When Bengaluru resident Prakash Kumar (name changed) recently entered a theatre after a long break — cinemas had been shut due to the lockdown — there was a surprise waiting for him. Kumar's wife Tanvi had planned a birthday surprise at INOX Lido and booked an entire movie hall to celebrate his birthday. In fact, Tanvi even got a customised birthday message for Kumar from a video jockey.
Like Tanvi, there are many who are planning birthday parties and anniversary celebrations in cinemas. Multiplexes, including PVR
and Carnival, have started letting people book an entire auditorium for these purposes.
A booking of this sort in PVR is priced from Rs 1,999 upwards. At INOX, it starts from Rs 2,999, while Carnival has packages ranging between Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000.
“We check the group size with the client. The smallest group that we cater to is about 12 people and we would want you to ideally take a Gold Class screen. A normal auditorium has around 80 to 125 seats. Hence, prices depend on the group size,” explained Gautam Dutta, Chief Executive Officer, PVR Cinemas. “If you give us an undertaking to occupy 35 percent of the capacity, then you get the auditorium of 100 seats."
Different markets, different trends
Commenting on the kind of bookings it has been receiving, Saurabh Varma, Chief Marketing Officer of INOX Leisure, said: “A boy proposed to a girl while watching their favourite Rajinikanth film during a private screening. In different markets there are different trends. In the South, fan club screenings have become a trend. During Durga Pooja, there were families that booked private screenings to celebrate the festival while watching old movies.”
As for Carnival Cinemas, Kunal Sawhney, Senior VP, Carnival Cinemas, said that when theatres reopened it was only new Bengali movies that were running on screens. “And for those films we received on-the-spot bookings for private screenings. In fact, a family of 18-20 people booked a private screening to watch a new Bengali movie on the spot.”
But are private screenings gaining traction? That certainly seems to be the case. In terms of the number of bookings, Dutta said that in the first week of its launch in November, PVR saw close to 108 private screenings in cinemas that were open.
“In the second week since launch, we got 140 bookings and for the third week we have over 150 bookings for private screenings. Now, with Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra opening up, we could see roughly about 450-500 screenings per week,” said PVR’s Dutta.
Carnival Cinemas says it is seeing at least one booking for a private screening every day.
Apart from the auditorium, food and beverages are offered to the clients, but with discounts. “While F&B is over and above what is being offered for private screenings, there are discounts. If F&B was Rs 200 pre-Covid then one can get it 25 to 40 percent cheaper. For example, if a group of 35 people opt for F&B, then they can get it for Rs 120 each, said Dutta.
Carnival’s Sawhney, too, said there are multiple offers, including unlimited beverages, depending on the package.
As for content, INOX’s Varma said it is arranged depending on the audience's requirement.
But Dutta said that people are either choosing films that are currently running in theatres or getting their own content, such as wedding videos.
While private screenings are enjoying some traction, is this something that will be offered when content comes back to theatres? Dutta believes they are here to stay. He added: “While we don’t see private screenings as a big business driver, at this juncture it is doing what it needs to do, keeping cinemas in conversations, and reviving interest in cinemas.”