According to several reports, there are close to 10,000 movie screens in India that cater to our country’s 1.3 billion population. China, on the other hand, has more than 60,000 screens. There could be several reasons for the small number here like high cost of infrastructure, shutting down of single screens, piracy issues etc. In smaller and rural areas, the number is more dismal. That prompted Sushil Chaudhary to launch PictureTime, a mobile digiplex or movie theatre for rural areas.
“Cinema is one of the most important aspects of our lives. All our lives, we have compared Hollywood with Bollywood and thought that the latter could never be on par with its international counterpart. That made me curious and I wondered, ‘Why can’t we fill the gap?’ We are no less than Hollywood in terms of talent and content, but we lack the revenue. Money is directly related to the number of movie theatres,” he says, adding that it led him to ask, “Why aren’t we building more theatres in India, while every other country is increasing the numbers?”
He cites two principal issues behind this — high real-estate prices and regulatory constraints. “I thought, if I can create a product, which can be low on regulatory constraints and independent of real estate, probably we will be able to contribute to the revenue model. We will also be able to take cinema to rural India. Out of 10,000 movie theatres, 6,000 are in the four Southern states. The distribution of these numbers are very odd,” he adds.
An expensive affair
Chaudhary adds that movie viewing has started to become expensive. “In a city like Jaipur, when a family of four goes out and watches a film, they easily spend Rs 2,500 to 3,000. Families, who, earlier, would watch four movies a month, now watch only two. In Delhi, one outing will cost you nothing less than Rs 5,000,” he says.
Are mobile theatres a perfect alternative to expensive viewing? “Mobile theatre definitely makes cinema affordable again. We are providing a cinematic experience on par with multiplexes, and we are also selling popcorns at very minimal prices. I believe that if we bring cinema to people, at an affordable price, the footfalls will increase.”
Their theatres are 150 seaters, equipped with air conditions and 5.1 Dolby system.
Collaborating with DIFF
PictureTime has collaborated with the 8th Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), which starts today. DIFF is presented by White Crane Arts & Media, a trust founded by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. It will be hosted at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala from November 7-10. It is set to host a plethora of film screenings, masterclass sessions and invigorating interactions in the foothills of the Himalayas.
“Ritu invited us to partner with the festival and we became their technical partner. In the past, they organised it at a Tibetan school and used a couple of their auditoriums. The idea is to bring global viewing experience to the festival. We have become their partners for the next three years. Our role is to ensure that it attracts the international community and filmmakers so that it grows to the next level,” he says.
Travelling to every corner
So far, they have screened films in 14 states including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and others. “Now, our focus is to grow in the northern part of India including UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. UP, Rajasthan is completely entertainment dark, so are many neighbouring states. In fact, we are starting a campaign in Rajasthan next week,” says Chaudhary. Explaining how PictureTime works, he says, “We choose four locations a month where the audience gets to see all the new releases.”
Chaudhary set up PictureTime in 2015. About the challenges along the way, the techie says that he had no contacts or background in the entertainment industry. “The challenge was to understand how the film industry works. I had to study cinema theatre solutions around the world. Since, I lived out of India for 12 years, I knew what quality means. When I came back I realised that there were many cinema theatres who claimed to be multiplexes but did not offer quality experience. My plan was to provide efficient cinema theatres without compromising on the quality,” he says, adding, “The way we designed it, I could crack it in the first two years.”
The other challenge was to bring in movie producers. That’s how they got associated with film festivals. “In 2017, International Film Festival of India (IFFI) helped us in a big way. We also had to gain the confidence of exhibitors that we will not have any piracy issue. Another big hurdle was to build consistent operations, which was a huge challenge but we took care of that,” he says.