How Pathaan Revived the Fortunes of Single-Screen Theatres

How Pathaan Revived the Fortunes of Single-Screen Theatres

After the lockdown, many single screens found themselves close to shutting down. Then along came Shah Rukh Khan’s comeback film. As Pathaan starts streaming on Prime Video from March 22, we assess the impact of the film's historic run on single screens.

Rama Cinema in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP), is a 438-seater theatre that opened in 1986. The pandemic years were hard for single-screen theatres like this one and when the world started opening up,  so did Rama Cinema. However, ticket sales were slow. Some days, barely five tickets were sold for a show. “Even after the lockdown restrictions were eased, the notion that movie theatres were not a safe place to visit was hard to shake off. That’s what affected our business the most,” said Dr. Naresh Kumar, the owner of Rama Cinema. Pathaan (2022) changed all that. As Shah Rukh Khan’s comeback vehicle continues to break records, among its achievements is that the film’s success has been a lifeline to many single-screen theatres in the country. An estimated 25 such theatres reopened for Pathaan, pinning their hopes upon the film, and for most of them, the gamble has paid off. Eleven of these are in UP and Pathaan’s glorious run in the single-screens of UP and Bihar is unexpected because these circuits were not known to be among Khan’s stronger markets. 

After the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was over and the lockdown was lifted, multiplex chains could afford to reopen and run despite low turnouts since they’re backed by bigger companies who can absorb temporary losses. For privately–owned, single-screen theatres, the low turnouts were a death knell. Vikas Kumar, manager of M Cinema in Bindki, in UP, said that despite reopening after the pandemic, the cinema was forced to intermittently close down because of low turnouts for some of the bigger Hindi releases. “We had great hopes from films like Samrat Prithviraj and Ram Setu, but their failures compelled us to close the theatre down,” said Kumar. “In comparison, Pathaan has done much better business. We now continue to keep the theatre running, hoping that the coming lot of big releases do well too.”

Ravi Purohit, who owns Prakash Talkies in Nawalgarh and JRC Movie Palace in Fatehpur (both in Rajasthan), said he reopened his cinemas only once in 2022. “KGF was the only film we ran in our theatres last year. The cinema was closed for the rest of the year. However, Pathaan has truly revived the business. Shah Rukh ne cinema ko zinda kar diya hai (Shah Rukh brought cinema back to life),”  he said. 

Gyan Palace in UP’s Mahmudabad reopened cinema sporadically after lockdown was lifted. Owner Ashok Kumar Jain ran the films whenever he thought they may draw audiences. Among the titles screened at Gyan Palace are The Kashmir Files, RRR and KGF (all 2022 releases) last year. “Even though the theatre was technically open post-KGF as well, the business was so abysmal that one can rather consider it closed. It’s Pathaan that gave our business some real speed,” Jain said. 

While Jain said he encountered no protests or objections to showing Pathaan, for some cinemas, the decision to screen Khan’s new film was fraught with risk of a different sort. Chandrika Kushwaha, manager of Lajwanti Talkies, a 366-seater in Bishrampur, in Chhattisgarh, said “Bajrang Dal members outright objected to Pathaan’s release, and coerced us not to screen it. We had to ask police to intervene, and eventually made the collective decision where we agreed to cancel all the shows on January 26 [Pathaan was released on January 25] and the 12pm show on Friday while Bajrang Dal members agreed to not cause any interruptions later.”  Kushwaha said Lajwanti Talkies had incurred significant losses with big releases like Ram Setu, after which it shut down for three months for renovation. “With Pathaan, we have had a much better run than any of the films in the last few years,” he said.

That said, Pathaan hasn’t been as much of a success for everyone.  Chartered accountant Manmeet and his father Manoj Timble manage Cinekamla, a 380-seater, single-screen theatre in Ponda, Goa, which they’d recently bought. Manmeet said while Pathaan has definitely helped them ease into the decision of reopening the theatre, the collections on weekdays haven’t been encouraging. He said Cinekamla saw 40% occupancy on Republic Day for Pathaan, but the numbers fell in coming days. “Maybe this was an anomaly in our case. To be fair, we didn’t do any special advertising to announce the re-opening of our theatre,” said Manmeet, adding that the online campaign to boycott the film may have hampered its performance at Cinekamla. “The theatre is situated in one of those areas populated with more conservative people,” he said, adding that to his experience, the word-of-mouth publicity for Pathaan hasn’t been good. 

Adarsh Yadav, manager of Jyoti Cinema in Indore, said that while Pathaan has done very well, the expectations were higher. The 900-seater is one of the oldest theatres in the city —it opened in 1951 — and has been struggling since 2015. Unable to compete with multiplexes, Jyoti Cinema started playing old Hindi films like Laawaris (1981), Humjoli (1970) and Sangam (1964). “They were cheap to acquire, and brought in a daily collection of Rs. 7000, which isn’t bad,” said Yadav. With Pathaan doing well, Yadav said they decided to add the 9 pm show to the cinema’s schedule after many years. “Even though the film hasn’t delivered as big numbers as we were hoping, the business is still very good. And more importantly, enough to instil the confidence that we can continue to bet on new releases going forward, and not fall back on old films’ reruns anymore” he said. “Pathaan has helped us bring in new faces and a whole new lot of viewers to our theatres.”

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