Death of single-screen theatres in Patna

New Delhi: As the rugged hands of labourers  clear away the last of the debris of the fallen ‘Pearl Cinema’ they also collect with them the coffin of the single-screen theatres in Patna, which demolition has put virtually the last nail to.

“With the long-closed but still standing theatre now being dismantled, it is not just the death of ‘Pearl’ but practically that of the single-screen theatres themselves in Patna,” says ex-District Magistrate (Patna) and president, Cine Society, Patna, R N Dash.

Patna, which once boasted and took pride in its single- screen theatres has silently given way to multiplexes.

“The lure of the multiplex and the onslaught of video piracy has killed the single-screen. But, do people of Patna care,” asks Dash who has now hardened himself after seeing so many theatres vanish over years.

Cinema experts and critics point out that the government instead of formulating policies to save and restore the city’s vulnerable heritage has given incentives to theatre-owners to dismantle and replace them with “modern” structures”.

The current political regime in Bihar which assumed power in 2005 drastically reduced entertainment tax, from 110 per cent to 50 per cent, besides giving its nod to proposals extending tax holidays for modernisation of cinema halls and construction of multiplexes.

“This tax benefit, in the name of growth, offered these theatrewallahs incentives to dismantle their old structures to make way for the ‘modern’ ones, even though some of them were historic in nature and still in good shape,” says National- Award winning film critic, Vinod Anupam.

“Single-screens also offer opportunity for small-budget films like “Gangs of Wasseypur” to find audience in a cut-throat multiplex market. Now, mega-budget films like “Ek Tha Tiger” have dislodged “Wasseypur II” from virtually all exhibition venues,” says Anupam.

bout one-and-a-half year ago, Patna’s oldest and the most historic theatre, the “Elphinstone Picture Palace” built in early 1900s succumbed to the hammer of “modernity” and commercialisation.

The theatre was where Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore performed with his troupe, dance-drama ‘Chitrangada’ in 1936 during his visit to Patna.

Such was the charm that these single-screen halls once held, and Dash informs that ‘Elphinstone’ “then owned by the ‘Elphinstone Bioscope Company’ began as a theatre and only later was it converted to be used as a cinema hall as well”.

Noted photographer from Delhi Ram Rehman says, “Heritage does not form part of the core values of our society. New generations are being raised to appreciate only real estate and not history and heritage. Like other small cities, Patna too, is falling into that commercial trap in a bid to become a Gurgaon or Noida, concrete jungles, which have absolutely no soul.”

Unlike in the western countries where old theatres are well-preserved in their original form and are still popular, their Indian counterparts always end up losing the battle to commercial ‘viability’.

“Why can’t these old beautiful theatres be used for showing documentaries, and old classic films. But, who cares for history and heritage and good cinema in the city, anyway,” asks Patna-based young filmmaker Nitin Chandra.

‘Pearl Picture Palace’, the iconic, old theatre, located opposite the historic Patna General Post Office (GPO) had already faded off people’s consciousness after it was caught up in legal wrangling between the government and various parties, reportedly leading to its closure, about thirty years ago.

Old-timers may still fondly indulge in the nostalgia and love that old theatres like ‘Pearl’ once earned from the city and its citizens but the current, abject “lack of patronage” has “killed all old cinema landmarks” in the historic city.

“Lacking patronage, ‘Elphinstone’ sustained itself by running adult movies and highly commercialized Bhojpuri films before before being dismantled,” the film critic adds.

Other theatres like ‘Rupak’, ‘Vaishali’, ‘Chanakya’, have become history, all but awaiting a new concrete avatar.  ‘Ashok Cinema’ branded and known famously as the “Pride of the Capital” lost its ‘pride’ to commercialization as its owners didn’t see any profits in running the old theatre anymore. Many still recall its famous rose-garden.

With international movie exhibition chain ‘Cinepolis’ registering its multiplex presence in the first ever mall in Patna, and more such malls coming up in the city, it seems to signal the end of single-screen theatres in Patna.