SCENE ONE: Six popcorn flavours, fancy gourmet cuisine, recliner seats: all between Rs 175 and 900.
SCENE TWO: Rusty old gates, even rustier seats, the ‘big’ screen, over-salty, bland popcorn, and upper stall, balcony seats priced between R 40 and 400.
That’s not much of an option, is it? Who would head to a rickety old single screen in the age of multiplexes? The growing tribe of single screen fans refuses to see it that way. From the popular youth hub, PVR Priya, to the dusty Sheila in central Delhi, that’s where everyone’s heading to.
Putting it down to inexpensive tickets, easy availability, and a nostalgia for things old doesn’t quite capture it. Sumit, a 24-year-old who works with a city-based radio channel and stays in south Delhi, for example, is hooked to the three Paharganj theatres — Sheila, Imperial or Khanna Talkies.
“Don’t we love all things retro, in music and fashion?” he asks. “Single-screen theatres, especially the old ones are cool even if their sound-tracks are scratchy.” The areas around these old-time hangouts have more “character”, he says, unlike “overcrowded malls where there’s a certain sameness”.
The crowd is different at these places. An executive bunking office with old friends. A mother-daughter duo snacking on home-made tiffin. Middle-class tourists. A feeling of slowdown starts right from the time the old usher shows you the way to your seat, to the noisy churn of the rusty popcorn vending machine outside the theatre.
For movie buff Shivani Talwar, 34, the best part is being able to catch all the new releases without burning a hole in the pocket. A trip to a multiplex would setback a couple by R 280-2,000 (tickets and grub), whereas at a single screen theatre, it falls to R 80-200. “Imagine, getting the best seats for a hundred odd rupees without having to call up or check online,” says Talwar. Besides, she adds, that at a single screen theatre you can eat and watch movies in almost the same price as a fancy multiplex ticket.
Beyond the hall, the area around is also pulling people in. A movie at Batra Glitz at New Friends Colony is incomplete without biting into a shawarma at Al Bake’s, or a mouthful of the famous pav bhaaji at Ansari Road after a movie at Golcha.
Imran Afzal, 31-year-old businessman and an Old Delhi resident, feels the new loyalty to single-screens is natural.
“People are thrilled to come across the billiards room close to Delite, where our grandfathers loved to play the sport...” He says a testament to the growing popularity of single screens theatres is evident with outlets like Café Coffee Day and big youth brands opening shop next to outlets like Golcha in Darya Ganj. “Name one thing that even one of these multiplexes have to compare with the famous samosa they sell at Delite,” he adds.Prakash Dubey, the manager of ‘India’s first 70 mm theatre’ as is proudly claimed by a metal cutout outside the Sheila façade, says "the 30-35 feet distance between the screen and the seats (not counting the front rows of course) is ideal. You don’t find this at the small halls stacked like boxes in multiplexes."
How long will this trend for single-screen-watching last? Dubey says: “People look for the new and then look for something new again. But we are seeing a lot of young people, many of them from south Delhi. Good films have started to bring back families. Yamla Pagla Deewana brought us great numbers, maybe because people wanted a double dose of nostalgia — watching Dharamendra in an old style theatre,” he says, before going back to his yellowing account book in a cubicle at the back of the ticketing counter.