Not too long ago, if you lived in the Andheri West/Oshiwara neighbourhood of Mumbai, where our office is located, and wanted to catch a movie in a reasonably decent theatre, the closest option available was Chandan Cinema in Juhu. And if tickets were sold out there, a long trek to the Gaiety-Galaxy theatre complex in Bandra beckoned.
That changed in 2004 when the then Fame Adlabs (now PVR ECX) multiplex became operational in Andheri West. Cut to: the present. As one writes this note, there is now a choice of four multiplex properties and over 20 screens available, literally walking distance from our office.
This sea change in the accessibility of film properties – more specifically, multiplexes – isn’t a phenomenon restricted to the suburb of Andheri, or for that matter, the city of Mumbai, alone. Yes, India remains a massively under-screened nation when you factor in our huge population. Over 150,000 people are served by each screen in India, compared to the less than 8,000 people per screen in the US. Even China (around 35,000 persons per screen) is more densely screened despite being more populous than India.
But while the growth may be inadequate and uneven, there can be no denying the fact that the substantial increase in the number and reach of multiplexes has been the most significant and transformational development in the Indian film landscape during the last decade or so.
The ramifications of the ‘multiplexisation’ of Indian exhibition have been huge and multidimensional. The number of shows and screens films open to, the flexibility of show timings, the surge in ticket prices and collections, and the enhanced leeway available to showcase both non-conventional Hindi content as well as non-Hindi (especially Hollywood) films – all of these parameters have changed substantially with the advent of multiplexes. What has also greatly improved is the audience’s movie-watching experience – the quality of visuals and sound, the comfort level and options of seating, choices in snacks and beverages, and the quality and range of amenities on offer at theatrical properties.
This week, we are tracing the growth in the number of multiplexes during the last decade, and the impact this has had on the relative contribution of multiplexes versus single-screen properties to the cumulative box office in India over the years. Take a look at the table below:
*Up to December 8, 2017
It’s a simple table to read and the numbers speak for themselves. But let us summarise some key insights. The growth in the number of multiplexes is obvious, having multiplied six-fold during the period under review. However, if you look carefully, you see that the numbers also indicate a let-up in the pace of the growth – at least 100 multiplex properties were added each year during the first three years of this study, but that feat has been repeated only once since then.
What is also apparent is that while single-screen properties may have ceded their position as the mainstay of Indian exhibition, they remain a significant contributor. This underlines what we have often observed in previous analyses on this page – without standalone properties chipping-in, it is virtually impossible to deliver pan-India, Rs 100-crore+ hits like Golmaal Again!!!, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Judwaa 2 this year .
The most interesting, and somewhat perplexing finding thrown up by the data is the fact that even though multiplexes have enhanced their status as the dominant contributor to the overall box office pie, the growth in their relative share isn’t proportionate to the rise in the number of such properties. To put this in perspective: there was more than 500-per cent growth in the number of multiplexes in 2017 compared to what existed in 2009, but the relative contribution of such properties to the total collections of 2017 has grown by less than 20 per cent.
As for the reason behind this seeming anomaly/inefficiency, obviously our friends in exhibition are best equipped to answer that question. But one dare speculate that a key reason could be that expansion in multiplexes often seems to be led by where other, competitive chains have a presence rather than to where untapped markets may exist. Case in point: as we mentioned at the beginning of this note, four multiplex properties exist in close proximity to our office. Contrast that with the fact that at least a dozen Indian states – including populous ones like Bihar and Odisha – aren’t home to as many.
Surely that is as good a reason as any to heed that Biblical exhortation: Go Forth And Multipl(ex)!