After more than 70 years, the iconic single-screen Rex Theatre on Brigade Road will run its last film on December 31. It will make way for a mall with restaurants, shops and a multiplex with four screens. As citizens take to social media to mourn the loss of a theatre whose history is woven into the fabric of Benglauru, owners of other single screens are struggling to remain relevant and profitable.
The story of Rex Theatre is no different from that of many other single-screens that have bitten the dust over the years. Poor patronage, the growing popularity of shiny new multiplexes, and the current business model have sounded the death knell for single-screens.
Will a makeover save them?
A few have chosen to fight, and are hoping to beat the odds by upgrading their premises. Veeresh Theatre, one of the oldest single-screens on Magadi Road set up in 1972, went from being a single-screen theatre to a double-screen one in 2011. The theatre was upgraded with facilities usually found in multiplexes, such as air-conditioning, a better sound system, spacious seating arrangements with cushioned seats and a well-stocked canteen. The theatre continues to draw crowds.
“I realised that the main reason people preferred multiplexes over single-screens was because the former provided better ambiance and facilities. Single-screen theatres, which were built about 50 years ago, lacked sound and picture quality, space, décor and atmosphere. I decided to upgrade Veeresh Theatre to include all these facilities. We have been able to sustain our business because of this upgrade,” said K V Chandrashekar, proprietor of the theatre.
For Mukunda Theatre in Banaswadi, which opened in 1976, upgradation has been a continuous process. Venkatesh Reddy, who manages the theatre, said that every time a new technology is introduced in multiplexes, he makes sure to bring it to his theatre too. “When Dolby Atmos came, we got it. We can play 3D films,” he said.
And like Chandrashekar, he has invested in improving the experience for customers. The premise’s decor and seating arrangements were modified to be on par with multiplexes. Everest Talkies in Frazer Town and Urvashi theatre on Lalbagh Road have also opted to fight it out by upgrading themselves.
An expensive investment
Reinvention, however, cannot guarantee the survival of single screens. Robin Theatre in Kengeri adopted all the new technologies, but sustaining them has not been easy. Thomas D’Souza, owner of Robin and vice-president of South Indian Film Federation, says, “There is no financial support from the government in terms of loans. How can an owner keep upgrading when technology advances rapidly? How can we complete in such an environment? We don’t want subsidies. All we are seeking is loans from banks. We have shared our concerns with the Chief Minister as well.”
Not all single-screen theatres lend themselves to a makeover. “Upgradation is expensive. Not many owners have the funds for this exercise. Even those who do may not be able to upgrade, as the old structures do not permit us to make too many changes,” said Chandrashekar.
Then, there is the question of competition. Upgrading can be cost effective only when the theatre has no competition. “When there are two single-screen theatres in close proximity, the one which is able to get quality films will continue to thrive,” said a theatre-owner.
The distribution model
Single-screen theatre owners also rued the ‘unfair terms of conditions’ imposed by distributors. Many claim that they are being pushed out of business.
According to Venkatesh, “Multiplexes get a decent deal on sharing of the collection, but not single screens. We are given films on rental basis. Only when there is a level playing field for multiplexes and single-screens will we all survive.”