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Monday, Jan 21, 2002

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`Mushrooming multiplexes, but where are the films?'

V. Gangadhar

Manoj Desai, Executive Director, G-7 Complex, talks to V. Gangadhar on Mumbai's multiplying multiplexes and their role in show business.

Manoj Desai, Executive Director of the G-7 Complex in Mumbai.

For years, Mumbai had only the Gaiety-Galaxy-Gemini theatre complex located in the fashionable suburb of Bandra. Today, the complex has seven theatres with individual capacities ranging from 46 to around 950. The `G-7' Multiplex figured in the Guinness Book of World Records when it screened 11 films (26 shows) in a single day. Today, thanks to the State Government's initiative, multiplexes are set to multiply and by September 2002, Mumbai will have nearly 20 additional screens from half-a-dozen new complexes, mostly located in the Jogeshwari-Malad area.

Manoj Desai, nephew of the late producer-director Manmohan Desai, who has been in the film business for more than 30 years and is the Executive Director of the G-7 Complex, shares his views on the new move by the State Government and the role of multiplexes in show business. Excerpts:

Why did the Government come out with these measures?

I can't say. In fact, we were not consulted about the move. You see, multiplexes had been coming up in Hyderabad and Gujarat, and a rosy picture was presented about their popularity. So, why not start these in Mumbai? The Government felt these would generate investment in the State.

What is the nature of the concessions offered?

For all existing and upcoming multiplexes there will be total exemption from entertainment tax for the first three years. For the next two years, a 25-per-cent exemption will be available. All other taxes, such as property tax, water tax will stay. The multiplexes will have to fulfil certain conditions before they become eligible for the concessions.

What are the conditions?

Each multiplex should have a video parlour for the children, an art gallery, an exhibition centre, a cyber cafe besides an adequate number of refreshment stalls and restaurants. One of the theatres in the complex should be utilised for staging Marathi plays for a certain number of days. Of course, there should be adequate space for car parking.

Why have art galleries and exhibition centres at a multiplex?

Don't ask me. My complex, which is well established, can manage all these things easily, we have 39,000 sq.ft of open space to park cars. But the others may have problems in providing all these extra facilities. I will have to spend nearly Rs one crore for the additions and hope to do them in the next few months.

The G-7 Complex.

As a veteran exhibitor, how do you view this move towards more multiplexes?

Well, they are part of development, I guess. But there are problems. Do we have enough films for all these new screens? The industry has to churn out quite a few new films to cater to the needs of these theatres. And again, how many of these films can run? The movie scene had been dismal this year, with only `Lagaan', `Gadar' and `Dil Chahta Hai' as the hits. Many films disappeared in less than a week. The Government ruled that once the new multiplexes had fixed their ticket rates, they could not be changed. High rates for big movies are okay, but who will come to watch flop movies paying high rates? Here again, I am lucky because the rates at my theatres are the lowest.

This means the industry must come out with good films which will click at the box office?

That is true. Today, we are keeping our fingers crossed hoping that Yash Johar's `Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham' will be received well and make a lot of money. Theatre owners will have to hike rates because it is a four-hour movie with a huge star cast. An occasional big hit is not enough. We must have a steady flow of good films which would attract audiences. Further, today, people are just not spending. Gold, textiles, housing, jewellery... all are down. The trend is reflected in how much a family can afford to spend on entertainment.

Won't the exhibitors earn more because of the entertainment tax exemption?

This is a tricky situation. You see, any extra money the multiplex earns because of the tax exemption has to be shared with the distributor. As such, most exhibitors are dancing to the tunes of the distributors. Unless this problem is solved, there won't be any increase in the earnings of the theatres. I understand that some of the multiplexes are thinking twice if they should apply for tax exemption.

Do you agree with the saying, there is no business like the show business?

(Laughs) Not for the exhibitor, anyway. The tax burden is killing. Sixty per cent of our revenue goes towards entertainment tax. The producer has his cut. And listen to this amazing list of taxes. We pay property tax, tree tax, education tax, water tax, municipal school tax, road tax and so on. How are we concerned with road maintenance or trees or municipal schools? All these are hiked arbitrarily. For years, we used to pay Rs 24,000 per year as `Tehsildar tax' and this year it was abruptly hiked to Rs 72,000. Why? I don't know. The notice comes with the threat that if the tax was not paid on time, our theatres will be demolished! O, I forgot electricity charges and regular `baksheesh' to so many inspectors, officers, sidekicks.

Pictures by Col. C. Prakash

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