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at the Frontiers of Cinema
CSCS - Centre for the Study of Culture and Society

New Cinema Spaces
« Back to Cinema Halls Main | Also read: 'Cinema Reloaded' by Nishant Shah

In the 1990s, rising costs of operation and stagnant or declining viewership resulted in the closure of a number of cinema halls. While hundreds of cinema halls were in an advanced state of decay, a section of exhibitors invested in renovating existing theatres to make them attractive to customers who were willing to pay higher ticket prices for greater comfort. The new cinema spaces are certainly world class in that they are characterized by the diminishing importance of film, which now becomes one of the many consumables in this space and time. Relocating film into a new space has meant that the lower class viewer, hitherto presumed to be backbone of the film industry, was part of the excess baggage that had to be shed. Not only the steep increase of ticket prices but also the reduction in the number of cheap seats and more recently the uniform high pricing of tickets in multiplexes means that the cinema was in a position to ignore the non-middle class viewer. In its desperate bid to survive, has the film industry staked its mandate, dating back to the period of the national movement, which was to replicate within the space of the auditorium--by a combination of the onscreen narrative as well as the physical management of the diverse audiences--the promise and problems of the project of Indian nationalism itself?

In December 1988 Alankar theatre was destroyed in a major riot, which followed the murder of the charismatic politician Vangaveeti Mohan Ranga by his political rivals. In place of the old Alankar emerged the first cinema and commercial complex. Lakshmi Talkies, Vijayawada was a crumbling old cinema hall that was destroyed in the December 1988 riot. It was replaced by Swarna Complex, which was clearly modelled after the new Alankar. The complex houses three cinema halls and scores of shops and offices. Jaihind complex, Vijayawada opened in September 2003, nine years after Jaihind Talkies (built in 1947) was closed and demolished. The complex houses sixty commercial and residential units and a 448-seat mini cinema hall. The 'Executive' Class)

Shanthi, Hyderabad, makes every attempt to attract the high paying middle class viewers, which the film industry classifies as the family audience. Imaged as the nuclear family with children, this has emerged as the single most important category for the film industry in the recent past.
Post renovation Shanthi has many new features including a smoking area, which is the only space smoking is permitted. (Photograph: G.L.N. Reddy) The management claims to have invented the 'Couple Seat', which is indeed a feature that has been added to other renovated or new cinema halls in the state.
(Photograph: G.L.N. Reddy)
Tidy interiors and well-equipped canteens are features to look out for in the renovated cinema hall.
(Photograph: G.L.N. Reddy)
Yet another Shanthi speciality, the children's play area on the first floor. Its location making the obvious point that the potential user is the Balcony ticket holder.
(Photograph: G.L.N. Reddy)

In 2003 South India's first IMAX theatre opened in Hyderabad. The IMAX theatre is a part of a massive commercial-entertainment complex, Prasad's, that has five other screens, a shopping mall, food courts and the like. The complex is owned by the descendents of actor-director-producer L.V. Prasad, one of the founders of the Telugu film industry.

Increasing levels of comfort, accompanied by steep increases in ticket prices has had the effect of limiting the accessibility of the cinema. Often the attraction of the luxurious cinema hall for the middle class audience has been the reduced presence of the lower class viewers, no doubt effected by the pricing of the tickets. There is however a crucial difference, one that needs to be adequately noted in order to understand what might be happening to the cinema in India. The distinction between the general tendency of cinema halls to become attractive to the middle class and the multiplex experiment is that the latter conceives of its audience as being constituted exclusively by the middle class. While the difference might seem to be one of degree and indeed a logical culmination of the developments since the 1970s in the exhibition sector, it is useful to note that its mixed audiences have marked the cinema in India.

From the earliest reports on film exhibition, the acute awareness of generations of observers and industry representatives of the social mixture in the cinema hall is undeniable. The institution of the cinema in India has been marked by its management of the promise of and problems caused by the mixture of classes, castes and sexes in the cinema hall. Unlike the cinema in the United States in the nickelodeon era, the cinema here has never--at no point of time--been an overwhelmingly working class form (or middle class form for that matter). On the other hand, in spite of the innumerable attempts to draw middle class audiences in larger numbers, or in larger percentages, the film industry has not made a sustained attempt at excluding the lower class audience completely. Not till the multiplex arrived.

(Photographs: G.L.N. Reddy)