As the rugged hands of labourers clear away the last of the debris of fallen 'Pearl Cinema', they also collect with them the coffin of the single-screen theatres in Patna, into which the demolition has put virtually the last nail.
A crowded cinema hall in Patna during better times. (HT Photo)
"With the long-closed but still standing theatre now being dismantled, it is not just the death of 'Pearl' but practically that of the single-screen theatres themselves in Patna," says former district magistrate (Patna) and president, Cine Society, Patna, R N Dash.
Patna, which once boasted and took pride in its singlescreen theatres, has silently given way to multiplexes.
"The lure of the multiplex and the onslaught of video piracy has killed the singlescreen. But, do people of Patna care?" asks Dash, who has now hardened himself after seeing so many theatres vanish over the years.
Cinema experts and critics point out, that the government, instead of formulating policies to save and restore the city's vulnerable heritage, has given incentives to theatre owners to dismantle and replace them with 'modern' structures.
The current political regime in Bihar, which assumed power in 2005, drastically reduced entertainment tax - from 110% to 50% - besides giving its nod to proposals extending tax holidays for modernisation of cinema halls and construction of multiplexes.
"This tax benefit, in the name of growth, offered these theatre-wallahs incentives to dismantle their old structures and make way for the 'modern' ones, even though some of them were historic in nature and still in good shape," says national-award winning film critic, Vinod Anupam.
"Single-screens also offer opportunity for small-budget films like 'Gangs of Wasseypur' to find audience in a cut-throat multiplex market. Now, megabudget films like 'Ek Tha Tiger' have dislodged 'Wasseypur II' from virtually all exhibition venues," says Anupam.
About one-and-a-half year ago, Patna's oldest and the most historic theatre, the 'Elphinstone Picture Palace', built in early 1900s, succumbed to the hammer of 'modernity' and commercialisation.
The theatre was where Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore performed with his troupe, the dance-drama 'Chitrangada' in 1936 during his visit to Patna.
Such was the charm that these single-screen halls once held, and Dash informs that 'Elphinstone', 'then owned by the 'Elphinstone Bioscope Company' began as a theatre and only later was it converted to be used as a cinema hall as well'.