The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stars turn blind eye
- Zero growth in plex count blamed for promotionals shunning city

There was a time when Hrithik Roshan would take Park Street by storm for a Kaho Naa… Pyar Hai promotion blitz. There was a time when Aamir Khan would come, wife-to-be Kiran Rao in tow, urging every Calcuttan to rise to Mangal Pandey.

Not any more. Today, if you are very lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Amitabh Bachchan shooting for a Rituparno Ghosh film or Rani Mukerji posing for a sari ad. They come here to make movies (or money), but no longer to sell their movies in the city.

How else would you explain the Saawariya team hopping from Hyderabad to Indore, Jaipur to Ahmedabad, but not turning up in Calcutta'

Both the star newcomers stressed how special Calcutta was for them — Ranbir Kapoor said his grandfather (Raj Kapoor) loved the city and Sonam Kapoor said her father (Anil Kapoor) had a big fan following here — but they couldn’t make it over to promote the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film.

“The Calcutta market is down,” pronounces Vikramjit Roy, the publicity head of Sony Pictures India, which co-produced Saawariya. “Unlike places like Indore, Lucknow, Chandigarh and Jaipur, there is no growth in terms of multiplexes. Most single-screen theatres are decrepit, almost stagnating the market. So, a marketing push doesn’t really increase the share from the Bengal territory.”

In terms of gross collection, Calcutta still noses ahead of the smaller cities, but their growth curve is steep. Delhi and Mumbai, of course, are crores ahead. For example, Bhool Bhulaiyaa collected around Rs 4.6 crore in Mumbai and Rs 3.3 crore in Delhi in Week One. In Calcutta, despite packed plexes, the collections were around Rs 56 lakh.

The facts lie in the figures. If Delhi and Mumbai have more than 120 multiplex screens each, Calcutta boasts just 16. No new plex screen has been added here since Puja 2005.

“Even in places like Coimbatore, Jalandhar, Aurangabad and Mysore, the multiplex boom is on in a big way but Calcutta has only been threatening, with very little action,” rues Roy of Sony Pictures India.

That is why if Bollywood stars shy away from film promotionals in Calcutta, Hollywood films shy away from city screens. If Friday the 17th saw Robert Redford’s new film Lions for Lambs, starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep, opening in Mumbai (just a week after the US release), Calcutta had to be content with the June release Nancy Drew.

“Only if the big films get a good response in the first round of release in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, do we send prints to second-rung cities like Calcutta,” admits a distributor of Hollywood films in India.

The only stars who do come calling to Calcutta every other week are the ones from the small screen. You can always hope to bump into a Mandira Bedi or a Mona ‘Jassi’ Singh because the city does have quite a say in the TRP count of TV shows.

Says Monika Bhattacharyya, who earlier worked for STAR Plus and now is the spokesperson for Yash Raj Films: “Calcutta is definitely on the radar while promoting TV shows but for films, it is not mandatory.”

The proof of the pull is in the promotion and despite a Rs 20-crore blitz, Saawariya could not fit Calcutta into its travel plans. Team Om Shanti Om, too, did not think it worthwhile to send its stars over.

“This can only change if the number of screens grows swiftly and significantly. There are plans for 30 plex screens in 24 months, but that might not be enough for Calcutta to regain its clout,” feels an industry insider.

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