The pink chandeliers are from Italy. The carved pillars are of wood. The LED screen displays the exact air-conditioned temperature inside the auditorium. The balcony seats—headrest included—are of velvet jacquard. The maximum ticket price is Rs.125 and the minimum, Rs.50. This is the newly renovated lobby of Delite Cinema that sits on the border of Old and New Delhi.
Now, cross over to south Delhi.
The poster windows advertise Lufthansa and Citibank. A Samsung kiosk stands next to a Whipped Dessert Boutique. The snacks at the lobby counter include dishes with long names like “honey mustard chicken ham with honey oat”. The men’s loo has screens on each urinal showing a cola ad. The maximum ticket price is Rs.950, the minimum, Rs.250. This is the six-screen PVR multiplex at the Select Citywalk mall in Saket.
Tears have been shed over the slow death of single-screen theatres since the country’s first multiplex was opened in Delhi by PVR Cinemas in 1997. Delhi is littered with lost landmarks like Majestic, Jubilee, Minerva, Novelty, New Amar, Paras, Archana, Chandralok, Uphaar, Kamal and Chanakya. Theatres that have survived have done so either by being taken over by multiplex chains (Rivoli, Plaza) or by adapting themselves into multiplexes. In April, the single-screen Savitri Cinema in Greater Kailash-II reopened after a long gap with the new bland name of DT Cinemas @ GK-II. According to media reports, Shiela theatre in central Delhi’s Paharganj, which gave India its first 70mm screen, is on the verge of closure. It could later be reopened as a multiplex.
Shiela could take a cue from Delite.
The 58-year-old cinema hall on Asaf Ali Road is one instance of a delicate balance between an old-world single-screen theatre and a new-age multiplex. Although it has two screens, the cinema’s original hall is so huge (980 seats for one screen; 148 for the other) that the perception of Delite remains that of a single-screen theatre where every Salman Khan blockbuster sends the audience into a collective burst of laughter, name calling and applause—large-hall characteristics rarely replicated in the small audis of multiplexes. In these, audience behaviour is more restrained, something that can be sensed in Delite’s niche Diamond, originally the cinema’s stage area, where legendary actors like Prithviraj Kapoor performed plays like Kabuliwala. In 2006, the management renovated it into a multiplex-like audi with Oriental sensibilities (look for the Egyptian carpets and the dome with hand-painted designs that changes colour).
“My USP is to give people the comforts of a multiplex for cheap,” says Shashank Raizada, whose father founded Delite in 1954. “There is a market for people who cannot afford an obscenely high ticket price of a normal multiplex but are ready to spend at least Rs.200 in exchange for a comfortable setting for watching films. We get a lot of crowd from Old and central and north Delhi. We also get bookings by various clubs.”
At the Select Citywalk mall, grain merchant Smit Brar is watching an afternoon show with his wife in PVR’s luxurious Gold Class. Explaining why he is willing to pay for two tickets costing Rs.850 each, he says, “I chose this audi because I want to relax while watching the movie and, equally importantly, I don’t want to be surrounded by too many people.”
Opened in 2007, the Gold Class has 40 maroon leather seats, along with pillows, blankets, mineral water bottles, welcome drinks and a personalized valet service. Each seat can be made to recline like a bed. The attendants are graduates from hotel management institutes. The kitchen, exclusively dedicated to Gold Class, makes pizzas, tikkas and sandwiches to order. The men’s toilet has hand towels, moisturizers, shoeshiners and fake lilies.
“Rahul Gandhi, Omar Abdullah and Virender Sehwag are regulars in the Gold Class,” says Praveen Kumar, the cinema’s general manager.
Hinting that multiplexes are the future, Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director, PVR Ltd, says: “To reach the masses, we plan to add a further 210 screens in the next three years across India. The company also plans to focus on the fashion and lifestyle concept pertaining to food, beverages and bowling.” This fiscal year, PVR will be spending Rs.60 crore merely on opening bowling lanes.
Not to be left behind, the old Delite has a vegetarian restaurant as well as a billiards room. Its star guests have included Jawaharlal Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah, Dev Anand, Sunil Dutt and Madhubala. The photos taken during their visits are displayed in the cinema’s Heritage Gallery. At the far end of this corridor is a room that has chandeliers, couches, sofas and perfume dispensers that spray every 5 minutes. You might mistake it for a maharani’s salon but, renovated in 2008, it is the ladies’ washroom—enough evidence that movies are being reduced to being just one of the many elements that make up our cinema-watching experience.