Bollywood cinemas go digital

The advent of high digital technology has given a fresh impetus to the Indian film industry, that is growing at a massive rate.

Bollywood cinemas go digital

The first show screens at midday and Rusi Irani, manager of Central Plaza cinema in south Mumbai, is using the morning downtime to tally up the previous day's box-office takings.

A stack of movie posters for Awarapan, Bollywood's latest hit, flaps lazily in the breeze from the three fans that Rusi has blasting to ward off the monsoon humidity in the musty art deco theatre.

"Bollywood has become more vulgar in my opinion," he grumbles, as he jots another figure in the ledger. "They're trying to copy the Western style, which is not our culture. But if they don't make it like that, the picture won't sell."

Rusi is right about at least one thing - India's movie business is changing quickly and in its own humble way, Central Plaza is part of the revolution. Rising disposable incomes, a multiplex boom, the entry of corporate investors into film production and the advent of digital technology are reviving an industry that not so long ago was in severe decline.

This in turn is providing a foundation for India's film production business, the world's most prolific with more than 1,000 releases a year, to realise its ambition of going global. "There's so much excitement over India's media sector that every man and his uncle, aunt and niece are doing something," says Sameer Nair, an industry veteran with NDTV, a leading broadcaster. "Money has ceased to be a differentiator."

Underlying the growth in cinema is India's real estate boom. Developers are building hundreds of shopping malls across the country, each of which usually comes with a multiplex. Industry figures predict the country will have 2,000 multiplex screens by 2010, five times today's figure, which should help address a severe shortage of screens in India.

"People's purchasing power has increased," says V. Devarajan, chief financial officer of Adlabs Films, India's second-largest multiplex operator. "And the movies are one of the easiest outlets for them to spend money apart from dining out." But the less obvious leg of India's cinema revival is happening at its thousands of old single-screen theatres, such as Irani's Central Plaza.

Glamour of multiplexes

Surrounded by crumbling chawls, or tenements, Central Plaza is a million miles from the glamour of the multiplexes. In the projector room, two ancient film projectors the size of cannons, point at the distant screen. But positioned discreetly between them is a small black box, the projector unit of a new digital system that allows films to be beamed directly into the cinema by satellite.

Sanjay Gaikwad, the founder of UFO Moviez, the company behind the digital system, said the low budget of the average Indian movie of between $1m to $3m meant producers could not afford to make enough physical prints of a given movie for every cinema. Prints could therefore take weeks or months to reach many of the country's single-screen theatres, by which time the films would have been pirated or would be out of date. Audiences stopped coming and ticket prices fell.

So severe was the problem that an estimated 6,000 out of 13,000 of India's old cinemas have been closed down."Now the whole vicious cycle has changed," Gaikwad says. "The theatre owners are seeing increasing revenue and they've started investing."

The system has been installed for 750 screens and UFO, which counts UK private equity firm 3i among its investors, has plans to reach 2,000 by 2009. Still, India's cinema industry is not out of the woods yet. Some worry that the boom in multiplexes is being overdone, with screens becoming too concentrated in some of the larger cities, such as Mumbai.

Indeed, Rusi complains that a rise in multiplexes near his cinema is taking away business in spite of his fancy new digital system. Some of his patrons waiting outside the theatre for the midday show seem to bear this out. Sanghvi Vishal Rajratan, a student from a nearby commerce college, has come to Central Plaza because it is near his school. But he says he prefers the multiplexes because there is "a good crowd there".


Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Temmuz 2007, 10:44