The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tax holiday takes halls on tech highway
- prime time for Viewers

The world is going digital, to cut costs and improve quality. The film industry, too, seems to have jumped on the tech train. Films are already being made digitally, with Nil Nirjane ripe for release; hall-owners are increasingly upgrading screens, projectors and sound systems. And the winner, of course, is the viewer.

Priya cinema, at Deshapriya Park, has just installed a first-of-its-kind projector, which will be operational from Friday, enhancing the special effects for the sci-fi Patalghar. The 7Q Christie Xenon Projection System is truly state-of-the-art, with bulbs instead of carbon flames providing light for the film and an automatic spooling technique ruling out manual rewinding after every show. “Bulbs mean the light will be steady and clear throughout the screening and not flicker like a flame,” explains Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya. “It will also be more soft and soothing on the eyes. The automatic spool will prevent damage to the film, which so often happens when it is constantly rewound by hand. Usually, scratches are visible after a few days, especially at the beginning and end of the film.”

Making the expensive proposition — close to Rs 25 lakh — possible is a government subsidy. For technological and structural improvements that generally enhance the quality of a hall, owners will be exempt from entertainment tax for up to two years. The need for the improvements, agrees the hall-owner, is to call in the crowds and keep them. “At the end of the day, watching a film on big screen is a totally different experience,” says Dutta. “But how are you going to attract them if you don’t keep upgrading the hall'”

Miles away and beyond the Hooghly, Rakhee cinema, in Salkia, is reinventing itself with a Dolby sound system and other acoustics, a new screen and projector. According to owner Amit Singh, it is the government’s tax subsidy scheme that is making it all possible. “The work has been sanctioned by the government. We are in the process of collecting the funds. Once it is done, we will apply for tax-exemption. Hopefully, we will recover the money. But either way, we have to keep up with the times. There will be more customers once the changes are complete, without a doubt.”

At Minar, Bijoli and Chhabighar, work is on to instal Dolby stereo sound systems and air conditioners. Somnath Pal explains that although they had begun work before the government subsidy had been announced, an application has been sanctioned and he is “hopeful” of getting the tax exemption. “But we wanted to get the changes made for the people’s benefit. Most films are now in Dolby, and if we don’t have the system, the sound is not going to be as good,” explains Pal.

Metro, too, is in the makeover line. H. Dave says the renovation plans are being set in motion to avail of the scheme, as “it is too good to pass up”.

But a lot remains to be done. Dutta, also president of the Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA), points out that although this is a “wonderful opportunity” for big halls shelling out hefty entertainment tax, for smaller ones it would be impossible to recover steep upgradation costs. “Not enough people have taken advantage of the scheme yet. Also, there are a number of applications that are still pending with the government,” he adds.

Movie buffs, meanwhile, fed on picture-perfect images and crystal-clear sound on the small screen, have every reason to ask for more from the big-screen players.

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