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Natraj, Vadodara's largest cinema hall, downs its shutters

High cost of operation, competition from multiplexes, low turnout, and high property taxes see another single-screen theatre bite the dust.

Mayur Lookhar

Vadodara's Natraj cinema, one of the oldest and largest single-screen movie theatres in India, has shut down.

The rising cost of operation, competition from multiplexes, high municipal taxes and, more pertinently, low business resulted in one of the best known cinema halls of Vadodara shutting down.

Dharma Productions' Dhadak was the last film to be screened at the cinema hall.

“The market situation is bad," said Natraj owner Janak Patel. "We closed because of low [ticket sales], higher [operational] costs, and taxes. The property tax is very high. Salaries, taxes keep increasing. It was no longer feasible to run the cinema.”

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Patel said collections have not been good, even with big-budget films. “We thought Sanju would do well, but it didn’t," he said. "The Eid release [Salman Khan's Race 3], too, did not make much money. How can I run the theatre if the collections for even such films are just 20-30%?"

To make matters worse, he said multiplexes in the city now offer low rates for morning shows. "We charge Rs40 for the stalls and Rs60 for the balcony," he said. "We can’t reduce the rates further. They have more shows, we don’t. We would rather close down than accumulate losses.”

Single-screens theatres have generally thrived on masala entertainers, but Patel said not too many such films are made anymore. “[Film production] companies have started to make movies for multiplex audiences," he said. "For a masala film, how many such heroes do we have? Four or five at best. And they do one or two films in a year. So you will have decent business for 10 or 15 weeks, but what about the remaining 35? What do we do then? It is just not viable to run the business anymore.”

According to trade analyst Atul Mohan, one of the pressing issues the cinema was facing was the increase in municipal taxes. 

“The municipal tax, which was Rs1.50 lakh per annum, had gone up to Rs12 lakh per annum by last year," Mohan mentioned on Twitter. "Their monthly income was Rs2.40 lakh as against expenditure of Rs3 lakh.”

Paras Publicity Services is a movie marketing firm founded in 1947 by the late Vrajlal Vasani. For over three decades, director Rajesh Vasani has been managing print media publicity for leading distributors, producers, corporate houses, single-screen theatres and multiplexes. He squarely blamed the government for encouraging multiplexes by giving them tax sops while not granting similar favours to the single screens.

“The government increased taxes [for single screens] whereas in the beginning multiplexes enjoyed a tax holiday wherein they did not have to pay taxes in the first five-seven years of operation," Vasani pointed out. "Naturally, they grew stronger while the single screens struggled. When a single screen exhibitor approaches a distributor for a film, the distributor asks for a minimum guarantee. The distributors have killed the single screens in Gujarat.”

Natraj was founded in 1966 by exhibitor Jayantilal Patel. The theatre is massive, spread across 52,000 square feet. Mohan recalled that Patel built it after failing to get a ticket once at the Maharani Shantadevi theatre. Natraj had 1,224 seats. 

Dara Singh and Prithviraj Kapoor had graced the theatre’s inauguration, while Hema Malini had watched Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah (1972) here.

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