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In our edit note a couple of weeks ago, (Screen Short?, issue dated December 10, 2016) we had examined how India compared with other major film centers across the world in terms of screen density or the availability of film screens in various countries vis-à-vis their respective population sizes.

To summarise that study: with every screen in our country serving almost 1.55 lakh people, India not only ranked lowest among the countries we reviewed, the gap between us and other film markets was very substantial too. The United States, for example, has a screen density of less than 8,000 people to a screen and even a country like China that has a similarly sized population as ours, caters to around 35,000 people per screen, which is less than one-fourth our numbers.

As we had mentioned in that note, given that we often see multiplexes all clustered together in certain cities – or certain localities within cities – it would be interesting to probe further into the even greater deficiencies that are disguised by the average national figure, abysmally low as it may be. This week, we are doing exactly that.

What we have done is compiled a list of the Top 25 most populated cities in India (as per the latest estimates for 2016) and then mapped them to the number of screens present in each of them. Take a look at the table below:

As you can see, the numbers vary widely, from a high of more than 2.33 lakh people served by each screen in Bhopal, to a low of around 33,000 people per screen in Ahmedabad. Of course, the word ‘low’ is used here in the relative sense of the term – Ahmedabad’s screen density is comparable to that of China in its entirety, a population size more than 200 times that of the Gujarati city!
What the numbers also seem to challenge, at least at face value, is the perception that the next wave of expansion in the exhibition sector must necessarily come from B and C Tier towns as there is a saturation of cinema screens in major cities. Each screen in the majority of our metros – New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata – catering to around 1 lakh people isn’t exactly a statistic that suggests excess capacity.
Quite clearly, we are a long distance from screen adequacy in not only our country as a whole, but also in our major cities. But with the season of merriment and celebrations upon us, let us try and put a positive spin on the current state of affairs!
Yes, we have the least screen density amongst the major film markets of the world, and rank a lowly 122nd in the global listing of nations by per capita income. Moreover, as we have seen in previous studies on this page, less than 4 per cent of our population actually watches even our biggest films in theatres. But the flipside of all these poor numbers is that the only direction they have left to go is up! And as they rise, so will our global standing as a film market – which, despite the underlying parameters being so unflattering, still weighs in as the fifth-largest in the world by revenue.

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