Nowadays it only takes a few minutes on an app to book tickets of the latest movie that you have been dying to watch. But it wasn’t always so. There was a time when you had to queue up for hours, under the scorching sun or pouring rain, to be able to get your hands on balcony seats. Also, the snack counter was nothing like it is now, albeit prices were much more affordable, but you had only one choice of popcorn (salted) and maybe two or three choices when it came to beverages. But now with multiplexes across the city, watching a movie is quite a different experience than before. It is not surprising that the old has had to make way for the new and plexes are often preferred over one screen halls. But then, what about the halls of yesteryears, how are they faring now? On one hand, there are theatres that are visibly struggling to bring in footfall, but on the other, there are halls that have been renovated to such an extent that they can give even the biggest of the multiplex chains a run for their money.
Withstanding the Times
Apsara Cinema is one of the oldest cinema halls in the city. With the advantage of being located in a prime business area, Manipuri Basti, Apsara has so far withstood the storm of multiplexes that has engulfed the city. The theatre can be identified by the artistic wall display of Bihu dance on its outer wall. Like many old cinema halls in the city, this too holds a special place in the hearts of Guwahatians, who used to be regulars. The hall has a few issues that deter many people from booking their tickets. The sound quality is very subpar and it doesn’t help that the fans are very loud as well. ‘It is located near my home so I tend to watch movies here quite often. But if I lived far away, I don’t think I would make the effort to come here. I think overall the hall is okay, but the picture and sound quality can definitely improve,’ said Ashutosh, a college student and movie buff. Cleanliness is another issue but here the audience is also partly to blame as they do not take much effort to clean up after themselves. However, what still makes Apsara special and different from other halls are the handmade posters that enhances your movie-going experience.
Meghdoot Picture Palace in Paltan Bazaar is another theatre of the bygone era that seriously needs a fresh lease of life. It is facing serious competition from the newly established facilities nearby and it is fighting a battle that it will lose unless something drastic is done. Hygiene remains a big problem here coupled with parking issues which is felt every time one of the mighty Khans brings out a movie! But something that seems to be working in its favour is the cheap tickets. No matter how tight a budget you are on, you can buy a balcony seat ticket here, and still have money left over to spend on snacks. This is why it is mostly frequented by college students.
Another theatre that has remained the flag-bearer for cine-goers in the Maligaon-Adabari vicinity is Pragjyoti Cinema. The footfall is quite good. The theatre underwent a renovation drive after which the interiors, specifically the washrooms and food counters sport a modern chic look. The tickets are also reasonably priced. But if you happen to be seated among the front or even the middle rows of the ground floor, the quality of the seats and a slight unevenness of the floor may prove to be a dampener! Having said that, the balcony seats are worth the money.
However all is not gloomy. Guwahati is also home to a theatre that has not only been modernized but is also successfully challenging its competition. Anuradha Cineplex is a shining example of how single screen cinema halls can still thrive in the midst of multiplexes. The place had always been a favourite among the movie buffs of Bamunimaidan, Chandmari and the whereabouts but of late, the theatre has been able to attract celluloid lovers from across the city. State-of-the-art 3D technology coupled with immersive sound makes for a great movie watching experience that is enhanced by renovated seats, air conditioning, and a multi cuisine restaurant where you can indulge before or after your movie.
Movie watching is no longer a niche activity that you do when you have nothing else to do. It has taken the shape of an event and viewers deserve an experience that befits their expectations, and as such, with better infrastructure and better ambience, multiplexes have no doubt captured movie lovers in the city but that in no way means that the old has been forgotten. All it takes is a little vision and effort and the theatres of the bygone era will once again captivate cinemaholics with some ‘reel’ magic.
By Sumit Das
The feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast December 2018 issue