For a country with 130-plus crore people, the number of movie halls (including single screen and multiplexes) is just under 8,700, according to data from the Bureau of Outreach and Communication under the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In contrast, the US and Canada together have more than 40,000 screens for 38 crore people.

Total screen count declined by more than 1,000 between 2009 and 2019 in India, while it went up by nearly 2,000 in the US and Canada.

The unfolding silver screen saga in India is also about the fall of single screens and the rise of multiplex screens. Until about 15 years ago, there were more than 9,700 single-screen theatres around the country. Today, many of these theatres have either made way for new real estate development or shut down.

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The number of single screens fell from 9,710 in 2009 to 6,327 in 2019 — a drop of 34.84 per cent.

A March 2020 report by EY-FICCI on India’s media and entertainment sector said that the number of screens decreased in 2019 despite the country having amongst the lowest screen densities globally; it pegged the decline to the shutdown of single screens, primarily in the Hindi heartland, as films continued to be created for upper class and multiplex audiences. Perhaps such films resonate less with non-metro audiences, it said.

Citing industry respondents, the report said that around 1,000 screens that, at best, stayed open intermittently during 2021, may not reopen again.

Comparatively, the number of multiplex screens has zoomed from 925 in 2009 to 3,200 in 2019.

This was due to the inability of single-screen owners to compete with multiplexes, according to a 2010 report by KPMG-FICCI.

Interestingly, the Indian multiplex industry celebrates its silver jubilee this year, since the country’s first multiplex opened doors in Delhi in 1997.

A 2005 report by PWC-FICCI on the early years of multiplexes in India had stated that their growing numbers indicated that moviegoers, especially in urban India, were enjoying the new way of experiencing cinema.

EY-FICCI’s March 2019 report noted that rapid urbanisation had spurred the demand for modern cinema screens featuring quality infrastructure, latest audio-visual systems, and multiple food and beverage offerings, among other amenities.

“While new-age multiplexes are at the forefront of providing such enhanced facilities to patrons, some of the single-screen cinemas are slowly revamping themselves to stay in the game,” it said, adding that the declining number of single-screen cinemas was offset by an increase in multiplexes.

In fact, the number of screens (including single-screen and multiplex screens) fell by 1,108 between 2009 and 2019.