For everyone who grew up in Delhi in the 1990s, PVR Priya (or just Priya, as it was then known) in Basant Lok was more than just a movie hall -- it was a lifestyle. One of the only two theatres that played English films (the other being Chanakya which has since then been razed and now the space is occupied by a luxury mall), it was where all the cool kids hung out.
Priya is where one went with friends to catch a movie and have a meal at McDonalds on the last day of the exams, or where one went on the first date. It was hip and happening, much before PVR Cinemas found a partner in Australian media and entertainment company Village Roadshow in 1997 and started what is today known as PVR or Priya Village Roadshow, and launched PVR Anupam in nearby Saket, starting the multiplex revolution.
Young Delhites were introduced to the idea of walking into a theatre and having the choice of watching any one of four movies. The theatres were smaller but plusher and the ticket prices were way more than any that they had paid before. While the idea of a multiplex was exciting, Priya, with its large single screen and balcony seating, managed to hold its own.
Around this time, the audience was also introduced to Dolby sound -- where the entire theatre reverberated with the sound on the big screen, making it more immersive.
Priya wasn't just about the theatre, but the entire Basant Lok complex. With the dawn of the new millennium, as young, upwardly mobile Delhites continued to visit it, a host of retail shops and restaurants came up in the vicinity. It was truly fashionable. However, it began to lose its charm over the last decade. More multiplexes in malls all over the city meant people watched a film in the theatre closest to home.
As the theatre lost its patrons, so did the area around it. Restaurants and shops started shutting down and the whole complex became a shadow of its previous self.
PVR Cinemas decided to shut down the theatre in early 2019 and renovate it. Last week, it relaunched it in a whole new avatar.
PVR Priya is now in a P[XL] format where auditoriums are equipped with extra-large screens, enhanced laser projection systems and advanced sound for a crisper, brighter and sharper cinema experience. PVR has partnered with Belgian technology company Cinionic to introduce the giant screen format.
Bringing the first P[XL] in Delhi, PVR expanded its homegrown large screen format to nine across the country. The total cost of the system including the projection, sound and 3D is Rs 7 crore. Five more P[XL] screens are being planned.
"With an aim to introduce the concept of world-class cinema equipped with new age facilities for the audience, PVR Priya paved the way for the multiplex revolution in India. With the re-opening, we aimed to maintain its iconic stature and introduce it as catalyst for a social change," said Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, joint managing director of PVR Cinemas.
While the theatre is smaller in terms of capacity, only 316 seats compared to over 900 previously, it is plusher (the seats have all been imported from Malaysia), has more leg room, and continues to have a large single screen, thankfully. The new sound system adds a whole new dimension to movie watching.
What makes the relaunch interesting is that it's not just about the theatre but also about the surrounding community space. PVR Cinemas has undertaken an 'Urban Place-Making' initiative in association with local municipal authorities and urban planners, to transform the derelict community public spaces.
PVR collaborated with Future Institute, a not-for-profit multi-disciplinary applied research-based platform, that envisions undertaking initiatives towards developing a more sustainable and inclusive future for Indian cities.
The implementation of 'Urban Place-Making' for redevelopment of Basant Lok complex at Vasant Vihar aims to bring back the lost sheen of the once thriving public space. So, you have better lighting, pavements, wheel-chair friendly ramps, and plants around the theatre. The entire space has been given a facelift. "We realised that this time around we had to go outside-in. If cinema had to do well, this whole space had to redevelop," says Gautam Datta, CEO, PVR Cinemas.
As the patrons start revisiting (PVR has taken all precautions, the staff is fully vaccinated and the theatre is open to only 50 per cent capacity, with every alternate seat blocked), one hopes that the once-bustling Basant Lok complex will again return to its heydays. "These are open spaces that should not go out of style just because malls have come up. These are open spaces that should be maintained for us Delhites to come and enjoy," says Bijli.
PVR Cinemas is expecting to add around 25 new screens this year including the first drive-in theatre in Mumbai. "Our capex is slow this year because our revenues have been badly hit due to Covid. Normally we open around 80 screens every year," says Bijli.
He adds that the company will focus on revival for the next 8-9 months by trying to get more consumers back to theatres. "We have just come out of a disaster. We are in the healing stage." It will then go into the reinvention stage. "We don't want to become dependent only on one business, or only on one delivery of entertainment. We are exploring various avenues to reinvent ourselves," says Bijli.
PVR offers an array of formats in the premium screen category, which stands at around 100 screens. Overall, it has 846 screens in 176 cinemas in 71 cities in India and Sri Lana.
The Indian multiplex market stood at 2,950 screens in 2018 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 7 per cent to surpass 4,500 screens by 2024.
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