Arijit Dutta, serial entrepreneur, environmentalist and a prominent voice in the struggle for existence for single screen halls in West Bengal talks to The Optimist. Excerpts..
Team Optimist: There are about 10,000-odd movie screens in India. Among these, 6,700 are single screens and there has been a 30% drop in that count recently. Owners are struggling to get a foothold in this market competing with multiplexes. How do you analyse these two trends? Is there a solution?
Arijit Dutta: Single-screen owners, themselves, are to be blamed. What have they done to upgrade the system and provide better-quality entertainment for the audience? Signing a cheque for staff salary, or electricity bills turns into paranoia. Accountability ends here. They must realize that the needs of the audience have changed over time. Nowadays, cine-goers demand more comfort while watching a movie.
On the other hand, stronger players, or multiplexes, tend to be much more advanced. When world-class facilities are available there, why should anyone go and watch a movie anywhere else? And so, single screens started losing out. Revenue levels dropped drastically and it has now become difficult to bring back those audiences and live up to their expectations. If you are unable to provide your audience with wholesome entertainment, an upgraded sound system, comfortable seats, drinking water and clean toilets, you stand nowhere. Priya Entertainment and other single-screen owners, who felt the urge to go with the flow, got success. We, at Priya Entertainment, have no issues in maintaining theatres following audiences’ tastes and generating revenue.
Team Optimist: The Indian film industry is expected to generate Rs19,200 crore by 2020, whereas digital platforms are expected to generate Rs20,400 crore by the same year. What about online movie streaming platforms and the current scenario?
Arijit Dutta: Today is a day of instant gratification. Broadband, like JIO and other facilities, has added fuel to that. If you get to see movies sitting at home without paying a rupee, why spend? Piracy is also another factor that has grabbed the market. Nowadays, good content-driven films are doing great business on the big screen and bringing back money to producers.
Team Optimist: Regional markets are predominantly giving a tough competition after Bahubaali, which was unexpected considering the regional film industry’s current situation. Do you think Bengali cinema could create such a mega-canvas like any other regional magnum opus and get back its lost glory?
Arijit Dutta: Exceptions don’t make the rule. The South Indian film industry has an advantage of extremely large budgets, sometimes even more than Bollywood’s. Releasing a regional film at a national level requires several ingredients: proper strategy, marketing and awareness. Unfortunately, we don’t have that capacity.
Team Optimist: With drastic change in the digital movie screening and its growth, do you see the future of cineplex – and single-screen owners bleak?
Arijit Dutta: I don’t think so. The agreement we still have in hand of films with producers categorically mentions that no digital screening will be hosted before a six-week run in theatres. They had allowed some films to be screened digitally earlier, since they had not done so well at the theatres. But it’s a different story for long-running movies. For instance, Shiboprosad Mukherjee’s Gotro will not be given for digital screening until two, or three months because it will run more than six weeks in the theatres.
Team Optimist: Your company, Priya Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, ventured into eco-tourism projects across West Bengal and Sikkim. How do you plan to get a foothold in this segment?
Arijit Dutta: My concept of an eco-adventure resort is very different from that of the general perception of resorts. If you go to Purulia, ‘eco-adventure resort’ has been conceptualized on 4 acres with 10-room facilities, with 30 acres of additional land. It’s situated right in the middle of nature. My resort in the south of Sikkim will be different. I have bought land in the Dooars and plan to start a project.
Team Optimist: How do you strike the right balance between Brand Arijit Dutta and Priya Entertainment?
Arijit Dutta: Both are important. Priya is known for films starting with Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen, which is a milestone in single-screen theatres in India. I, Arijit Dutta, as a brand, try to pursue my passion and establish its credibility.