Economy

Chennai has a big role to play

N. Ramakrishnan | Updated on January 27, 2014

Attracting the youth: The swanky Sathyam complex is a favourite hang-out spot for youngsters. — Bijoy Ghosh

City’s multiplexes changed the movie-watching experience



For long-time movie goers in Chennai, the transformation in Sathyam more or less mirrors the change that the exhibition sector — the last link in the chain — has gone through.

Swanky cinema

From smoke-filled lobbies, unruly crowds at the ticket booking counters, stale food in the canteen and smelling toilets, the Sathyam complex is swanky.

The lobbies are air-conditioned, the ticket booking counters are streamlined, the management itself has taken over running the canteen so much so that the food is fresh and the toilets are clean and well maintained. And, the seats in the cinemas are comfortable.

Sathyam probably ranks among the few cinemas in the country that had more than one screen right from the time it opened in 1974. Sathyam, Santham and Subham, the three cinemas, together had more than 3,000 seats and screened some of the best films in Tamil, English and Telugu. Sathyam still does.

Favourite hang-out

Chennai also had at least two other cinemas with more than one screen — Safire complex on the arterial Anna Salai (Safire, Blue Diamond and Emerald) and the Devi complex, also on Anna Salai (Devi, Devi Bala, Devi Paradise and Devi Kala). Only Sathyam and Devi cinemas survive now. Sathyam is possibly one of the favourite hang-out spots for the young in the city. It has six screens. The number of seats has come down to about 2,300.

“What we did is we actually cut down on the number of seats. When you focus on the experience, you actually compromise on the number of seats,” says Kiran Reddy, CEO, SPI, which owns Sathyam cinemas and other brands such as S2, thecinema (in Coimbatore) and Escape. SPI will shortly open two more multiplexes in two malls in different suburbs of the city. By next year, SPI will have over 50 screens and over 10,000 seats.

The company’s two new multiplexes – Luxe and Palazzo – will together have 20 screens and about 5,800 seats between them. Palazzo, according to Kiran, will come up in a mall in Vadapalani, once home to numerous film production studios. It will be more traditional luxury, catering to a predominantly middle class population, while Luxe will be targeted at the young, upwardly mobile professionals.

“We have segregated the brands depending on the neighbourhood and on the catchment in that particular area. We decided that there are different things that appeal to a primary segment in that area and a brand that fits that segment would be most optimal for that,” explains Kiran, on the rationale of having different brands in different localities. Both Luxe and Palazzo will have an IMAX screen each — 75-feet high screens with about 400 seats each.

Kiran recalls that it was a painstaking process to transform Sathyam; the management first attacked cleanliness and security, then came the canteen and then the cinemas themselves.

To improve the experience, the seats were made wider, which explains the fewer seats now, though the number of screens has increased. Sathyam has also been a pioneer in adopting the latest in projection and audio technology.

According to him, the multiplex trend started in the early-to mid-1990s. The earlier multiplexes were smaller, probably having four screens. The big boom in multiplexes started in the late 1990s or even the early 2000s. The multiplexes, according to him, changed certain things forever. One, it brought people back to the cinema. It was not just because it was a multiplex; it was because it was a newer environment.

They were not just inviting movie-goers to watch the movie; they were inviting them to enjoy the experience.

Multiplexes have changed the economics of not just the exhibition sector, but of film producers, too. In the case of Sathyam, by breaking up the large screens into smaller ones, they were putting to use unutilised capacity.

Theatre capacity

When a big screen is running at 50 per cent capacity, it means that half the seats are not occupied. By splitting it into two screens, one screen will have full occupancy and in the other, a movie that attracts a smaller audience can be shown. Smaller cinemas have also helped producers come up with films that appeal to a much smaller and niche segment.

Kiran is confident that cinemas will continue to do well. “Watching movies in cinemas today is popular in spite of the fact that you have other forms of watching them. What we realise is people who watch more movies are people who watch content in other forms also,” he says.

> ramakrishnan.n@thehindu.co.in

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Published on December 27, 2013
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