Single-screen ‘halls’, the poor man’s multiplex

  • Simar Bhasin, Hindustan Times, Noida
  • Updated: Apr 10, 2016 00:03 IST
Many single-screen theatres change hands every six months and mostly cater to the low-income migrant population in Noida. (Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo)

A poster of the 1989 action movie Jung Baaz, a box office that doubles up as a projection room, Akshay Kumar-starrer 1993 release Sainik as the next change and a hall filled with the smell of bidi. All this and more greets the audience at ‘Satyam Palace’, a movie theatre known simply as a ‘hall’, which caters to the male migrant population in Mamura village near Sector 62, far away from Noida’s expensive multiplexes. Here, whatever is on demand is on the screen. All four showtimes have four different movies and Sunday is ‘Bhojpuri special’ for those who want a taste of home.

“People who have come to Noida from Bihar, Etawah, Bareilly and neighbouring districts in search of work come here in their free time to unwind and watch their favourite films,” says Harinder Kumar (29), the current lease holder, while he tries to put on some 80s Hindi songs as fillers before the next show begins.

Malohar (35), a rickshaw puller by profession, comes here to get a daily dose of Bollywood. “I prefer the action films. I always make it a point to catch at least one show daily,” he says.

Popular with low-income workers, these ‘halls’ exchange hands every six months or a year and acquire a new identity with each change. Satyam Palace itself was known as Shivam Palace till last year.

A casual glance across the box office-cum-projection room reveals an inverter, three DVD players, a projector and CDs of various action thrillers, romance and comedy movies, almost all of them at least a decade old.

Speaking about the broken benches and less-than-ideal condition of the hall, Kumar says, “You get what you pay for with a `20 ticket.” The air conditioner is barely working and the CD players require a bit of jingling before they work. With the entertainment tax and the upkeep of the place, there is barely any money left to improve the technology, according to Kumar.

“The footfall is higher in June and September. It also depends on the weather. During rains, we get a larger number of people,” he adds.

Around four kilometres away, in another village inhabited mostly by the migrant population, lies Kavita Palace. Although different from Mamura’s halls in terms of size and the facilities provided, Khoda village’s Kavita Palace also caters to mass interests. Here, recently-released films are played the whole week, and the choice of new releases reflects the interests of the audience with B-grade films like Miss Teacher being the hot favourites.

With a relatively bigger auditorium and a canteen, Kavita Palace lies somewhere between the multiplexes in malls and the single room halls of Mamura that serve migrant workers and rickshaw pullers.

It is a popular haunt of autorickshaw drivers and small vendors from village who can pay `80 for a ticket. The hall was established in 2004 with a seating capacity of 1,100. However, with multiplexes taking away the customers who could afford them, the proprietor was forced to downsize and reduce the seating to 413.

“It is hard for small-screen theatres to survive with this competition and the expenses led to the downsizing of the cinema hall. I wanted to provide the same facilities that multiplexes do, but at a cheaper rate,” says proprietor Lokesh Gupta.

While these ‘palaces’ are a refuge for the male migrant population of the villages, women rarely visit these places. Be it Khoda village’s Kavita Palace or the halls of Mamura, there are no explicit signs barring women from entering, but it is understood that these are not for women.

“Women come occasionally with their husbands and children for a family viewing, but never alone. The atmosphere is not to their taste,” says Kumar.

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