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Aamir cracks the plex Code

An old-fashioned climb up the stairs for a corner balcony seat to watch Aamir Khan's Rehan Qadri be Fanaa over Kajol's Zooni Ali Beg. Or an escalator-borne rise to the now familiar sink-in seats to catch Tom Hanks's Robert Langdon and Audrey Tautou's Sophie Neveu crack The Da Vinci Code.

Thanks to everything ' from sustained religious protests to increased revenue demands ' this Friday, the big-screen battle card reads: Fanaa at standalone theatres versus The Da Vinci Code at multiplexes.

The two most eagerly-awaited movies of the season will face-off at very different settings ' for those choosing the Bollywood biggie, it will be something of a blast from the past, three years since the multiplex mania gripped this metro.

The official certificate from the censor board on Tuesday paved the way for the Code's India release this Friday ' a week after it hit the screens the world over ' while Fanaa was always slated for May 26. But the twist in the tale here is that the Aamir-Kajol saga will not release at the plexes.

With national multiplex chains ' INOX and Fame ' not agreeing to the revenue hike demanded by Yash Raj Films, and 89 Cinemas joining in, the Kunal Kohli film will have to make do with single-screen theatres in Calcutta. (The impending showdown between distributors and multiplexes had been reported in Metro on May 9).

If last-minute parleys in Mumbai do not achieve a breakthrough, Fanaa will release at Elite, Hind, Menoka, Minar, Bijoli, Chhabighar, Purnasree, Malancha, Jaya and Ashoka.

Says Bengal distributor Pritam Jalan: 'Audiences just want to see the film and at half-the-ticket prices (Rs 100 to Rs 125), compared to a multiplex, Fanaa will surely bring back Calcuttans to standalone theatres. Even we stand to earn more in the process, since single screens always give greater returns.'

If the advances are anything to go by, Jalan is spot on. 'Almost 85 per cent of the tickets for the first weekend have been sold out,' reveals Pranab Ray from Menoka. The distributor expects the remaining tickets to be sold once audiences realise that Fanaa will not reach the plexes.

The advances for The Da Vinci Code open only on Wednesday, but in the pecking order of theatres, the adaptation of the Dan Brown bestseller enjoys a higher rating. 'Despite releasing a week later, we have got the same set of screens ' all the four multiplexes, apart from Nandan, Globe and Priya,' says east India distributor Arijit Dutta. 'We are going in much bigger than Fanaa and even releasing Hindi versions at Basusree and Jyoti.'

Multiplex chains are naturally gung-ho over the Code. 'We are planning to go big with the movie and cash in on the solid hype the film has got,' says 89 Cinemas vice-president Prashant Srivastava.

In this celluloid battle stretching from the Louvre in Paris to the snows of Poland, much would depend on who draws first blood this Friday.

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