Surat’s Valecha Road is called the subzi mandi of theatres by folks in the film industry. The 3 km-long stretch has 17 licensed ‘video parlours’ with up to 125 seats each, which play movies from CDs. Atul Patel, a film distributor to 60 screens across Gujarat, owns 10 such parlours; he also has a two-screen multiplex coming up in at Kangori in Poladpur, Maharashtra. Patel owned only two video parlours when he first invested in digital equipment in 2007. “It [this growth] wouldn’t have been possible but for digitisation,” agrees the owner of the ‘Modern Movie’ video parlours, whose digitisation service provider is the Chennai-based Real Image Media Technologies. “Screening films first day-first show has done the magic.”
The success of Surat’s video parlours is playing out at standalone screens as well. The first day Salman Khan’s blockbuster Dabangg 2 showed in Diamond Theatre, in Mumbai’s western suburb of Borivali, a sea of humanity waited to make its way inside. The theatre’s owner, octogenarian Mahmud Khan, has signed up with Mumbai-based UFO Digital Movies and like Patel, Khan says this kind of crowd pull would have been impossible had he not embraced digitisation in 2008 and started showing a film from the first day of its release.
In the pre-digitisation era, given the high costs of analog prints, most film-makers would release only 150-200 prints across the top cities. It would take several weeks for the used prints to reach smaller towns such as Surat, where demand for the movie would have already died out since pirated prints were easily available. “We would show pirated prints within two days of release to attract crowds,” admits Patel. Distributors and theatre owners in such places struggled to break even if the film was a hit, and their losses were heavy given that the flop rate in the Indian film industry is as high as 80%. Nearly eight years after the first theatres in India turned to digitisation, the technology is proving a win-win proposition for film-makers and theatre owners.
The dream merchants
While there are a handful of companies in India that offer digital technology to theatres, the two big players are Real Image and UFO Digital Moviez, both of which started operations in 2005. With 4,000 and 2,