Ajay Gupta Warns: Hindi Cinema at Risk Without Precautions

If Bollywood producers, directors, and actors still do not take precautions, then no one can save Hindi cinema from sinking -Ajay Gupta, Shyam Palace, Kanpur

By Bollyy
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Ajay Gupta Warns Hindi Cinema at Risk Without Precautions
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Kanpur, the industrial city of Uttar Pradesh, which is just eighty kilometers away from the capital Lucknow, is also not in a very good condition of cinema. Since Covid, apart from 'Gadar 2', 'Pathan', and 'Animal', only South Indian films have registered success in single-screen theaters of Kanpur. After all, what kind of movies does a resident of Kanpur want to watch now? How has cinema changed in Kanpur in the last sixty-seventy years? On these issues, “Mayapuri” magazine had a special conversation with Ajay Gupta, the owner of “Shyam Palace” located in Kidwai Nagar, Kanpur, which was as follows…

Ajay Gupta

Ajay Gupta: Insights from Shyam Palace, Kanpur

When you guys started Shyam Palace in Kanpur city, how many single-screen theaters were there in Kanpur in those days and what was the condition of cinema here?

-Our Shyam Palace cinema hall is forty years old. Our Shyam Palace was opened for visitors on 4 September 1983. It was started by my father Shri Jagdish Narayan Gupta. Our first film was Mukesh Khanna's 'Darde Dil' and it did well. This was a Rajshree Production film. There were no other means of entertainment at that time, so the conditions of cinema were much better in those days. In those days, the only means of entertainment other than cinema was television, and that too was not available 24 hours. Programs were telecast on Doordarshan only for some time. Due to this cinema was at its peak. Cinema was developing and expanding. Many excellent entertaining films were also being made in Bollywood. Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Shatrughan Sinha, Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Jeetendra were in power. Single theater dominated. In those days the concept of multiplex had not come.

How many cinema halls were there in Kanpur city in those days?

-When our Shyam Palace started, there were 45 cinema halls in Kanpur in those days. But now only twelve single theaters remain. Some multiplexes have come up, which we are not discussing here. Many changes kept coming with time. After 1995, multiplexes gradually started coming to India. After the arrival of multiplexes, people started going to multiplexes instead of single theatres. But gradually, due to a lack of good films, according to our information, now fewer people are going to multiplexes. So changes have been coming with time and this change also came in cinema. 33 single theaters including New Imperial, Sangeet, New Basant, Nigar, Nishat, Regal, Nikhar Palace, Himachal, Sangam, Anupam Talkies, and Deep Talkies have been closed in Kanpur city. Deep Talkies has now turned into a multiplex with three screens and it is being run by PVR only.

How has been the journey of your cinema hall “Shyam Palace” so far?

-It was a very nice trip. It was full of ups and downs. We saw both good and bad times. When Shyam Palace started, there was a housefull board every day and every show. Many films including Raj Kapoor's film 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili', Amitabh Bachchan's film 'Mard', Rekha's film 'Bibi Ho To Aisi', and 'Loha' have made bumper earnings. After two or three years, video and cable systems came, piracy also started happening and our business also decreased a bit. But from 1992, cinema again reached heights. There was a slight shock with the arrival of multiplexes, Housefull boards were fewer. But all the theaters remained closed for eight months due to Covid. During this time people got addicted to the OTT platform. It has been a very bad time. After that, the cinema took over. The audience is leaving home and going to the cinema hall to watch movies. It is a different matter that Bollywood is not making good cinema which is why Hindi films are not working. But be it south India's KGF or Pushpa or Kantara, all of them did very well. I am an optimistic person. People are coming to watch the cinema that is why we are also running our single theater ‘Shyam Palace’. It is also true that our income has decreased. But we have given employment to forty-fifty people in this cinema hall. Outside, some street vendors are also earning their livelihood. There were bad times too. It was a good time too.

