Bollywood warming up to e-cinema
A whole new way of movie making and watching is knocking on the doors of India, thanks to technological advances.
By Priyanka Khanna, IANS
Though slow in catching up with the rest of the world in most fields of entertainment, cash-flushed business houses operating mostly from Mumbai are ensuring that
e-cinema comes to a theatre near you very quickly.
While the world is yet to warm up to the idea of digitally distributed films, Bollywood filmmakers have already put the technology to test and are finding it a great tool to fight piracy and cut costs.
Film distribution via satellite is yet to pick up in other countries chiefly because distances are not too daunting overseas and thus it is not viewed as much of a cost saver,says a trade observer.
But in India it has become an instant hit, given the vast geographical spread. Film distribution via satellite has cut costs and reduced the lag between a movie's release and screening in theatres, especially in smaller towns, and ushered in a technological revolution.
So far film prints have been physically transported to most cinema theatres in the country.
"Instead of spending Rs.50,000 or Rs.60,000 per print, the costs work out to Rs.5,000 to Rs.7,000 per theatre," says Rajeev Gupta of Ginni Arts which owns Wave cineplexes in New Delhi.
E-cinema will soon reach 150 cinema theatres in India.
Dev Digital Cinemas is spearheading the digitalisation move in a joint venture between Ginni Arts, Bobby Arts and AdLabs, Mumbai. The former is one of the largest motion picture processing laboratories in India and is at the helm of another innovation by setting up India's first and the world's largest Imax Theatre along with a four-screen multiplex in Mumbai.
AdLabs intends to retrofit around 400 cinemas in India with GDC's DSR Servers and Projection Design's DLP digital projectors, with Cineom Broadcast offering technical support.
At the 35th International Film Festival of India it was said that 42 percent of Bollywood's revenues get leaked due to piracy and one of the main reasons for it is the time it takes for Bollywood films to reach smaller towns.
AdLabs Films Ltd has found a simple solution to the problem - digital technology.
"Over the last 14 months, we have already helped 130 cinema halls to upgrade to `e-cinema' using digital projection. The investment required per screen is Rs.1 million-1.2
million and is done entirely by us. The cinema owner is only required to share revenues for the next three years," AdLabs CEO (Digital Division), Sunil Patil, told Business Line.
Explaining the chain, Patil said even the biggest of Hindi flicks are released with 300 celluloid prints. Given the total number of cinema halls in the country at over 16,000, it takes six months to a year for the last cinema hall in the chain to get a new release.
AdLabs digitises every new film and downloads it into the servers of 130 cinema halls that it has helped retrofit with digital projectors and servers.
That enables viewers in small cities to watch movies at the same time as their counterparts in metros.
Soon, the process is set to become faster with the company tying up with VSAT (very small aperture terminal) operators to download the content via satellite directly into the cinema hall's servers.
"People want to see the film when it is still fresh, preferably on the first day itself. When it takes so long for the movie to reach them, pirates step in with spurious prints," he said.
According to a study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the film industry has been losing 42 percent of its revenues to piracy. After
the advent of e-cinema, occupancy in Maharashtra halls has gone up from eight percent to 43 percent, Patil said.
The company has not only upgraded halls in smaller towns in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal but is also taking the concept to metros where people are not willing to shell out in excess of Rs.100 to watch a movie at a top multiplex.
"The highest ticket cost at an e-cinema is Rs.22. While we were focusing on class B and C cities, we realised that there is a demand in bigger cities as well. Accordingly,
two e-cinema halls have been opened in Mumbai," Patil said.
"Devdas" was the first Hindi movie on which a pilot e-cinema run was conducted in Uttar Pradesh. On April 18 last year, "The Hero" became the first movie to be also distributed in digital format. Ever since, AdLabs has been digitising one movie every week, he said.
Some of the recent flicks distributed digitally include Shah Rukh Khan-starrer "Kal Ho Na Ho" and Saif Ali Khan-Rani Mukherjee-starrer "Hum Tum".
News reports say seven more IMAX theatres are to open in India by 2008, raising to 10 the number of such theatres in the country. Richard L. Gelfond, co-CEO and co-chairman of Canada-based IMAX Corporation, one of the world's leading entertainment technology companies, said at a news conference that an IMAX theatre would open in Delhi late 2005 or early 2006 and one in Kolkata shortly afterwards.
India already has IMAX theatres in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad.
While Mumbai will get a second IMAX, other cities where the theatres will be set up are Pune, Surat, Kanpur, Lucknow, Nagpur, Patna and Indore.
Terming India as one of IMAX's faster growing markets globally, Gelfond said the theatres in Mumbai and Hyderabad were two of the top performing locations.
"The noteworthy success of IMAX DMR releases in India has us excited about and committed to growth in the country," said Gelfond.
E-cinema is also changing the format of our movies and the digital format in particular is fast gaining preference.
The first-ever Indo-British digital film fest at the British Council last year inspired many to go ahead in a big way this year.
"There is a big market for anything that speaks a new language," says filmmaker Madhureeta Anand Negi, the brain behind Ekaa Films.
The immediacy of digital technology makes its content contemporary and therefore reflects the times within which it is created. The films become mirrors of society, becoming not just reconstructions but also comments and points of view.
It is no surprise then that most of the films talk about religion, war and terror. Some take the approach of irony, some of investigation and others take just a bystander's
view, but there is a unanimous cry against fanaticism and hate.
And the answer to the question 'which is the most prolific group of digital filmmakers' is: it's the huge film student fraternity. Their favourite location: student rooms and
apartments that double up as houses for families, doctor's rooms and of course bedrooms where endless conversations take place about relationships.