Single-screen cinemas are shutting down or being converted into multiplexes with alarming regularity across the country. In Delhi, their demise started with the arrival of the multiplex PVR Priya in 1997. The capital had nearly 65 single screen cinemas in the 1970s, but over the last two years, at least 20 have closed down, among them Sudarshan, Kamal, Savitri, Eros, Chanderlok, Archana, Ajanta, Rachna, Jagat, Kumar, Jubilee, Majestic, Minerva, Palace, Kalyan and Laxmi.

Some of the cinemas that remain, such as Delite, have been converted into multiplexes, while others, such as Moti, Ritz and Abhishek, continue to operate on losses. With entertainment tax in Delhi at 40% and other costs, including service tax and electricity charges, single screens are struggling to stay afloat. Footfalls have dwindled, and since distributors often demand an advance price in order to give them new releases, the latest and possibly lucrative Friday offering might just bypass the single screens. The lesser known movies in turn do not get audiences, worsening the situation.

Cinemas such as the once popular Moti in Chandni Chowk can now only afford to screen low-budget Bhojpuri movies at low ticket prices. Abhishek Cineplex in Chandni Chowk, earlier known as Kumar Cinema, faces the same fate.

Regal in Connaught Place was one of the city’s most historic theatres. Its visitors have included Louis Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad and Zakir Hussain, numerous movie stars and visiting Western classical maestros, Russian ballet dancers and British theatre groups. The crowds at Regal having long vanished. The theatre has applied for permission to be converted into a multiplex, said its accountant, Aman Singh Verma.

Regal is following the example of Delite, which converted itself into a multiplex. Delite survived, but the charm of watching a movie at a single screen theatre has been lost forever. In this photo essay, Jamphel Sherab ducks inside the projection room and hangs out in the aisles as audiences take in the fading magic of the original big screen.

Re-runs and Bhojpuri films are keeping many single-screen cinemas in Delhi alive.
Re-runs and Bhojpuri films are keeping many single-screen cinemas in Delhi alive.
At Moti Cinema in Chandni Chowk, tickets are affordable...
At Moti Cinema in Chandni Chowk, tickets are affordable...
...Perhaps too affordable for the cinema, which can barely meet its running costs.
...Perhaps too affordable for the cinema, which can barely meet its running costs.
Entertainment tax gobbles up 40% of the earnings.
Entertainment tax gobbles up 40% of the earnings.
Dwindling footfalls have led to the closure of many theatres. Ritz, at Kashmere Gate, is soldiering on.
Dwindling footfalls have led to the closure of many theatres. Ritz, at Kashmere Gate, is soldiering on.
A wall clock commemorating the 100-day run of Yash Chopra’s 1965 film Waqt is a marker of Moti Cinema’s glory days.
A wall clock commemorating the 100-day run of Yash Chopra’s 1965 film Waqt is a marker of Moti Cinema’s glory days.
Most cinemas have converted to computerised digital projection. This projectionist misses the old manually operated Wextrex projector.
Most cinemas have converted to computerised digital projection. This projectionist misses the old manually operated Wextrex projector.
Delite at Daryaganj has pulled through by converting itself into a multiplex.
Delite at Daryaganj has pulled through by converting itself into a multiplex.
Other single-screen cinemas have no choice but to get in line for survival.
Other single-screen cinemas have no choice but to get in line for survival.