How has the audience's film-watching appetite been changing?

-As I already told you earlier when a film was released, its first show on the first day was houseful, but now it is not so. Now many times we even have to cancel the first show due to a lack of audience. Earlier there used to be long queues at the ticket window. Then we had to appoint one or two people to handle this line. But now there is no queue. There are two reasons for not forming a line to buy tickets. The first reason is that now people buy tickets online by going to 'Book My Show' or Paytm. So the second reason is the lack of good films being made. But at the time of the film 'Gadar 2', there was a queue and the board of 'Housefull' was also put up. ‘Pathan’ also did well. During the time of 'Animal', the board of 'Housefull' remained there for the whole week. Now people are placing more emphasis on buying tickets online instead of standing in queues. But those who are away from technology, buy tickets from the ticket window. The biggest and bitter truth is that in proportion to the increase in the population of this city, the number of visitors has decreased instead of increasing.

Have you guys been adopting any tactics from your side to promote the films being shown in 'Shyam Palace'?

-Earlier we used to advertise in Kanpur's popular newspapers Dainik Jagran, Aaj, and Amar Ujala. In the eighties and early nineties, we used to take out an open jeep, make an umbrella over it, put posters of the film all around it, and promote it with a music system. Now the providers of such services have vanished and this method of publicity has also stopped. Now people can see which movie is being shown where in 'Book My Show' itself. Today the public is quite aware. We now post information on our cinema website and online. Apart from this, they do not do any publicity.

Earlier there was the era of reels, now everything has become digital. What kind of problems did you face when you used to buy reels, which have reduced due to digital?

-Earlier there used to be reels and each film had a different distributor. Everyone was an individual. We used to buy films from them and exhibit them. Ever since it went digital, be it a distributor or an exhibitor, everyone has been colored with the corporate colors. Five distributors are left including PVR, AAA Films and groups like PVR, Inox, Mirage, Cinepolis, and Carnival have joined the exhibitors. Earlier it was difficult to bring and release a film, today it is easy. But many times these distributors harass us by forcibly imposing long and wide minimum guarantees. But now we have all the movies. Now having a business or not is a different matter. If the film is not good, the business is not good. We had digitalized our place from October 8, 2006. We first played Govinda's film 'Bhagambhaag' in digital. Earlier, at least three operators had to be hired. Now it is managed with less than one operator. When two films are released on the same day, and the distributor of one film does not want us to show the other film, then our relations deteriorate. This happened recently with 'Dinky' and 'Saalar'. We had to suffer financial loss by showing 'Dinky' under the pressure of Shah Rukh Khan and our relations with the distributor of 'Salaar' got spoiled. 'Dinky' director Raj Kumar Hirani did not make the kind of films he has been making. Now ‘Pushpa 2’ and ‘Singham Again’ are coming on 15th August. We are stuck in a religious crisis. If one film is put on, relations with the other get spoiled. This is a big problem. I wish the distributors would decide amongst themselves and allow us to show both films.

All the films released after COVID-19 have been unsuccessful. Does the audience no longer want to watch movies?

