Gone are the days of the single screen theatre in Mumbai. Today, when you say you’re going to watch a movie, it goes without saying that you are heading to a multiplex. But not everyone can afford the expensive tickets and food at a multiplex. This is why when a co-passenger in a local train told me that all kinds of movies can be bought for just Rs 10, my curiosity was piqued. “At Grant Road, shopkeepers will transfer the best movies into your SD card. From Bhojpuri flicks to South Indian movies, you name it and they have it,” the co-passenger said. To know more about this business, I got off at Grant Road station and headed towards Kamathipura.
After walking past Novelty Cinema, I came across two shops that were adjacent to each other, and had posters of Bollywood films, South Indian movies, and horror films hanging from the walls like clocks. I approached the shop owners and asked them about the film download and sale business. Most of them were skeptical to talk about it because they feared that I would link the downfall of single screen theatres to their businesses.
“This downloading and selling of films has been going on for quite some time now. I’ve been working here for the past five years. We charge Rs 10 per movie and transfer movies to the customer’s SD cards or phone memory. If a buyer wants an 8 GB SD card full with movies, then they have to shell out between Rs 60 to Rs 100. Apart from movies, we also offer songs and charge Rs 30 for 1 GB worth of tracks. Bhojpuri and South Indian films are the hottest selling ones, but there is also a demand for horror movies, Bollywood films and Hollywood films dubbed in Hindi as well,” says Abdul Ismail Kadir, who makes a profit of Rs 20 to Rs 300 every day from his business.
A unique aspect of most of these businesses was that they had great computers and speakers that attracted customers. The target audience for these sweet deals is the daily wage workers in the neighbouring areas, for whom the only means of entertainment used to be cheap single screen theatres. But with theatres such as Novelty, Naaz, and Minerva pulling down their shutters in the recent past, downloaded films are the only form of enjoyment they can afford.
Though most of their customers are daily wage labourers and workers, there are a few students as well as office goers who come to download movies from them.
Interestingly, most of the customers who visited these shops were men. On a whim, I inquired if they also provided blue films to their customers. Although many quickly and rather emphatically denied doing so, a few did confirm, but added that they had now stopped this practice. However, a quick look around the shop revealed seductive film posters hanging inside the shops. But, they turned out to be erotic horror films!
But now, there seems to be a new twist in the tale.
Twenty-two-year-old Sarwan Das, who works at one such store, told me how he used to earn about Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 per day earlier. However, nowadays, he barely makes Rs 300 to Rs 500. “I used to own a shop once,” he added, “but I shut shop and started working for someone else. Recently, my boss too had to shut down two shops he owned. He will soon be closing down this shop as well.”
He further said, “Earlier, there were about 100 to 150 shops in this neighbourhood. Today, they have reduced to 25 to 30. Some of these shops are on the verge of shutting down. The footfall of customers has gone down drastically. We used to sell about 30 to 40 movies in the past, but now, we sell hardly eight movies in a day. As a matter of fact, I have been open for business since 10 am today and it’s 4 p.m. now and I have only made Rs 30. Sometimes, there are no customers for five to six hours at a stretch and we sit over here, doing nothing productive.”
Sameer Siddique, 25, has been into this business since the last three years and is quite saddened by the fact that many shops are having to shut down rapidly. He says, “Hardly any customers visit to download movies from us. The culprit is the ready availability of free Wi-Fi at railway stations and Reliance Jio offering free Internet in Jio sim cards to consumers. I have invested about Rs 70,000 in this business. Until I recover the amount, I cannot shut shop, even though I know that in future, there is no scope for this industry.”
They say history repeats itself. This is so true. The downloading business that was a major cause for the decline of single screen theatres is now on the verge of declining, all thanks to free Wi-Fi and Reliance Jio’s entry into the ever competitive market.
You can definitely head to these shops and take advantage these cash crunched times, but at your own risk. You might very well be caught for breach of copyright and for engaging in piracy!