118 years of Trust Chandigarh Heartbeat THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, December 26, 1998





No silver lining to city screens

By Jaya Bhardwaj

Cinema halls in the city require a complete overhaul to come up to the expectations of cinegoers. There have been many announcements and tall promises from the Chandigarh Administration and cinema hall owners in the past but their condition has only deteroriated. The owners have staked all their resources in the renovation and decoration of the theatres but they have not brought about any qualitative improvement in the facilities extended to the viewers.

The invasion of satellite television has, of course, adversely affected theatre business. As a result, there are no long queues outside the booking windows as now not many viewers come to see films in theatres, obviously opting to watch them on the small screen at home.

In such a situation, no cinema owner has the courage to exhibit a movie at his own financial risk and the theatres are being rented out to the film distributors on rentals ranging between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh per month. The total collection varies between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 4.5 lakh depending on the seating capacity of the theatre, excluding the entertainment tax. The entertainment tax too is lower in UT as compared to other states. In Chandigarh, it is 50 percent whereas it is 60 per cent in Delhi. The Punjab government, on the other hand, in a bid to curb tax evasion has imposed a fixed tax on cinemas.

Cinema halls in the city are covered under the Punjab Cinematography Act, 1956, which gives absolute powers to the Administration, complain cinema hall owners. As a matter of fact, the Act does not provide adequate provisions for fire safety. The Delhi Fire Act has, therefore, been enforced. Fire Services officials of the city have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the existing safety measures and have suggested several measures to streamline the system prevailing in the halls.

There seems to be a total neglect on the part of the Administration to implement the minimum requirements according to the rules in cinema halls.

Hardly any excise raids have been conducted to check tax evasion, encouraging the black marketeers to run their business smoothly. The city administration seems to be so unconcerned about the viewers that their demand for a centralised ticket centre in Sector 17 has run into rough weather because of an alleged nexus between the black marketeers and the cinema hall managers. The Excise and Taxation Commissioner admitted that such a proposal is pending with the department but was non- committal about its implementation.

In connivance with the tuck shop contractors, the theatre owners do not provide the facility of drinking water in the halls. This is an obvious bid to promote the sale of cold drinks which are sold at an exorbitant price. One cold drink bottle is sold for Rs 15, a cup of coffee for Rs 10 and a cup of tea costs Rs 5 in the theatres. The Administration had once seriously exerted pressure on hall owners for proper provision of drinking water. The owners complied and installed water coolers. But they are now missing from the halls. Interestingly, the prices of tickets were revised on the condition of bringing qualitative change in public facilities. Now none of the conditions are followed but the prices remain unchanged.

There are eight cinema theatres in the city and three in the adjoining area, including two in Panchkula and one in Mohali. There is no drinking water available in these halls and the toilets of the halls stink. These are cleaned only when some V.I.P visits the hall. There is no one to guide you to your seat after the film starts and one has to find his or her way to the seat in the dark since footlights are seldom found lit. The seat covers of most of the halls, except for two halls that have recently been renovated, are in a tattered condition. Although every ticket mentions the seat number but nobody bothers about it, thereby sometimes creating confusion during the show, complains Rohit Kumar, a B.A final year student.

Though the Administration has imposed a complete ban on sticking of posters anywhere in the town, in some areas like labour colonies and industrial area such posters are displayed.

"We feel distressed that despite our many representations, the Chandigarh Administration has never even considered our demand to declare cinema as an industry," says Naresh Batra, a spokesman of the Cinema Exhibitors Association. "It is ironic that we are supposed to implement all the industrial regulations for our employees, and are even charged on a commercial basis for electricity but are not classed as an industry. Many states like Maharashtra and Delhi have declared the cinemas an industry thus raising the quality of service there", says Naresh Batra. He admitted that the theatre-going habit has declined among the people, forcing the owners to consider other business options. However, there is a silver-lining --- the trend appears to be reviving, if collections in the recent past are any indication. But the moot question is whether theatre owners are prepared to provide proper facilities to the cinema-lovers.

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