-I believe that the passion for watching films or entertainment cannot end. Films are ingrained in the life of every Indian, no matter what his age is. But nowadays the audience is not able to connect with the kind of films being made in Bollywood. People like Southern films. Southern films are down to earth. In proportion to the population, the number of viewers has decreased instead of increasing. The competition for single theater is multiplex and mobile. Secondly, Bollywood is making films according to the upper class. Amitabh's films of the eighties and nineties represented the lower class people. Nowadays, the hero of Bollywood films travels by plane and holds board meetings in the plane itself. Speaks less Hindi and more English. Brother, our audience wants to watch Hindi films, not English. The common audience does not understand the meaning of board meetings. Even today in his personal life, Rajinikanth meets people wearing a lungi and talks only in the local language, hence the audience has a personal connection with him. Whereas a Bollywood actor does not want to make a personal connection with his fans. Even the heroes of Hindi films talk to common people in English instead of Hindi. Whereas an artist from the South speaks in the local language only. That's why people are moving away from Hindi films. Even when the hero of Hindi films gives interviews to journalists, he speaks in English only. This is wrong. People like Akshay Kumar started running towards OTT because they feared that people would not watch their films in theatres. Whereas people from the South are coming to theaters instead of OTT. He is confident that his films doing well. ‘RRR’ and ‘Pushpa’ are examples of this. If the producers, directors, and actors of Bollywood still do not take precautions, they will sink and we too will have to suffer the consequences. The truth is that after COVID-19, only the Southern cinema has saved us. Kept alive. Today people are waiting for 'Pushpa 2', while people will not watch 'Singham Again'. Bollywood people are busy copying and pasting. With the kind of films that Karan Johar, who made 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai', is making now, the film industry is sure to sink. The production houses of Rajshree, Yash Chopra, etc. have become mere factories. Now, looking at the kind of films that Karan Johar is making, no one can say that it was Karan Johar who had made a film like 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'. Now even Rajshree Production is not making films like 'Maine Pyar Kiya' or 'Nadiya Ke Paar'. To put it in one sentence, the era of the 80s was over in Single Theatre. Only when single theaters survive will film distributors, film producers, directors, and artists benefit. The biggest thing is that Bollywood actors, writers, directors, etc. are not connected to the land. All of them have become English. It is necessary to have directors like Manmohan Desai, and Subhash Ghai. We are running a cinema hall and we are saying this based on that experience. Some distributors also say that single theaters should be closed. Villains and comedians have become extinct in present-day Hindi films. Family, customs, and festivals have disappeared from Hindi films, whereas all this is still present in South films. We ran the South film 'Pushpa' for eight consecutive weeks. ‘Kantara’ was cultivated for three weeks. If the film is good then people will want to watch it. Every film should be 'larger than life'. But such films are not being made now. You show films full of profanity and obscenity on OTT. When the audience watches a movie inside a cinema hall, whistling sounds are heard. So the viewer's enjoyment of watching cinema is doubled. If the hero of the film does such a feat that there are eight hundred seats in our cinema hall and the audience sitting on every seat makes noise, then the film becomes successful and good. The real fun of watching a movie comes in the theater only. The viewer wants a complete masala in a two-and-a-half-hour film. The audience does not like reality. The audience wants to see the hero doing what God himself cannot do.

Your favorite artist..?

- Late Amrish Puri, Sunny Deol, Pran, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, Aamir Khan.

All the single theaters are running at a loss and hence are getting closed. But are the multiplexes earning?

-To be honest, I don't think that multiplexes are earning. There are reports that many multiplexes are not able to pay the rent where they are running. They have public money. Are public companies. They are creating dust in the stock market by increasing the share prices. Now I cannot tell what the situation is inside. Because I am not interested in the stock market. Barring PVR Onyx, all other multiplex chains are in deep trouble, we feel. Don't know how they are showing an advantage in the balance seat. But they are in trouble. They cannot tell the truth to the public, if they tell the truth to the public then their share prices will come crashing down. In this way, multiplex owners also face no less challenges.

What are the problems of single theater not being able to grow?

-The government has not given us any special package. Whereas we work to provide entertainment to the poorest of the poor. Electricity rates should be reduced. GST should also be further reduced. Distributors should keep giving films to all of us. We are always ready to remove the shortcomings of our cinema hall. We also have emotions attached to our cinema hall that is why we are running it. We are trying our best so that we do not have to close our single theater ‘Shyam Palace’. When not even a single spectator comes, then there will be compulsion.

What is your opinion regarding show Tax?

-The government should not charge any tax. Why this happened is beyond my understanding. These days we are paying forty rupees as tax.

Shantiswarup Tripathi

 Tags: Hindi Cinema

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