New innings for Delhi's good old single theatres

Odeon cinema hall in Delhi

Shut down two and a half years ago for renovation after "mutual collaboration" with the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG)-owned Big cinemas, Odeon in central Delhi's busy Connaught Place area has been converted into a two-screen theatre.

The "heritage" property is now called Big Cinemas Odeon. "We are just waiting for the licences and most probably we'll reopen by the end of this month," said Prabhjot Kaur, manager, theatres, Big Cinemas.

It had a seating capacity of 1,000 seats earlier, but now its two auditoriums can accommodate 592, making it the first multiplex in Connaught Place .

A property of well-known theatre owners, Sahni brothers, Odeon came into existence in 1939 and used to screen English movies. This is its second makeover, as it was first renovated in 1960 and inaugurated by then Indian vice president S. Radhakrishnan.
Many fondly remember that the first film to be screened after upgradation there was Robert Mulligan's "Come September".

Talking about the infrastructural changes, Kaur told IANS: "The look from the outside will remain the same as earlier because the outlook of the building cannot be changed considering it's a heritage area. The interior of the building on the other hand has been reconstructed. And it took almost a year to do that."

This is said to be Big Cinemas' first heritage cinema hall, which will also provide online and tele ticket booking facilities.

Considering the competition to survive the cinema-screening business, industry experts had predicted that the fate of single screens in the capital was in jeopardy if they did not upgrade. And so they did.

Another well-located hall that will be reborn is the DLF owned-Savitri cinema in Greater Kailash II in south Delhi. Savitri has been in the sleeping stage for a long time.
"We are now planning to reopen Savitri, making a 350-seater from the earlier 1,000-seater. Renovation is under process and it will be operational in three to five months," said Amit Shah, seat manager, programming, DLF DT cinemas.

"Not only are the interiors of the theatre now plush, the poster windows, etc. will also be of high quality. It'll have an upgraded candy bar and cafeteria set-up like other multiplexes.

"As Savitri is on the third floor, there are also some shops coming up downstairs, bringing a mini-mall kind of set-up, which will also bring footfalls," Shah added.
Both Odeon and Savitri will continue with the print format screenings.

"We are looking at enhancing one of the audis to the digital format in the near future... But we don't know when that will happen, as a digital machine costs around Rs.4 million," said an Odeon employee.

Then there are Kumar in Chandni Chowk and Deep in Wazirpur. "Both are almost complete and waiting for licences," said an industry source.

Kamal Mehra, ex-owner of Kumar Cinema who sold the theatre to Ashok Aggarwal after it was shut down in 1999, said: "In the 1940s, it was as a pre-partition property and built by our grandmother for us."

"The hall is in old Delhi and we were not getting gentry audiences. The collection wasn't like earlier. So we sold it," he said.

"It is expected to reopen. I don't really have any details, as we sold it way back in 1999. We thought the future of single screens was not good considering the proliferation of the multiplex business. Moreover, to keep them running, you had to deliver a lot of facilities to your patrons like comfortable seats, good food, effective air-conditioning," he added.

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