This 84-year-old movie hall in the national capital has weathered many a storm in its lifetime, including high entertainment tax, competition from multiplexes, and piracy. However, it is the Centre’s demonetisation initiative that may finally bring it down.
Word on the streets of Connaught Place is that Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal — scheduled to be released this week — could be the last movie to be screened at Regal Cinema, the oldest single-screen theatre in Delhi. “Business has been down for a decade, but last month’s collections were the worst. We got just Rs 4 lakh from Befikre (a romantic comedy starring Ranveer Singh and Vaani Singh) while we expected at least Rs 10 lakh,” said Vishal Choudhary, its owner. “We are unable to recover even the operating costs. Half the money we get from the tickets goes to the distributor. It costs us over Rs 2 lakh a week to run a show.”
Cinema hall owners also have to pay 40% of the ticket price as entertainment tax, which further cuts into profits. Regal cancelled night shows six times in the last one month, Choudhary said, adding that Dangal may be the last movie to be screened if this situation continues.
The theatre — built in 1932 — holds a special charm for movie lovers, who see it as a place where erstwhile superstars Raj Kapoor and Nargis used to attend film premieres. “We wanted to bring back those days, but now we don’t know how long we will able to run our business. If a person gets Rs 2,000 after standing for hours in a bank queue, do you think he will spend that money on movies?” Choudhary asked rhetorically.
While the theatre owner supports demonetisation, he bemoans the high-handed manner in which subsequent governments have treated single-screen cinema halls. “For years, we have been seeking permission to convert Regal Cinema into a multiplex. But while several others in the vicinity were allowed to do so, our requests met no response,” said Choudhary.
The first and second floors of the Regal Building were sold to Madame Tussauds in 1996, so the famed wax museum could open its 22nd branch in Delhi. The ground floor remains with the owner.
Vishal Cineplex in Rajouri Garden is also in the middle of a similar battle for survival. The biggest surviving single-screen theatre in Delhi, it draws 12 to 15 people on an average to its night shows. “We might close anytime too, if things don’t improve,” said SR Talwar, the theatre manager.
Built in 1970, Vishal Cineplex has a seating capacity of 1,400 people. Talwar said that while 15% of the seats used to be occupied before the government scrapped high-value currency notes, bookings have slumped to less than 5% in the last one month.
Talwar recalled the good old days, when superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Kapoor would come visiting. “It was the only cinema hall between Model Town and Rajouri Garden. It’s been like a child to me. It is painful to see that people are not coming, despite prices being kept in the Rs 70-Rs 150 bracket,” he said.
At both the cinema halls, bookings are done mostly through ticket counters with cash. “As our patrons are usually those unfamiliar with technology, very few bookings are done online,” said Roop Ghai, manager of Regal Cinema.