ENTERTAINMENT

Regal Cinema Isn't Closing, It's Renovating, And There's A Problem With That

Whose cinema hall is it anyway?

31/03/2017 6:00 AM IST | Updated 31/03/2017 8:42 AM IST
DOMINIQUE FAGET via Getty Images
This picture taken on March 27, 2017 shows spectators waiting for a film showing at the Regal cinema, an 84-year-old movie hall, in the heart of New Delhi.

The clichés come easily, the pictures look surreal. As Regal Cinema shuts down, one could have auto-generated the tributes it has received. End of an era, meet the projector, remember the iconic films that screened here, a sentimental goodbye, blah blah.

The nostalgia comes even more easily because for most people writing and reading these tributes, they didn't visit Regal for years. We have been going to multiplexes, or even refurbished single screens, such as PVR Rivoli next door from Regal.

Why did we ditch Regal? At least one report had something other than nostalgia to offer: "The viewers are dwindling and those who wander in are put off by the shabby seats and poor ambience," said a Press Trust of India report.

What no eulogy has asked is: who went to see movies at Regal lately? Despite archaic technology, seats falling apart, poor air-conditioning and so on, Regal served a purpose in the Delhi of 2000's. It was a place where the poor could afford to watch a movie for Rs 80, the price of the 'stall' ticket, and grab a samosa — all within a Rs 100 budget.

In PVR Rivoli, there is no 'stall' and a weekend ticket is at least Rs 250, the popcorn costs more than the stall ticket at Rivoli. Movie watching is at least a Rs 500 per person affair and sometimes even the middle-class crib about why it has to cost so much.

When we think of the poor, we think of health, education, shelter, water, sanitation... but never entertainment.

Regal isn't dying, it plans to transform into a multiplex soon, and above it will be Delhi's Madame Tussaud's. Regal's temporary closure is actually good news for the city's elite.

When we think of the poor, we think of health, education, shelter, water, sanitation... but never entertainment. "How much does the ticket cost?" a rickshaw-puller once asked me near a cinema in south Delhi. When I told him, he replied he was a migrant from Jaipur and back home he was able to watch movies by buying the 'stall' ticket at the famous Raj Mandir, perhaps the only great single screen which maintains some its past glory. (Watching a movie at Raj Mandir should be the top priority of any tourist expedition to Jaipur.)

Today's PVRs and Inox-es and Satyams and other corporate chains have no 'stall' seats and even when ticket prices fall mid-week, they never fall enough for a rickshaw-puller to be able to buy a ticket once in six months.

Today's PVRs and Inox-es and Satyams and other corporate chains have no 'stall' seats and even when ticket prices fall mid-week, they never fall enough for a rickshaw-puller to be able to buy a ticket once in six months.

It's incredible nobody ever questions the class divide in access to movies on the big screen. How can a city's entertainment infrastructure not have any space for the poor? Surely, some business model must be viable for those who can't shell out 500 bucks to watch a movie?

We never ask that question because movie watching is considered a matter of luxury, and the poor by definition can't luxuriate.

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