Shift in our focus is only to open new areas of revenue generation
Priya Cinema bets big on adventure, ecotourism ventures in North East
Priya and Piyali's journey in the silverscreen has been quite a momentous one and they have been an integral part of these 100 years of Bengali cinema. Under the banner of Piyali Films, PEPL has also produced films, most of which have gone on to win major national and international awards. Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, Aranyer Dinratri and Pratidwandi directed by Satyajit Ray, Chhuti directed by Arundhati Devi, and Hatey Bajare directed by Tapan Sinha, are just some of the unforgettable names. While many single screens have folded during the past 20 years, Priya Cinema has been part of city's history and moviebuffs' delight, winning the test of time, through constant upgradation and modernisation, keeping in tandem with the latest technological changes for the best viewing comfort of our patrons. Arijit Dutta, Managing Director of Priya Entertainments, spoke at length with Bizz Buzz on wide-ranging topics on cinema and his new found love and passion -- adventure tourism and ecotourism
Maintaining a single screen is an uphill struggle, and at some point we had to also look at an alternate source of resource mobilisation, which has a lot of promise. And, we consciously chose eco adventure tourism and hospitality
Sikkim and the entire North East is a virgin territory as far as the cinema industry is concerned. We haven't touched even 10 per cent of the possibilities. The local film industry has enormous potential for regional films and most importantly the locations can be better than any location anywhere in the world
Priya Cinema was recently acknowledged as a flag bearer of single screen in Bengal. What has been Priya Cinema's role and impact in the 100 years of Bengali Cinema being celebrated?
First, we are truly humbled by the fact that Priya Cinema is still being acknowledged in this day and age of modern multiplex and digital mode of cinema viewing. This acknowledgement only reinforces the fact that struggle and hardship that all single-screen owners have had to undergo coping up to the challenges of rapid modernisation of the cinema industry, which actually ends at the exhibitors' doorstep. So, our recognition is an embodiment of recognition of this struggle of every single-screen owner. Many have folded during the past 20 years, but our mantra has been constant upgradation and modernisation, keeping in tandem with the latest technological changes for the best viewing comfort of our patrons. Priya and Piyali's films journey has been quite a momentous one and we have been an integral part of these 100 years of Bengali cinema having been part of it for 60 years. PEPL has received the President's Gold Award for Best Producer, for three consecutive years. Priya Cinema, its flagship single-screen theatre, was the first to screen the most popular Charlie Chaplin movie City Lights on the May 22, 1958. For me, the biggest impact of Priya on the Bengali film industry has been the hope, support it has provided for lesser known film directors, actors and has acted as a lifeline for them.
How do you explain the shift in your focus from cinema exhibition to ecotourism?
I wouldn't term it as a shift. Priya remains the cornerstone of our business. But I have always been an outdoor adventure person and my initial years in the Himalayas as a student shaped my love for the nature, mountains and adventure. So, the eco adventure ventures at Khairabera and Sikkim are only extension of my love and passion for adventure. As I said, maintaining a single screen is an uphill struggle and at some point, we had to also look at an alternate source of resource mobilisation, which has a lot of promise and we consciously chose eco adventure tourism and hospitality. We have also set up a multi-cuisine restaurant BG at the Priya cinema, which is also doing very well and reopening VAULT, the underground pub which had become a very popular destination. But surely the shift in our focus is only to open new areas of revenue generation and keeping with the vision of conscientious business house.
Is adventure ecotourism a popular form of travel in India and can the present infrastructure offer quality tourism for foreign visitors?
The popularity is on the increase and the Government papers on eco adventure tourism is a pointer in that direction. We must understand the changing nature of mindset of tourists in India. The average age of travellers are coming down. Independent solo travelers, more number of women travellers who are independent and ready to afford luxuries have actually completely changed the ecosystem of tourism industry and eco-adventure tourism is no different. The infrastructure is being developed and the State government is an active stakeholder and participant in the development of infrastructure. The travel time will have to be cut down from the nearest air and rail connect and roads need improvement, but we also need to consider the difficult terrain. The tremendous international connect about Sikkim is the fact that it is a 100 per cent organic State and Buddhist monasteries also attract tourists from the Far East. But initiatives like Eco Adventure Resort at Temi Tea Estate are exactly efforts required for the growth of the industry. This was a first-of-its-kind initiative where a PPP model was arranged with the Sikkim government which owns Temi Tea Estate where we transformed a dilapidated heritage Bungalow known as Bada Bungalow into a most modern retro-fitted tourist hub. Perhaps, that is the way forward and we are happy to be a path finder.
How do you see Sikkim as a destination for cinema in the near future?
Sikkim and the entire North East is a virgin territory as far as the cinema industry is concerned. We haven't touched even 10 per cent of the possibilities. The local film industry has enormous potential for regional films and most importantly the locations can be better than any location anywhere in the world. The natural beauty offers immense possibilities and the Sikkim Film Festival was the first step towards making cinema an industry in Sikkim and the entire North East. While Assam and Manipur already have a film industry in place but it's exposure in the rest of India is limited and we felt along with Film Federation of India that Sikkim can be a gateway towards the North East being a destination for Indian cinema.
Does Sikkim and North East's infrastructure, terrain and topography support the growth of a movie industry there?
Infrastructure needs development, travel time needs to be lessened but other factors are all positively poised towards the growth of a bustling movie industry. Local talent, establishment support, tremendous popularity and enthusiasm about cinema and a young population are all positive indices for a growth in the trade and commerce around the industry. The growth would also depend on the exhibition ie, cinema halls in the region.
I am very hopeful about the growth and these are exactly what we shared with the Governor of Sikkim recently when we met him. Infact he was so excited that he offered to host a formal dinner on the first day of the Film Festival. The Film Festival shall have many Producers, Directors and film personalities from both Bollywood and the Southern film fraternity thus providing an opportunity for Sikkim to showcase it's potential. I strongly believe Sikkim has immense potential waiting to be unleashed.