A single screen theatre is making BOX OFFICE history in a small city in Southern Maharashtra. The city is Kolhapur and the theatre is Padma Talkies. This year, the famous Padma Talkies celebrates its 75th year of profitable existence- no mean feat in this day of multiplex silver screens and short-lived movies. The theatre is currently having a dream run under a woman entrepreneur’s able stewardship-, which makes for an unparalleled success story in the annals of single-screen cinema houses in India
The Padma Talkies is flanked on either side by five other single screen theatres but it is the most frequented theatre in the area. The fact that most small business establishments in and around carry the name Padma in their titles, speaks of the immense popularity of this landmark theatre. Incidentally, in the 1960s, a few high-profile weddings also took place at the theatre venue. The theatre has always been the first choice of movie buffs and if no tickets are available then they move on to other choices. Of late, die-hard patrons of the Padma Talkies have grouped into Star Fan Clubs (mandals). Each new release of their favourite stars is inaugurated at the theatre by the fan clubs with the beating of drums, bursting of firecrackers and garlanding of their favourite film star hoardings. The current hot favourite is Salman Khan with the maximum fan following. Each new Salman release receives a high-decibel riotous welcome, which needs to be seen to be believed.
Most single screen theatres, pan India, have not been able to withstand the exodus of avid cine-goers seeking the plush multiplex screen experiences. They have been forced to either convert to smaller screens or simply close down what has now become an unprofitable business for them. Not so, Padma Talkies, which has wisely taken into account the need to always move with the technological times and keep improving the cinematic experience for its loyal audiences. The focus has consistently been on improving sound, light, picture quality, seating comfort and cleanliness. The theatre has undergone periodic renovations and refurbishing in the years 1976, 1978, 1991, 1995, 2004, 2009 and is currently slated to undergo a facelift this year too.
Over the years, the seating arrangements in the theatre have seen a sea change. In the beginning there were 4 classes – 1st, 2nd, 3rd & Balcony Class with a separate section for women. In 2004, an Executive Class was introduced. In the olden days, wooden benches were the order of the day. In 1996, the wooden chairs were replaced by metal chairs and cushioned chairs for the patrons of the balcony only. From 2004, the balcony patrons were provided with the comfort of reclining multiplex chairs. The year 2009 saw patrons of all classes enjoying the same seating comfort in an ambiance on par with multiplex theatres.
The ticketing system is fully computerised. Earlier the ticketing system was manual with a colour coding for each of the daily shows and also for the days of the week. Since 2009, the only theatre in kolhapur is using Impact Computerized Ticketing system. Most of the staff has been working with the theatre for 35-40 years, which speaks volumes for their unstinted loyalty and love for cinema. They also know a sizeable number of the regular patrons by name.
However, it is not completely hunky dory for Padma Talkies on some fronts. The theatre has a large seating capacity and the cost of maintenance for its old building is quite prohibitive. When a film flops, disappointed movie fans are known to vent their anger unreasonably on the theatre property and the cost of urgent repairs is high. The single screens have withstood the test of time and have been generating revenue for the film industry and the government for decades. Yet when it comes to profit sharing of the gross ticket sales as is the arrangement with multiplexes, single screens have had to be satisfied with low weekly rentals. Single screen owners in Maharashtra State- the tax is strangely not levied on multiplexes pay high entertainment tax. Incidentally, Padma Talkies is the highest entertainment taxpayer in the district for many decades. So quite justifiably, the single screen owners feel that they are drawing the short end of the stick and receiving step-motherly treatment from the policy-framers. Undoubtedly, one cannot deny that the silver screen has captivated audiences; rich and poor, the literate and the illiterate, the young and the old, the social and the anti-social elements glued to their seats and off the streets for many hours thoroughly entertained even if it is in a world of fantasy and make-believe.
Despite all the constraints and glaring disparities faced as owners of a single screen, the Ingles have braved the current and stayed afloat. The crux of this remarkable success story lies in Padma Talkies being audience-centric and constantly upgrading the movie-going experience so that the cash register keeps ringing. With regular renovations, following latest trends in theatrical decor and providing big screen size, improved sound and projector systems, comfortable seating, good service and more importantly keeping the prices of tickets low, Padma Talkies has adeptly kept itself in the race. It has steadily built up immense drawing power despite the stiff competition from the other theatres /multiplex doing business in Kolhapur city. “A movie becomes a super hit when there are repeat audiences and today I feel that this is possible only at low priced single screen theatres,” opines Gauri Ingle. Low-ticket prices and a satisfying movie experience is the icing on the cake for ardent movie audiences at the Padma Talkies.
It is evident that the Ingles have done their arithmetic well as their “Janataplex for the aam aadmi” (as they fondly refer to it) has consistently shown profit through the 75 years of its existence- a singular accomplishment. Little wonder then that the owners, past or present, have never had to entertain the idea of a final curtain call for their theatre, like so many of their unfortunate colleagues in the business. To quote Ruturaj Ingle- “The show will go on at Padma Talkies as long as eager audiences turn up faithfully for the next film release and we hope to keep them coming to us.”