and finally Rs.100. The good part about Hyderabad is, there’s no differentiation in ticket prices no matter what language or time of the show is, which I believe is not the case in Bangalore, Pune or Mumbai. Then came, INOX which charges Rs.150 per ticket and there are recliner seats as well for which they charge Rs.250. Taking cue from INOX, multiplexes like PVR and Big Cinemas have hiked the cost from Rs.100 to Rs.150. It took me a long time to get used to the fact that I was paying Rs.100 for the same movie which I could have seen for Rs.50 in a normal theatre. But charging Rs.150 is outrageous! That’s like paying 300% more than what I would be paying in a normal theatre for the same film. It doesn’t end there. Take a look at the food (snacks) prices. The cheapest thing on the menu would probably be bottled water which is anywhere between Rs.20-Rs.30! Samosa costs Rs.40 (2 pieces) and I am sure the potato and masala inside isn’t made in USA. Well, you might brush off these things stating that it’s all a matter of demand and supply. If there are people who are willing to pay so much for a “good experience” then let them charge how much ever the Multiplexes want. I partially agree with this argument; however I still find it hard to digest that a ‘match box’ like screen in INOX charges Rs.150, whereas watching a film in IMAX costs Rs.200. And did I forget to mention that bookmyshow.com and other ticketing partners charge anywhere between Rs.10-Rs.20 for every ticked you book on the internet!! On an average you spend Rs.170 for a single ticket and that doesn’t even include the food costs once you are inside.
The bigger concern is how we watch movies in these multiplexes. You are supposed to maintain decorum, there are rules for everything, people glare at you if you howl or scream if you favourite hero has done something freaking awesome onscreen. There’s an eerie silence throughout the film and people walk out without any hustle bustle. They call this sophistication. And I can’t help but think, where did the joy of watching a full fledged commercial entertainer vanish? What happened to the vibe? What happened to the spectator’s intense reactions which used to be blatant in the good old days? I saw ‘Magadheera’ on first day in a normal theatre and I loved the experience. After a long time I was happy that people were in a great mood while watching a film. A week after this, I saw the same film again in a Multiplex, and I wanted to walk out after sometime. I again saw the film 50 days after its release in another multiplex. And this time I did walk out after the flashback episode in second half. I was dumbfounded at the remarkable change in audience’s behaviour! I agree that 50 days after any film’s release, the experience isn’t the same but still the eerie silence got onto my nerves.
Few days ago, I read an article that over 400 theatres (Single screens) have been shut down in Coastal Andhra Pradesh in the past five years. The news broke my heart. Of the several reasons why few of those cinema halls were shut down, one of them was the expansion of Multiplexes into cities like Vijayawada and Vishakapatnam. Don’t you see what’s happening here? Multiplexes are in the business of real estate just like McDonalds. Movies or Burgers is their human face as in a service. Whatever reasons there maybe, the multiplexes will continue to expand to more and more cities and towns in future. The basic principle which these multiplexes follow is, if a person wants to see a film then there shouldn’t be a dearth of options. There are multiple shows of a single film (Prasads screens close to 16 shows on first day if it’s a big star’s film) and yeah there are plenty of other options if you can’t get tickets to one film. The focus has shifted from watching what you wanted to watch to the next available option. The weekend goes away and most of the times, your favourite film isn’t there in that multiplex. And if you are a punk who doesn’t take movies seriously then you won’t even bother to watch it in a normal theatre. It doesn’t do any good to the film industry as well. From what I have heard, the multiplexes end up keeping the lion share of revenues earned from selling the tickets. They charge higher rents and unless the producer has big money, it’s difficult to get the slots to screen a film. Regional films always get a raw deal at multiplexes. I am not sure how the scene in Chennai is, but Hyderabad and Bangalore have the same story to tell.
There was a time not too long ago when people paying right from Rs.5 to Rs.50 would sit and watch films together under the same roof. If I may say, the joy or discontent was infectious. It was one big family, a la scene from an Italian cult film ‘Cinema Paradiso’. I was like a Toto once upon a time. Not anymore I guess. It’s not the case anymore when you consider the vibe in multiplexes. The crowd is more or less the same and you have absolutely no idea what the person sitting next to you felt about the film. The multiplexes may have given you a lot of incentives for watching a film but they have sucked the soul out of the whole experience. We are like zombies who are told not to show any extreme emotion despite having the urge to express your heartfelt emotions. This is not the El Dorado I imagined few years ago. Yet, I end up watching most of the films in a multiplex due to the nature of my job. It’s a compulsion that I watch the earliest possible show on a given Friday and most of the multiplexes screen films as early as 8:45 AM sometimes whereas RTC X Roads wakes up at 11 AM!
20 years from now, your kids are going to ask you, “Did people really whistle and throw papers while watching a film?” And mark my words- you will be nostalgic about those good old days where watching movies was fun! A majority of Telugu movies churned out these days aren’t packaged for a multiplex crowd. But then, it’s an irreversible process. The multiplexes are here to stay because they are in vogue. All I wish is the transition be a little slower. For now, all I can do is dream of the joy of watching films from yesteryears. It may never come back again. Gear up for the future of movies sans the yesteryears vibe, because the multiplexes killed it!
P.S: I go to a cinema hall to watch a film and the film alone. Not the cola, not the popcorn or the comfy seats. I still don’t understand how people can watch a film if they are treated like a king in one of those “Gold Class” or Recliner Seats where they just rip you off with exorbitant prices. And I wish, I was paying for watching the film alone. Sometimes I think, is it possible to collect money based on your experience after having seen the film using modern technologies like AI or some jazz like that? Maybe that’s the only way these multiplexes will run out of business. *Sigh*. It’s just an efffing dream which I wish comes true one fine day!
P.P.S: The image is used for illustrative purpose only.
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