The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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20 shows, 10 movies a day, and film-buffs keep streaming in
- Multiplex Experience

It’s mayhem, four flights up at Forum. The sweet smell of box-office success — generously embellished by the aroma of nachos, pizzas and samosas — permeates Calcutta’s current destination of choice: Inox.

The crowds are pouring in, the weekends going “nearly house-full” at the city’s first cineplex that opened to the public on September 27, while the weekday average was “70 per cent occupancy”. But that is nothing compared to the Puja record. “You could say that on Nabami and Dashami, 20 out of the 21 shows screened a day were house-full,” says Sumanta Ray, marketing manager, Inox.

Offering over 20 shows of 10 films on a daily basis, hall-strapped film-lovers are having a field day. But right now, crowds are flocking to the fun centre for the multiplex experience, not so much to watch a film. As Roop Sen, a disappointed cinegoer in search of tickets for Chokher Bali on a Sunday evening, observed: “People don’t care what film they end up watching, they just want to get into Inox.” So far, Baghban, Chokher Bali and Zameen have been neck-and-neck in terms of sales.

After the honeymoon, will the rush come to an end' No, feel Inox officials. Somewhat, counter industry-watchers.

“The people of Calcutta have not had this kind of cinematic experience for a while, though it may have been common in Calcutta a few years ago,” adds Ray. “We have seen heads of companies happily wait in line for tickets here. These are the people who have opted to watch films at home on DVD, rather than venture out to a hall these past few years.” Apart from the sight-and-sound quality, Refuel, the snack bar, has been a huge hit. Viewers have grabbed the chance to heap their trays with nachos and square pizzas, and other such goodies.

Whatever the trade reaction, there is little doubt that the entrance of small screens with a large audience in a captive space has done wonders for small films. Jogger’s Park and Mumbai Matinee are still playing, and this trend is expected to continue. It has proved to be a boon for films that don’t draw the crowds, at least from the exhibitor’s perspective. “While Samay has done badly elsewhere, it has done very well at our hall,” explains Ray. This benefit — somewhat from the spillover crowd from house-full shows — will not last long, feels Arijit Dutta, owner of Priya and Globe. “After a while, will people want to pay so much to watch an average film'” he asks. While south and central Calcutta cinemas may lose some business initially, he adds, the rush will wear away with the novelty value.

In the long run, price sensitivity is what competitors feel will burst the Inox bubble. With a maximum price of Rs 130 on weekends, and a minimum of Rs 50 on weekday mornings, however, it is only a “small premium” above south Calcutta’s top halls, stresses Ray. These are some of the lowest rates in the country for a multiplex. While industry observers suspect this price will soon be increased, Inox has no immediate plans of doing so.

Students, at least, are not complaining. “I have been there three to four times, so far,” says Harsh Maskara, a student of Class XII at La Martiniere for Boys. “There is usually a gang of young people for the morning show, as many students can’t afford the more expensive rates in the evening,” he explains. But the “different environment”, with the “flexible timings”, feels Harsh, is enough to keep him and the rest coming back for more. “As long as prices are comparable, we would prefer to go to Inox.”

The distributor’s ‘cut’ per print, however, is not enhanced by this shift in viewing culture. “With the small seating capacity, even a full house at a multiplex brings in the same revenue as a mediocre run in a single-screen hall,” says a spokesperson of one Hollywood studio. What it does provide, she feels, is a “sophisticated marketing platform” to promote films.

Whether the entry of one Inox — and another at City Centre in a few months — effects trade or not, the clear winner is the viewer. With halls across town downing shutters, four new screens, with so many additional shows, mean that many more films, especially for English viewers.

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