The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The reopening of a lost hope

It is common knowledge now that it has become a routine for single-screen theatres in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal to shut down. The state used to have seven hundred theatres (multiplexes apart), a number which is now bleeding at just two hundred and forty eight. Consistent poor business on one hand and rising costs on the other are the primary reasons for their fate. All of us have fond memories of a number of theatres where we used to go to watch movies, which are closed down now.

The just-released Cinemawala by Kaushik Ganguly deals with this brute truth at its core. It’s a father-son relationship story in the backdrop of a closed down theatre in the suburbs.

The lack of business emerges out of basically two reasons- 1. The pathetic box office of Bangla cinema these days (I’m talking of the mainstream releases here, not so-called urban cinema which releases not even in one third of the theatres) and the owners’ apathy to the business. Any business calls for the businessman’s interest and involvement to survive and flourish and there is no reason why a movie theatre would be any different. The state government supported the cause of the theatre owners some years ago by bringing down the amusement tax to just 2% for Bengali movies on condition that the savings would be ploughed back into the improvement and upgrade of the theatres, but most of the theatre owners have been reluctant to avail this opportunity.

On the other hand, changing with the times in terms of technology and amenities and learning smart ways of doing business have kept many theatres in good business not only in Kolkata but in the districts as well. From personal experience in the movie exhibition business (running a movie theatre in other words) spanning Kolkata to interiors of Bengal I know that the audience across economic classes doesn’t mind paying a little more for a better movie watching experience.

At this juncture, it’s incredible to see a closed theatre re-opening. But that’s what has happened almost silently in one corner of Kolkata earlier this month. Ellora, an old theatre in Behala and once a much-loved destination for cine goers, has been re-opened after being closed for three years. This is thanks to the owners of Ajanta Cinema, one of the popular theatres of the city located in the same area.

Tthe owners of Ajanta- the young Satadeep Saha and his father Ratan Saha are passionate about the business of film exhibition and that is the reason why some single screen theatres in Kolkata have moved with time and are sustaining themselves well in the age of multiplexes (Priya being a prime example). Since I was overjoyed with the news, I asked Satadeep how it happened. He shared the inspiring story of their growing cinema business.

They have always wanted to grow screens with good infrastructure. It all started in 2007 when they renovated Ajanta and opened the screen 1 in 2007, followed by its success the screen 2 came in 2008. The next stop was Tripura which has a sizable Bengali population. There was not a single decent theatre in the state. So the Sahas took a calculative risk and opened a four-screen multiplex named SSR Rupasi in 2012. It is running successfully screening new Bengali and Hindi releases.

They were looking for properties to start a new theatre in Kolkata and rather than going for a new property which calls for a substantial investment, re-opening a theatre seemed a viable option. Ellora is a well-located theatre just a few kilometers away, which was closed for three years and they zeroed in on it.

Ellora finally threw open its gates on 6th May 2016. I found it out from a nonchalant status update by Satadeep on Facebook. As he shared, it has been opened as it was,  only with a better projection and sound for now. The Sahas plan to renovate it over time with all modern facilities to qualify it as a movie-viewing option besides the plexes. Ticketing machines are being installed and online booking will be open soon. Good for now! Ellora will show mainly Bengali movies and Hindi movies as well.

A friend born and brought up in Behala informed that decades back Ellora used to be the number one movie destination for the educated middle and upper middle class in Behala. He fondly recalled his family trips to the place in his early school days.

Here’s hoping Ellora earns its lost glory back.

#MovieTheatresKolkata #Ellora #BehalaTheatres #BengaliCinema

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