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Tuesday, Jul 06, 2004

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Cinema halls struggling for survival

K.V. Kurmanath

Hundreds of farmers committed suicide in the region. The day is not far off when (film) exhibitors will follow suit.

Kurnool , July 5

NEELAM Theatre, one of the oldest cinema houses in the country and owned by the kin of former President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, in Ananthapur was closed down recently.

So were Netaji, Nataraj, Anjali, Alankar and Navrang cinemas in Kurnool town.

The main reason for the closure is dwindling occupancy over the years. The unprecedented drought in the region in the last few years has only worsened the situation.

"Hundreds of farmers committed suicide in the region. The day is not far off when (film) exhibitors will follow suit," Mr Ramasubba Reddy, Vice-President of Andhra Pradesh Film Chambers, told Business Line.

"A large number of theatres did not renew their licences due to lack of patronage and other chronic problems that plague the industry," he said.

He said the chambers had met the Chief Minister, Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and related their problems to him.

Mr T.G. Ravi Sekhar, Managing Partner of Ravi Picture Palace and Ravi Kiran theatres in Kurnool, said the number of cine-goers from the villages had fallen drastically.

"Of late, I am not seeing many of them (villagers) at the ticket-issuing counters," he said.

Figures speak for themselves. Occupancy rates in most of the theatres came down to as low as 30 per cent from about 70-75 per cent during the late eighties.

The region, referred to as `Ceded' (including Bellary district in Karnataka) in the film industry parlance, is home to one third of the 2,000-odd theatres in the State.

Mr Ramasubba Reddy said drought made people to carefully plan their meagre resources, first to attend to their basic needs. "Entertainment has always been a luxury for them. Who will come to theatres when they find it difficult to see their both ends meet," he asked.

He said every increasing cost of film production was severely burdening exhibitors. "But for the top artistes and a handful of technicians, the industry by and large is not benefiting," he pointed out.

Mr Ravi said the distribution houses too were affected severely. "There were 80-100 distribution companies in Guntakal five years ago. Now there is almost none," he said.

"If an exhibitor wants to screen a big budget film, he needs to cough up at least Rs 30 lakh in the form of advances," Mr Ravi said.

The scenario is no different for those who screen `shift' films (re-run of new films). By the time the films come for a re-run, people must have already seen them in the local cable TV networks, which vied in screening such films.

Mr Ravi said exhibitors are being subjected to pay a host of taxes that are proving to be unbearable.

He said the advent of electronic medium had hit exhibitors very hard.

Mr Ravi, however, saw a ray of hope. He believed that people would again come to theatres after they get fed up with overwhelming electronic entertainment feed.

"Those who could withstand this difficult phase will again witness people thronging cinemas. This is what the US had experience," Mr Ravi felt.

More Stories on : Cinema | Entertainment & Leisure | Andhra Pradesh

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