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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

In the midst of digital revolution, Delhi’s DVD stores brave all odds to stay afloat

How music sellers, who opened shops in the early 1980s when audio cassettes became popular, are trying to stay afloat at a time when the digital revolution has wiped out most of Delhi’s DVD shops and libraries.

delhi Updated: Sep 30, 2018 07:39 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Jagdish Serth, a DVD shop owner posing for a picture at his DVD shop at near Nirman vihar metro Station in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, September 25, 2018.
Jagdish Serth, a DVD shop owner posing for a picture at his DVD shop at near Nirman vihar metro Station in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, September 25, 2018.(Amal KS/Hindustan Times)

Jagdish Seth’s eyes sparkle when he recalls how, in 1984, he had given up his fledging property business to start a music shop — a rage at that time — in a quiet east Delhi neighbourhood. Vikas Music, as he named his shop, instantly struck a chord with the locals. The 77-year-old considers his music shop a ‘cultural institution’ that had once created a community of music and film lovers in the days when music was not about plugging in an earpiece connected to a smartphone.

“Though everyone was getting into the audio cassette business those days, mine was a carefully curated collection. By the mid-1990s, I probably had the largest collection of audio and video CDs in east Delhi. I would sell and rent as many as 500 video CDs a day,” says Seth, his face beatific.

But his mood instantly changes, from joy to melancholy, when he returns to the present. “Today I am lucky if I sell 5 DVDs every day. The few customers who visit are older people preferring to buy the physical product rather than having music in the digital form. Then, there are a few customers in places such as Goa and Pune who want me to send them DVDs,” says Seth, sitting at his counter, surrounded by thousands of DVDs and Blu-ray discs – Bollywood, Hollywood and Punjabi movies, the popular TV serials Ramayana and Mahabharata of the 80s, live music concerts, among others. But there are hardly any takers for these. “I have 50,000 DVDs, perhaps one of the country’s largest collections. I believe CDs and DVDs will return,” Seth says.

Seth is among the last CD and DVD sellers — most have been wiped out in the digital revolution — trying to stay afloat against all odds. Take, for example, Gurdeep Singh, 59, who runs Sethi Audio & Video, in west Delhi’s Tilak Nagar, which he refers to as ‘a pure music and DVD shop’. Or Nirmaljeet Singh Duggal, who runs Avon Video Selection in south Delhi, which, by Duggal’s own admission, has become an oddity.

Gurdeep Singh, a DVD shop owner poses for a picture at his shop in Tilak Nagar, New Delhi.
Gurdeep Singh, a DVD shop owner poses for a picture at his shop in Tilak Nagar, New Delhi. ( Amal KS/Hindustan Times )

“My sales have come down from Rs 50,000 daily to Rs 2,000. But I am not going to change my line of business,” says Gurdeep, sitting at his shop that has thousands of DVDs and music arranged alphabetically on dust-laden shelves. Gurdeep, who passionately takes us on a guided tour of his shop, talks like a man trying to keep alive a noble but vanishing tradition.

“Shops such as mine are part of our popular culture. While most customers have deserted me, I am committed to serving my remaining customers, mostly aged between 40 and 60. Someone has to serve these people who have not taken to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video,” he says.

Gurdeep says he still has customers who buy audio cassettes—and it is not just for the sake of nostalgia or the growing fad of everything retro. “They are true connoisseurs of music who understand that LPs and cassettes, both analog mediums, give you richer and fuller sounds. One can listen to them for hours together but digital music sounds jarring after a few hours,” he says, showing us shelves packed with audio cassettes of labels such as Tips, Venus, T- Series, most manufactured in the early 1990s, but look pristine, their original packaging intact.

Talking about his customers, Gurdeep says: “Two months ago, I had a customer who bought 2,000 cassettes worth Rs 35,000. He said he was building a collection. Then I have a teacher who buys 15-20 CDs every month; a lot of NRIs come to buy DVDs of Hindi movies from the 1960s-70s. These customers keep me going.”

And what are the best-selling movies ever in the history of his shop? “Sholay and Titanic,” says Gurdeep, who started 39 years ago with only 25 audio cassettes. He credits Maruti cars with giving a new fillip to his business in the 1980s. “Everyone wanted a Maruti and everyone wanted a cassette player in their cars.”.

Most owners of the surviving DVD shops say their business took a nosedive around the early 2010s when the Internet became very popular and promoted an illegal download industry. “We were able to deal with piracy and Torrent downloads, but it was the smartphone with apps, which enabled people to watch movies and play music on the move, that did the maximum damage to our business in the last five years,” Gura deep says. “YouTube and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video delivered the final blow.”

He is not exaggerating. Not many know that the music label T- Series presently has about 63 million followers -- the second highest subscribed YouTube channel in the world. It adds about 1.4 lakh subscribers every day and is likely to become the most subscribed channel by the end of next month.

Both Seth and Gurdeep believe CDs and DVDs will stage a comeback but Duggal of Avon Video Selection is not as hopeful. “My shop is already treated like museum, where teenagers come to see CDs, not buy them,” says Duggal. His shop, which he opened in 1990, exudes an old-world charm, what with its teakwood shelves stacked with DVDs of labels such as Priya , Captain , Indus, Time, all of which have shut shop over the years. The counter has posters from movies such as Blast from the Past, Stardust, The Man, among others.

Every day, Duggal comes to the shop, dusts the shelves, puts a rusting DVD display stand at the entrance with empty DVD covers of movies to make sure the shop attracts attention. “I spent a lot of money in doing the interiors; never thought would go out of business like this, ” he says.

Till a decade back, Duggal had about 1,500 regular customers in places such as Sainik Farms, Panchsheel Enclave and Malviya Nagar, who would either buy or rent DVS from him. “Their drivers would come to pick CDs and DVDs. Now I have only about 50 customers, who are part of a WhatsApp group I have created. They send their demands on the group and I home-deliver the DVDs.”.

Duggal is now trying to introduce a new scheme—unlimited movies for Rs 100 a month-- in a last-ditch effort to save his business. “If it does not work, it is certainly curtains for Avon Video,” says Duggal as he rearranges DVDs in a shelf.

While Sethi has no such plans, what galls him is the fact that these days a lot of junk dealers and roadside vendors come to his shop to try and acquire his collection at throwaway prices. “Earlier I would have music lovers who would drop in often to touch, feel and browse the CD and DVD shelves. They would spend a lot of time talking about new albums and artists. Now I have kabadiwalas (waste dealers) wanting to strike a deal with me. How times have changed,” says Seth, adding, “The government should do something to revive brick and mortar music shops.”

Gurdeep echoes his sentiments: “Earlier, a lot of people would send their children, some of them aspiring singers, to work with me. In the West, many top singers had worked at the record shops. But as I said earlier, wait and watch, people will soon get fed up with this streaming business and return to us.”