Sunday, January 19, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Punjab cinemas face closure
Neighbouring states reap the harvest
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, January 18
Dwindling interest of cinegoers, because of the easy availability of the latest films through numerous TV channels and CDs and the existing “faulty” tax structure, has forced the closure of almost half of the cinema houses of Jalandhar, once known to be the cinema capital of Punjab, and of about 20 per cent of the theatres of the state.

While most owners of popular theatres have been left with no option but to convert their cinema houses into shopping complexes, some others who had preferred to somehow pull along for emotional attachments, are on the brink of closing down their establishments.

Surprisingly, nothing has been done by the Punjab Government to revive the sagging film exhibition industry in the state, which once had the largest number (176) of cinema houses in the northern India. Incentives doled out by neighbouring states have not only saved theatres there from closure, but also encouraged people to set up new ventures, particularly in the shape of low-capacity theatres.

Investigations by The Tribune revealed that 24 major cinema houses of the state had fallen victim to the “indifference” on the part of the viewers and the state government. Most of the victims were cinema houses which were once very popular and had been attracting large crowds in big cities like Jalandhar, Amritsar and Ludhiana for decades together. The largest number of such victims were in Jalandhar where six of the 13 cinema houses had to close down their shutters during the past decade, followed by three out of the 16 in Amritsar and two in Ludhiana. Those in Jalandhar included Narinder Palace, Cine Payal, Sutlej Palace, Pritam Palace and Krishna Cinema, while the ones in Amritsar were Amrit Talkies, Prakash Cinema and Ashok Cinema followed by Minerva Cinema and Arora Palace in Ludhiana which had to close down during this period.

The other cinemas, according to the Northern India Motion Pictures Association (NIMPA) which had to face closure were as follows: Phagwara — Paradise Theatre; Hoshiarpur — Friends Theatre; Pathankot — Ramnik Cinema and Kiran Cinema; Bathinda — Sangam; Abohar — Gian Talkies; Dera Bassi — Pooja Talkies; Mahilpur — Sangeet Theatre; Nawanshahr — Shankar Rakesh; Rayyia — Prakash Cinema and; Guruharsahai — Poonam Theatre.

On the other hand, three cinema houses in Himachal Pradesh, which had a total of 19, and seven in Haryana, where the total number was 106, have come up during the past five years. In Delhi and Mumbai, more than 100 small-capacity theatres have come up during the past decade.

“The biggest setback to the film exhibition industry in Punjab was the highest and unprecedented lumpsum entertainment tax to the tune of 125 per cent as compared to 50 per cent in Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. To save its film trade, Himachal Pradesh has totally waived the entertainment tax. So how can cinemas afford to survive in such an atmosphere?” asks Mr M.L. Kapoor, President of NIMPA. He said the irony was that despite the fact that cinema in Punjab had already suffered at the hands of militancy and later at the hands of numerous TV channels and video parlours, nothing was done by the state government to revive it even as the other neighbouring states had awakened to the new situation and taken timely remedial steps. Former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had agreed to a charter of demands, which included the reduction of entertainment tax to 50 per cent and offering an option to choose from the lumpsum or per seat entertainment tax structure.

“Earlier, a film was considered to be a hit if it ran for 25 weeks while now it is a hit if it runs for a maximum of seven to eight weeks. Similarly, earlier a family on an average preferred to go to a cinema house once a week, now such a visit is once in two or three months,” said Mr Gautam Kapoor, another film baron of the city.

“Why would anybody leave the comforts of his home and jostle with people when the CD of any latest film is available at a rent of between Rs 5 and Rs 20 a day. Moreover, a number of channels keep bombarding films on TV along with so many prize-winning schemes,” said Mr Umesh Sehgal, owner of a Jyoti Nagar-based electronic shop, which echoed the sentiments of a large section of cinegoers.

The NIMPA authorities maintained that migrant population was the mainstay of cinemas, but this too was won over by other alternatives like video parlours and VCDs.

The state government should come forward with some incentives to revive the film industry, which was source of a whopping income of Rs 30 crore annually, the owner of a cinema house said. Various state governments had extended total tax holidays to new cinemas for at least five years, he added by way of suggestion.


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