Where will they get change for Rs 2,000, asks Mumbai's single screen theatre owners

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 10:27 IST | Bharati Dubey

With online payments still to seriously kick off, single screen theatres in Mumbai experience major drop in footfall over the past month

Gaiety Galaxy theatre in Bandra
Gaiety Galaxy theatre in Bandra

Going to the movies seems to have become a luxury only a few Mumbaikars can afford, given the cash crunch brought on by demonetisation. Nearly a month after Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were declared invalid, single screen cinemas in the city have been witnessing a sharp dip in footfalls. Albeit by compulsion, theatre owners are now considering going the e-way as far as ticket booking is concerned.

Nambi Rajan of Aurora Cinema said, "It would have helped if 'Dear Zindagi' (which released on November 25) had played at our cinemas, but the distributor did not give us a chance to do that. The business at my halls has come down to 10 per cent. I have spoken to cinema owners in Solapur and Bhiwandi who are now worried and concerned about paying salaries to employees and settling electricity bills. However, after last week's release, Kahaani 2, things have marginally improved. But queues outside cinemas will get longer only as queues outside ATMs get shorter."

Aurora has an online booking system in place, but there are very few takers for it. "Those coming to cinema halls are giving us the new Rs 2000 notes. Where do we get change for an amount of that nature? I had allotted two evening shows to 'Dear Zindagi', but when the distributor did not give me the film, there was a blackout at my theatre."

The G-7 group of cinemas, including Gaiety and Galaxy, which attract both single screen and multiplex audience, has also suffered huge losses over the past few weeks. G-7 proprietor Manoj Desai said, "We have moved to entertainment ticket booking services such as BookMyShow, but the business stands at just 30 per cent now."

Nitin Datar, president of Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, said all member theatres are in favour of online ticket booking. "We have to keep up with the times and changing technology. We will hold a meeting with our members to convince them to tie up with online booking agencies like Paytm. We have to wait and watch if they are fast enough to accept this change which I think is inevitable," explained Datar.

A complete shift from cash to online transaction wouldn't be as smooth and quick, argued distributor Sunny Khanna: "Single screen exhibitors might go online, but it is going to take at least six to 12 months. The immediate requirement is that of a credit/debit card swipe machine; online booking can follow next."

Khanna shared the examples of recent releases like 'Dear Zindagi' and 'Force 2' whose businesses were affected. "Cinemas accepting plastic money and conducting online booking mostly comprise multiplexes, which have recorded good collections. However, single screens have not contributed much because most of them don't have online facility. There is a drop of at least 25 to 30 per cent in the box office collection of films over the last month," he said.

Marzdi Kalianiwala, vice president of Marketing and Business Intelligence, BookMyShow, welcomed the demonetisation move and said it would help India move faster towards becoming a cashless economy. "We are certain this will trigger and encourage more users to explore the convenience and benefits associated with online transactions in a big way."

The film that now seems likely to change the fortunes of single screen cinema owners is Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal, asserted distributor-exhibitor Rajesh Thadani, adding, "Dangal promises to improve their situation. And it goes without saying that the cinema owners have to move towards online booking to save themselves."

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